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"Now because you have so many different places, you have so many choices, people are trying things that are totally different, that they've never even thought they would try, and they're loving it."

KeVen Parker
Owner, Ms. Tootsie's

Many websites exist to help you bring your retail idea to fruition (for example, how to create a business plan, how to establish a business entity, and how to finance your business), so we won't dive into those details here. We're assuming you've got your idea and your business plan, and you're ready to take the plunge. You're the expert at running your business. We can help you get through the approval process and provide you with the information you need to open your retail business or restaurant in Philadelphia.

opening a retail business

From 0 to Open: How to Start a Retail Business in Philadelphia

Before you move forward with forms, licenses and permits with the City of Philadelphia, you'll need to have already done some prep work.

You'll need:

  • Your business established as a legal entity.
    Contact a lawyer or a business assistance program if you need help; if you'll be establishing the business entity in Pennsylvania, you can do that online. Find all applicable state forms at the "Pennsylvania Open for Business" website: www.paopen4business.state.pa.us
  • State forms for business name, tax forms, and other state-required forms.
    These can also be obtained online at the Pennsylvania Open for Business website: www.paopen4business.state.pa.us
  • State forms for online business tax registration (the PA-100 form), including sales tax and, if you have employees, workers compensation coverage and unemployment compensation.
    Y ou can obtain all necessary information and fill out the required forms online at: www.pa100.state.pa.us
  • A Federal Employer Identification Number (EIN) if you're planning on hiring any employees.
    Obtain an EIN from the IRS via the form S-4 "Application for Employer Identification Number," available by phone at 800.TAX.FORM or online at www.irs.gov
  • A location for your store.
    Work with a broker to find a location that meets your needs. Be sure to find a broker who listens to your specific needs, knows the neighborhoods, and understands the retail market. Visit our Resources page for a list of Center City retail brokerage houses.


Once you've done that, you'll need to complete 3 steps to open your retail business in Philly:

1. Get your license

To operate in the city of Philadelphia, you'll need a Business Privilege License. The quickest and easiest way to register your new business with the City of Philadelphia is on the Department of Revenue's website. From there you can select which taxes you need to register for and obtain a Business Privilege License at the same time. You can pay online with a credit card or mail in your payment. There is no need to stand in line in the Municipal Services Building Concourse, and the online system checks to make sure that you have submitted complete information to ensure speedy processing. Register at https://ework.phila.gov/revenue/ and select "Apply for a Tax Account Number." In order to operate a business in the City of Philadelphia, you MUST obtain BOTH a Business Privilege License (BPL) and a Business Tax Number. Obtaining a Business Tax Number alone does NOT satisfy or supersede the requirement for BPL.

2. Get any required permits

If you're opening your store in a location that was previously a retail business, the process of opening should be fairly straightforward. If you won't need to do significant interior fit-out or if your landlord will be doing the fit-out, you will likely not have to deal with construction permits or other building-related activities. The process is also easiest if you won't be having exterior hanging signs ("accessory signage") or if your sign will simply be replacing an existing sign. If you will be installing a new sign, it must be reviewed and approved by the City's Art Commission.

3. That's it. You're ready to open.

Really? Yes – if you're a simple hard-goods retailer with no food products, not doing fit-out, the process is generally quite straightforward. How long will this all take? Once you've secured a location, licensing could take just a week. So you could go from 0 to open in almost no time at all. Not only will City bureaucracy not get in your way, but you may be licensed and ready to go before you're even ready to go!

For additional information on permitting, licenses, and local support resources, read the section "If You Want Additional Assistance" or "Some Information About Philadelphia's Licensing & Inspections (L&I)" on the L&I page.


But Wait – I Still Have More Questions

If you have specific questions about who to contact or if you can't find information you need, contact our Business Liaison, Michelle Shannon, at the Center City District at 215.440.5500 or by email at michelle@centercityphila.org. She will be able to point you in the right direction for the resources you require.



The information contained herein is provided for general informational purposes to assist with your planning efforts to open a business. Because each new business operation is unique, the CCD, its agents or affiliates make no representations or warranties that the information contained in these guides conforms exactly with the requirements for your specific business endeavor. As such, you should consult your business advisor, attorney, accountant or other professionals, as necessary to assist you with planning a business opening plan and process that is most applicable to your situation."