Founder: John Lee
Year opened: 2002
When you think of streetwear hubs, Philadelphia is probably not the city that comes to mind. That isn’t necessarily for a lack of a community either. The City of Brotherly Love currently boasts an impressive lineup of boutiques like Lapstone and Hammer and Pusha T’s Creme 321, and more niche menswear offerings like Ps and Qs. Unfortunately, a lot of the shops that helped grow the community during its boom in the late 2000s have not been fortunate enough to keep the lights on. But Ubiq has been able to survive.
John Lee founded the boutique back in 2002. It was housed in the popular Gallery mall on Market Street, an area that has since been closed and converted into a new shopping center, and served streetwear to the city long before it was the norm. With the help of Mason Warner, who would go on to open his own, now-defunct shop WTHN in 2006, Ubiq struck deals to carry brands like The Hundreds, Nike SB, and Levi’s Vintage before many other spots in the city.
Lee’s interest in the business actually began in 1993 at Samsun, a Philadelphia sneaker store owned by his father-in-law. Through this job, he would meet Atmos founder Hommyo Hidefumi. Lee’s travels to Japan inspired him to bring the retail concept stateside, more specifically to Philly.
“[The Gallery] was the busiest center of commerce at the time. I paid a lot of money to get the lease because I didn't have the credit that I needed to get into the mall,” says Lee. “There was not much marketing. The design was minimalistic, very futuristic. When we first opened, people were literally running to our store because they didn't know what to make of it. They'd never seen a sneaker store like that before.”
Its unique take on retail made Ubiq a hot spot in the city. Exclusive Nike sneakers and hard-to-find Japanese brands like WTAPS and Neighborhood populated the shelves. At one point, Ubiq even stocked Supreme, although the decision to wholesale the brand was a short-lived one for the streetwear giant. Pharrell and his ICECREAM skate team were know to stop by. One of its members and local skater, Jimmy Gorecki, even worked at the shop briefly in its infancy.
“It speaks volumes about Ubiq. We're one of the pioneering stores and because of our location, we didn't get a lot of recognition for what we did and what we brought to the market. But we're proud to be part of Philadelphia and we're going to continue to support the city.”
“We had a lot of cool kids come through, watched how they grew up, and became very relevant players in our industry. That kind of excites me. When we opened the Ubiq in the Gallery and Walnut, it changed the landscape of the retail in Philadelphia."
—Jason Lee, Founder of Ubiq
In 2006, Lee opened up a second Ubiq location near Rittenhouse Square on Walnut Street, an area known for its more premium shopping experience.
“We were looking for a Madison Avenue type of location in Philadelphia, and Walnut Street fit the description. That's the highest end retail street in Philadelphia. We loved the building, just old, retro looking, and we just wanted to build something beautiful.”
Still stationed there to this day, the Walnut Street location is where Ubiq would really make its mark on Philly’s streetwear scene. A space dedicated to throwback sports purveyor Mitchell and Ness occupied the second floor for a number of years. Stussy even operated a Chapter store there although it did not last very long. If the first floor was where customers could find the latest limited shoes and streetwear, the second floor was Ubiq’s experimental space. Lee says the goal was to create the “Fred Segal of Philadelphia.”
Its projects over the years have included work with Undefeated, Stussy, Nike, and New Era. Guests have included everyone from local legends like Questlove and Meek Mill and the Clipse and Travis Scott. Nowadays, Ubiq operates two locations in Philly and Georgetown in Washington, D.C.
“We had a lot of cool kids come through, watched how they grew up, and became very relevant players in our industry. That kind of excites me. When we opened the Ubiq in the Gallery and Walnut, it changed the landscape of the retail in Philadelphia. So that's exciting as a business person,” says Lee. “For the longest it was just a Ubiq. Now there's Lapstone and Hammer, Ps and Qs, I just want to generate more excitement for Philadelphia. We have so much talent in Philadelphia.”—Michael DeStefano