King of Prussia still reigns as the Philadelphia region’s chief shopping mecca, with plans to expand even more. But the suburban car culture it represents is being challenged by younger generations who drive less and prefer urban living.
On Black Friday, the retail hysteria had died down by midmorning, perhaps because stores had already been open since 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving. Still, America’s second-largest mall complex was crowded.
Khaleelah Williams and Vanessa Evans drove up from Philadelphia to look for Black Friday deals – as is their tradition.
“We’ll always come,” says Williams. “We’ve been coming for a long time.”
Twenty years, Evans guesses with a laugh.
And soon they’ll have even more places to shop.
Last week, mall officials announced a $150 million expansion with about 40 new stores and restaurants. Elsewhere in the area, construction crews are filling in a wide swath of open space with a new Children’s Hospital satellite office, luxury apartments and more stores.
All of this means more traffic, too.
Officials say a long-term proposal to extend SEPTA’s Norristown High Speed Line into King of Prussia could coax some drivers off the road and help city residents who need jobs get out to the stores that need workers.
Williams, who lives in East Falls, likes the transit idea, although she says she’s not likely to take advantage of it.
“I just want to get in my car and go,” she says. “But for people who don’t like traffic, who don’t like looking for parking spots, that’s ideal.”
She says more traffic won’t keep her from shopping at her favorite mall.
Mary Roberts from Collegeville agrees. She’d like better public transit for her occasional outings to Philadelphia for Phillies games or to take in a historical site, but she won’t abandon King of Prussia.
“There’s everything I need in the suburbs,” she says. “I have the mall, I have great restaurants now. There’s so much development out there. I feel that sometimes the suburbs are competing with the city.”
But to keep competing in the future, it’s clear King of Prussia can no longer rely just on cars to attract millennials such as Brooke Walker and Ariel Bloch.
Walker, who’s on Thanksgiving break from college in Boston, says she had to borrow her mother’s car to get to the mall from Havertown to get her Black Friday fix, but she would prefer a train.
“I know my sister from where we’re from, it takes her like over an hour to get out here and her school’s only like 15 minutes outside King of Prussia,” she says. “So it would be really convenient for her, too.”
Steve Wray, executive director of the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia, believes the region is on the verge of a transformation.
“A lot of the development in the King of Prussia area was done in a different generation, at a different time — not focused on the need to integrate transit and cars and walking and work all in the same place,” Wray says. “This is a time where, with the new development plans, there’s perhaps an opportunity to fix this and make King of Prussia relevant really for the next 20 to 40 years.”
SEPTA’s plans for extending the train line are still about 10 years off – long after dozens of new stores and apartments will already be built.
The question remains: Will the crowds continue to come?