|Pas de shoe
The Rosin Box on Sansom Street, now run by the second generation, has partnered area ballerinas for 30 years.
By Phyllis Stein-Novack
PETER TOBIA / Inquirer Staff Photographer
Natalie Dardaris browses in the shop. "It's more than getting the perfect fit," Jennifer Jenkins says. ". . . We give good advice."
Thirty-some years ago, Dave Jenkins was spending lots of time on the road as an ice cream-company sales representative, rather than at home in Wynnewood with his wife, Angela, and their children.
One day, Angela suggested that it was time for a change: Dave should trade in the ice pops and Eskimo Pies for leotards and pointe shoes. After all, their teenagers, Leonard and Jennifer, were taking ballet lessons and performing with Philadelphia's Ballet des Jeunes, so the idea of a shop catering to dancers seemed a natural fit.
In March 1977, the suggestion became the Rosin Box, and before long, the Rosin Box became a fixture in the city's dance life, the go-to place for toe shoes. Located at 2050 Sansom St. since 1989, it is celebrating its 30th anniversary this spring.
Len and Jennifer Jenkins, proprietors and partners in their now-retired parents' venture, say the store was a natural outgrowth of the family's passion for dance.
"My mom loved to do the makeup for our performances when we danced with Ballet des Jeunes," Len said of Angela, now 72. And Jennifer noted that Dave, now 75, "was active on nonprofit boards," including that of the Philadelphia Dance Alliance.
Nowadays, with online shopping commonplace, the risky business of buying toe shoes (a bad fit can result in pain or even serious injury) still demands personal attention and a deep knowledge of manufacturers, materials, and gauging individual fit - all of which is the Rosin Box's stock in trade.
"I know why people keep coming back," said Jennifer Jenkins, 44, who danced professionally for years and now lives in Drexel Hill with her husband, Bob Ertel; son, Bob, 14, and daughter, Jenna, 11. "We know how to fit the shoes.
"But it's more than getting the perfect fit," she said. "Our shop is a social environment - we give good advice. I know firsthand that the world of ballet is very competitive. I understand the heartbreak a dancer feels at a young age."
Because of that, the cozy store - with its iconic pair of faded red toe shoes hanging in the window - often draws visitors who return as much for the conversation as for the selection.
"People lose touch, but after 10 or 20 years they come back for a visit," said Len Jenkins, 46. "Some people have moved, or [they] went away to school, but they want to catch up."
That, Philadelphia dance-world denizens say, is also part of the family business.
"They are the nurturers, the ambassadors, the supporters, fans and promoters of ballet in this city on every level," said Lisa Collins Vidnovic, who came to Philadelphia in 1979 after training with American Ballet Theater and performing in Chicago. She danced with Pennsylvania Ballet for 10 years before opening Metropolitan Ballet Academy in Jenkintown in the mid-1990s.
"Dave and Angela were like family," she said. "When I first came to their shop, I was an apprentice with Pennsylvania Ballet and was poor like a mouse. But they always helped me and encouraged me.
"I retired from dancing in 1989 to have my first child, but I wanted to open a school. The Jenkins encouraged me to do so, and they take care of my students like they took care of me."
Len "lives over the shop" with his wife, Kimberly, their three boys - Lee, 15, Joshua 13, and Luke, 7 - and two cats, Scooter and Skeeter, who often run downstairs to greet customers. Three generations of Jenkinses now are involved, with young Lee sometimes pitching in to straighten the merchandise on Saturdays.
The Rosin Box sells everything for all types of dancers - leotards, tights, leg warmers, all types of footwear (the popularity of Dancing With the Stars has led to an increase in requests for ballroom dancing shoes). But the focus has always been on ballet, and on toe shoes.
According to statistics kept by Pennsylvania Ballet, each of the company's 20 ballerinas goes through 50 to 110 pairs of pointe shoes per season, at a cost of $70 a pair. In 1991, when Pennsylvania Ballet was in serious financial trouble and nearly went under, the Jenkinses donated pointe shoes to its dancers - and also sold "Save the Ballet" T-shirts at the Rosin Box.
"They are synonymous with dance in the Philadelphia area," said Jon Martin, who should know: He has been the "shoe man" at Pennsylvania Ballet since 1979, keeping track of thousands and thousands of pairs of pointe shoes.
"The Jenkins are dear friends," he said. "They have always been there. They're like family."