If you're in the middle of a personal firestorm right now, take heart. The bad thing that's happening just might turn out to be fantastic, for reasons you can't imagine.
Just ask Johnny Columbo and Michael Lewis. In 2015, I wrote how their sweets shop, Philly Cupcake, was tanking because three massive construction projects had choked customer access to the charming store's location at 12th and Chestnut.
The men relied on profits from Philly Cupcake to support the expansion of their line of gourmet dog treats, called "pupcakes." Eventually, they wanted proceeds from the pupcakes to support rescue operations for pooches.
"We love dogs; they give everything they have to us," says Columbo, 48. He and Lewis, also 48, are the besotted caretakers of Apricot, a rescue terrier.
The men tried frantically to keep their staggering business upright while those construction projects knocked them sideways. They laid off half their workers. They stopped paying themselves. They ran around Center City looking for an affordable spot to house their bakery.
But they couldn't outrun fate. In the fall of 2015, they closed the shop that had earned them multiple "best of" awards, and into which they'd poured their dreams.
This has always been an infuriating fallout of urban revitalization, and, man, it's unfair. Columbo and Lewis had taken a big risk when they opened in 2009. Back then, the area was dark, dull and grimy. But when Philly Cupcake and other visionary urban pioneers opened quirky restaurants, lofts and shops, the block suddenly crackled with life.
Which attracted all the big-bucks construction that killed Philly Cupcake, without so much as a thank-you.
"I was really disgusted," says Lewis, who pondered a move out west. He wanted to get away from the city's disrespect for creative small-business owners, whose fortunes take hits when multiple construction projects are permitted to unfold in the same block. "We both were fed up enough to consider leaving town."
But they stayed, grieved and regrouped. Through a chance chat with a friend, they heard about a cute corner building available for rent at Poplar and Orianna Streets in Northern Liberties, a neighborhood they'd never thought to check out.
"When I saw that the store sat between two dog parks, I just knew, 'This is where we are meant to be,'" says Columbo.
They signed a lease, and last summer opened Philly Pupcakes, where they produce and sell a menu of meals and treats for dogs, using human-grade food that's safe for dogs to consume. They've been able to hire back some of their former employees, which is a good thing, because their dog food is selling like hotcakes.
"We love the people here," says Lewis of his new neighbors. "They support small businesses, they appreciate what we're about. And it feels like a small town. Everyone knows each other's names – they actually smile when they pass you on the street. It's been a breath of fresh air."
The couple is so smitten with Northern Liberties, they've moved from their long-time home in Center City to a condo near the store. They live and work only two miles from their former lives, but they feel reborn.
"I thought moving out west would lift all the heaviness we'd been feeling," says Lewis. "But all we had to do was move here."
Outside the neighborhood, Columbo and Lewis are now in negotiations with a South Jersey veterinarian, who wants to stock his clinic with their foods; an excited investor, who wants to open a second Pupcakes location; and a national pet-food company whose owner hopes to partner with the men.
Part of the proceeds from Philly Pupcakes will support Hold Your Paw, the nonprofit the men have created to provide medical care, in-home services, education and guidance to pet owners in Philadelphia who might otherwise be forced to surrender their animals when life gets tough.
"We're finally doing the thing we've always wanted to do, which is save animals' lives," says Columbo.
All because a lousy thing that happened in 2015 – the closing of their store – had unexpectedly wonderful consequences.