by Alex Joseph · Apr. 19, 2023

All 13 suites at the new Yowie Hotel on Philadelphia’s South Street come with 
retail therapy. That yellow side table made of a semi-deconstructed tree trunk? It’s for sale. So’s the quirky lavender rug and the book of Amy Sherald paintings. And if you like the couch with the nubby fabric but want it in a different shade? Yowie can custom order it for you.

Maldonado opened the Yowie Hotel on South Street last August. When she was a teenager, the Philly native says, South Street “was our Haight-Ashbury.” Photos by Bre Furlong.

A multifaceted project encompassing retail, design, product development, events, and, since August 2023, a hotel, Yowie is the brainchild of Shannon Maldonado, Fashion Design ’05. She launched the venture in 2016 after a decade of designing wovens for Ralph Lauren and Urban Outfitters, among others. Hungry to escape the corporate world and develop a launching pad for artists and makers, she returned to her native (and more affordable) Philadelphia. The business began as a website and lifestyle pop-up shop—room sprays, art prints—and then moved into a physical space where Maldonado, who comes across as serious but never solemn, hosted book groups, talks by curators and other Philly VIPs, and panel discussions by artists of color.

A local developer noticed the store and purchased some of its funky items. Not long after, he asked her to help renovate Philly’s First African Baptist Church into a hotel and event space. “That was my first interior design project,” Maldonado says, but her intuitive feel for color and room design made up for inexperience. Smart about branding and storytelling, she included local references—like a wallpaper motif featuring Philly 76ers star Julius “Dr. J” Erving.

“Before, it was more of an art project; [my business partners] helped make it more of a 360-degree thing,”
—Shannon Maldonado

Plans for the Yowie Hotel, which Maldonado co-owns, began in 2019, and financing had to be recalibrated because of Covid. It took three years to renovate the building and restore its 125-year-old facade. The new place is Yowie’s most ambitious iteration yet, housing a cafe called Wim and a new version of the store (just down the street from the old one), where items in the suites can be purchased. “Before, it was more of an art project; [my business partners] helped make it more of a 360-degree thing,” she says.

The rooms combine the sleekness of a showroom with cozy individuality, seamlessly blending local designers like Paradise Gray (that yellow tree table) with heritage high-end brands (Crate & Barrel, Blu Dot) in an effort to create “a level playing field” for the Philly creatives. Maldonado’s distinctive eclecticism and democratic sensibility mean nearly anyone is a candidate for inclusion: After years of printing documents at her local UPS Store, for example, she found out the owner was an artist; now his Josef Albers style canvases hang in the hotel. The Center for Creative Works is a Philly art studio that represents artists with intellectual disabilities; Yowie features works, sourced from the center, by a neurodivergent painter.

Yowie rooms are playgrounds for Maldonado’s distinctive taste. “I love colors that are complementary, but also some that feel ‘off,’ or confrontational,” she says. She also favors highly contrasting textural combinations.

Ideas for the space keep coming. Maldonado happily revealed plans for a free zine-making workshop in the store. And she’s starting a dinner event series in the cafe, with local chefs preparing meals that showcase their specialties Caribbean for one, Filipino for another. “‘Yowie’ is Australian slang for Bigfoot, the mythical creature,” Maldonado says, as to why the name stuck. “I think in some part it’s that this creature is always on the move and cannot be pinned down.”

BEST SELLER: One hot item is this custom-made, cobalt blue soap dispenser from local ceramics studio Cloud Nine Clay. “We’re on our third restock,” Maldonado says. Items can be purchased in the Yowie store or ordered from the catalog. Nearly everything in the rooms, from mattresses to wall paint colors, can be sourced through Yowie.