Makeover of landmark urban mall in Philadelphia brings mixed reviews

Marketplace Contributor Jul 26, 2016
Share Now on:
HTML EMBED:
COPY
Pedestrians pass by advertising for the Fashion Outlets of Philadelphia, which will replace the old Gallery at Market East shopping mall.  Todd Bookman

Makeover of landmark urban mall in Philadelphia brings mixed reviews

Marketplace Contributor Jul 26, 2016
Pedestrians pass by advertising for the Fashion Outlets of Philadelphia, which will replace the old Gallery at Market East shopping mall.  Todd Bookman
Share Now on:
HTML EMBED:
COPY
  1. When The Gallery at Market East opened in 1977, the hope was to lure suburban shoppers back into, what was at the time, a gritty downtown Philadelphia. But the million-square-foot multi-level shopping mall on Market Street became a place that urban shoppers came to love, too. 

The ground floor was a maze of kiosks and shops, including the Complexion Plus Beauty Store owned by a guy named John Rouse. “It is different now.  But back then, it was real good back in those days,” he said.

There was always a steady stream of customers here, in part because both a commuter train and subway have stops connected to the complex. Today, those trains still run, but most of the stores are shuttered.

Last year, the mall’s owners unveiled plans to renovate The Gallery, to bring in new stores, re-do the tired interior, and, in theory, lure more customers. While the construction continues, commuters can still pass through what’s left of the old food court.

While undergoing an extensive renovation, much of the old Gallery, including the food court, remains open to pedestrians.

“If you were here, you would see a Popeye’s Chicken here, you would see that Smoothie King was still there,” said Solomon Jones, who as a teenager spent a lot of time here. “And you would see all kinds of people. You would see old people, young people, you’d see women with baby carriages, some business people walking by. And so it was a pretty vibrant area.”

Jones, now a writer and columnist, says The Gallery was especially important to the city’s black residents. Many of them came here from poorer neighborhoods with limited shopping options. He’s worried the new space, to be called The Fashion Outlets of Philadelphia, won’t fill that need.

“It is almost like retail gentrification, right? We are gonna re-brand it, we are gonna re-name it, we are gonna change how it looks,” he said. “And we are gonna make sure we are reaching out to people who don’t look like the people who are already here.”

There is development taking place throughout Philadelphia right now. Like many Americans cities, it’s attracting younger, wealthier residents who want commerce that matches their tastes.  

“You know the old saying goes, the only thing that’s inevitable is change,” said Anne Fadullon, the city’s Director of Planning and Development. “And Philadelphia right now is experiencing a lot of change, all at the same time. We are seeing a lot of our communities change, we are seeing our downtown certainly go through some change.”

Fadullon said the renovated Gallery won’t be totally unrecognizable. But, it is nearly 40 years old, and due for an update. Plus, she said, it may help draw more customers to the street-level shops surrounding the mall.

John Rouse has no interest in reopening his Complexion Plus Beauty Store in the remodeled space. But he is behind the project.

“I just like to see it get back to the old ways. And really, really turn things around, and I think it will be alright then,” he said.

For now, though, much of The Gallery feels like a ghost town as it’s under construction. It’s a place to pass through, not to shop.

If you’re a member of your local public radio station, we thank you — because your support helps those stations keep programs like Marketplace on the air.  But for Marketplace to continue to grow, we need additional investment from those who care most about what we do: superfans like you.

Your donation — as little as $5 — helps us create more content that matters to you and your community, and to reach more people where they are – whether that’s radio, podcasts or online.

When you contribute directly to Marketplace, you become a partner in that mission: someone who understands that when we all get smarter, everybody wins.

We’re here for you.

As COVID-19 reshapes our economy, our newsletter will help you unpack the news from the day.