Eric Oliver Howard was standing in Center City's James Brown hair salon yesterday afternoon, telling the manager about his company's blow dryers, flat irons, and curling irons, "the iPods" of the industry, when outside they heard a woman scream.

The men turned to the window and saw a guy running down Pine Street near 11th, a tan purse tucked under his arm.

He was wearing a bright-green hoodie, white sweatpants, and white sneakers. His screaming victim stood frozen a few doors away.

"What should we do?" Howard, 43, of FHI Heat, asked his associate Skip Callahan, a sales rep for Tru Beauty.

"Get him," Callahan offered.

The two men, first-time visitors from Boston, had been in Philadelphia for about three hours, here to tour the city's high-end hair salons.

They began their day with a meeting, a famous Philly cheesesteak, and now this.

As they chased the mugger onto Quince Street, Howard yelled a thought to his friend.

"What are we going to do when we catch him?"

"I don't know," Callahan replied.

From his second-floor apartment, Rob Holt was readying for the gym when he heard the young woman screaming. He went to his living-room window and saw the mugger passing by. When Holt banged on his window, the mugger looked up. Holt then saw two men in business suits giving chase.

Holt put on his sneakers while hopping down the stairs. Reaching for his cell phone, he called 911.

Kelly Reynolds, who owns a boutique on Pine, also called 911. She yelled a play-by-play to the operator, including what the suspect was wearing.

("I know accessories," Reynolds, 40, later deadpanned.)

Reynolds passed the phone to the victim.

Howard and Callahan chased for blocks, repeatedly shouting: "Drop the purse!"

As Howard closed in, the mugger threw the bag to the ground, and kept running until he disappeared.

Back on Pine, a crowd waited.

Then Howard, sweaty and winded, made his way up the street, his arms raised in victory, a tan suede hobo bag in his hand.

Reynolds was amazed.

"Normally you think, 'Oh, my God, this city is awful,' " Reynolds said, admitting, "That's my normal reaction because I'm a spaz.

"But this was so nice. Everyone came together to help out."

The victim was visibly shaken. As Howard handed her the bag, she wrapped her arms around his shoulders for a grateful hug. Police, who took the victim to a district station, did not release her name.

Howard and his associate headed off to their next appointment.

"You don't think when that kind of thing happens," said Howard, still catching his breath. "You just kind of go.

"What's in a woman's purse?" he asked. "Everything. That could have totally annihilated her week."

Contact staff writer Kia Gregory at 215-854-2601 or
Staff photographer Elizabeth Robertson contributed to this article.