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Meet the married couple who transformed Philadelphia's Gayborhood into trendy Midtown Village

How Marcie Turney and Valerie Safran transformed Philadelphia's Gayborhood
How Marcie Turney and Valerie Safran transformed Philadelphia's Gayborhood 02:26

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Philadelphia is often known as a city of neighborhoods, each with its own character and charm. Meet the married couple who helped transform the city's Gayborhood into the place it is today.

Walk down 13th Street in Center City on a nice night and things are hopping, the tables are filled and bar stools are occupied, but it wasn't always that way.

"There was nothing really on this block," business owner Marcie Turney said.

"It was definitely the red-light district," Valerie Safran, Turney's wife and business partner, said.

Turney added, "In the day, you were fine. In the night, it was questionable."

The year was 2002 when Safran, a former Spanish teacher, and Turney, a professional chef, unknowingly became pioneers. They opened a home and gift shop on 13th Street that they aptly named Open House.

The inside of Open House, the first shop Valerie Safran and Marcie Turney opened in Philadelphia's Gayborhood. CBS News Philadelphia

"This is the only neighborhood we could afford at that time," Safran said.

Little did the couple know, that Open House would open doors and help start the transformation of a desolate neighborhood into what's now trendy Midtown Village, more commonly known as the Gayborhood.

"It was a gamble," Safran said.

But the couple recalls at one point, their landlord offered some good advice.

"For neighborhoods, you need restaurants. That will bring the people," Turney said. "If there's good food, good service, people will come and then the retail will follow."

Over two decades, the couple have opened a string of successful restaurants and shops between Chestnut and Locust streets. Among them are Verde, Little Nonna's, Barbuzzo, Bud & Marilyn's and Darling Jack's.

A busy Darling Jack's Tavern on 13th and Sansom streets. CBS News Philadelphia

"I think we worked, I don't know how many months straight and we didn't take a day off," Turney said. "That's like crazy, this is your dream, what you have to do to make it happen."

Safran added, "We worked a lot."

Turney leads the culinary team for their restaurants. Safran heads up all front-of-house operations and is the retail buyer.

So, what has been the key to their success?

"I think our shops and restaurants are all very accessible. They're not high-end," Safran said. "We're pretty easy-going people. So, I think it's a comfortable place to be."

They're a dynamic duo that made an impact in the Gayborhood.

"We're in the right place, yep, no question," Safran said.

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