As Kmart closes, changes in store for The Gallery

Kmart has been a fixture of The Gallery on Market Street in Philadelphia for more than a decade. The store opened with fanfare — it was a big-box store with a wide variety of goods right in the heart of the city. Shoppers flocked to its doors.

How things have changed.

On Tuesday, shopper Ophelia Newkirk of North Philadelphia was not drawn to the store by the alluring  concept that had attracted a previous generation.

With Kmart expected to leave the Gallery in the spring, she was matter-of-factly looking for some good deals.

“I needed bathroom accessories, and I figured now was the time to go and get them,” she said.

Newkirk says she found some deals but they weren’t great.

In the midst of transition

The area is in the midst of a makeover, said Center City District President Paul Levy.

“It’s a transition that’s been quite a number of years in the making,” he said. “If you go way back, this was built in the 1970s. It was the very first regional shopping center built in a downtown post-World War II, it was exciting.

“It was path breaking for the city but, in retrospect, it was far more inward facing than everything we’re succeeding at in cities today,” he said.

Levy said he believes the short-term downside of losing a major employer will have an upside: “Opening the door for The Gallery to have a much more active street front, to provide a lot of activity on the sidewalk for people who are visitors as well as who are workers,” he said.

That, Levy said, will create a much higher level of economic activity.

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, who served was Philadelphia’s mayor at the time of the Kmart opening, said the concept of The Gallery is fine.

“I think they just need newer, fresher stores,” he said, adding that The Gallery is big enough to include a mix of low-end, middle and high-end stores.

“And they need an attractive anchor. I mean, hypothetically, if you put a Nordstrom or a Nieman Marcus or a Saks Fifth Avenue — something that doesn’t exist downtown — it would be huge,” he said.

Some shoppers sad

Southwest Philly resident Jean Walton said she will be sad to see the Kmart close.

“There’s so much stuff to buy! I bought my husband some jeans from out of there and I was looking at their jewelry, really nice,” she said.

While the store closing presents some opportunities for revitalization, it also presents some uncertainty.  Walton said she travels by bus and, once Kmart closes, she’ll have to find a new place to shop when the store closes in the spring.

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