At Citibank’s “Germantown Lending Center” grand-opening gathering in March 2012, elected officials and community leaders alike touted it as “a tipping point” for “rebirth” in a neighborhood that had seen no new bank set up shop for two decades.
“On behalf of the city, and the mayor, I want to tell you that this corridor is critically important to us,” Kevin Dow, the city’s chief operating officer and deputy director of commerce, said at the event. “We want to make sure it’s successful.”
And when that center expanded into a full-service branch in Jan. 2013, they reconvened to credit Citibank for living up to the promise of neighborhood commitment.
On that day, Citibank’s local point person Irv Brockington told NewsWorks that, “Many people have been waiting for this to happen. .. Now, we’re finally able to help them. That’s a great thing.”
Today, though, the windows of Citibank’s prominent storefront location in Germantown’s Chelten Plaza are papered over and its doors are locked. Its signage was also removed from the Plaza’s nameplate.
Just two years after its arrival was celebrated, Citibank has left the neighborhood.
The vacancy isn’t exactly a new development.
Brockington told NewsWorks on Thursday that the branch’s final days passed in March, a result of CitiBank closing its 10 remaining branch offices in Philadelphia.
While Brockington noted that mortgage services are still available in the city, he deferred all questions to the corporate offices in New York City. He did not respond to inquiries about what this meant to the neighborhood from which he came.
(Citibank spokesman Andrew Brent noted that, “Philadelphia remains an important market for Citi. … We are also very committed to continuing our support of important community development initiatives, such as neighborhood economic-development projects, programs designed to help low-income public students enroll in college, and mortgage foreclosure prevention assistance.”)
For his part, state Rep. Dwight Evans — who attended the grand opening despite it being outside his legislative district — noted the importance of the closure being part of a citywide decision, not a location-specific one.
“It was not just a decision about Chelten and Pulaski [streets], and not about that neighborhood,” Evans said. “Things like this will happen, unfortunately. When you’re trying to bring economic development to communities like this, it’s often a struggle.
“I still think that’s a viable location, as demonstrated by the other kinds of stores there. The Save-A-Lot. The Subway. The [Anna’s] Linens are still going strong. The reality is that you have an extremely attractive location there to attract new businesses. There’s still a golden opportunity there.”
State of the Plaza
In many ways, Evans’ point was spot-on about a shopping center that wasn’t exactly greeted warmly.
A sign above the storefront located between Anna’s Linens and Subway, on the center’s Pulaski Street side, indicates that the long-awaited Aaron’s furniture store is coming soon.
The Chelten Avenue side, however, looks a bit more barren.
Citibank’s windows are papered-over up to the recently opened H.R. Block location, which is neighbored by another vacancy and the abandoned Wired Beans location from which owner Robert Wheeler said he was “priced out.”
When Aaron’s furniture opens, which is expected to happen within the next four to six weeks, the shopping center will have a 66-percent (6 of 9 storefronts) occupany rate.
Chelten Plaza developer Pat Burns said he’s currently seeking a tenant for the prominent corner location once occupied by Citibank.
He also noted that he’s close to filling 1,300 square feet of the plaza’s Chelten Avenue-facing portion with a new tenant.
Burns said the Citibank news was tough to hear.
“I’m disappointed because we worked so hard to get them in here,” he said. “We have some people looking at it, and we want a good tenant there. Citibank is one of the top three or four banks in the world, but I felt better about it knowing that it wasn’t us, that it was them pulling out of the city itself, not just that location.”