After a grim 2020, Philly Fashion District welcomes a fast-fashion giant

Customers line up outside the Primark store on Market Street. The line to get in to the grand opening of this latest addition to the Fashion District stretched around the block. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Customers line up outside the Primark store on Market Street. The line to get in to the grand opening of this latest addition to the Fashion District stretched around the block. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Philadelphians took over East Market Street Thursday morning to welcome Primark — the latest fast fashion purveyor to land in the retail temple once known as The Gallery.

A live DJ blasted the hits. Customized Primark pedicabs rode up and down Market and would-be customers smiled as they waited to enter Fashion District Philadelphia’s newest anchor through large glass doors at the intersection of Market and 11th streets. To many, the store opening represented a return of the stylish and affordable options they remember from decades of shopping at The Gallery.

Alonda Jones of South Philadelphia waits in line for the grand opening of Primark. Jones says she’s glad to see something more affordable open in Fashion District, formerly the Gallery Mall, on Market Street. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

“It’s exciting, especially since I missed the old Gallery and the stores that they offered,” said Alonda Jones, 26, a South Philadelphia resident who grew up shopping on East Market. “Now, they [Fashion District] have something that’s more affordable that anybody, your whole family, could come to and shop.”

Primark employees wave flags to welcome customers to the grand opening at Fashion District Philadelphia. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The Fashion District Primark comes as the fifth location in the region for the Irish retailer and the first within the city limits.

“Our Fashion District store will mark another important milestone in our ongoing expansion in the US and bringing our amazing fashion at amazing prices to more and more customers,” said Andy Stewart, president of Primark US.

Amanda Kurtz waits in line with her 2-year-old son, Felix, for the grand opening of Primark at Fashion District Philadelphia. The line stretched from the doors at 11th and Market streets around the block to 10th and Filbert streets before the 11 a.m. opening. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Primark’s debut marks a hopeful moment for Fashion District, a $420 million bet on a new age of urban malls wrapped in experiential offerings and a curated mix wagered just months before the pandemic drove shoppers online en masse. PREIT, the region’s largest mall owner and the company behind the East Market shopping center’s reinvention, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy near the end of last year, after coronavirus emptied its malls and drew doomsday speculation on the death of urban life as we knew it. PREIT made it out of bankruptcy over the summer and at the start of the year, its California-based partner at Fashion District, Macerich Co, took over the mall.

Primark said that the store will create 350 new jobs. David Brown, who worked the opening Thursday, is one of the new hires. The department manager said he is excited to offer fashion at an accessible price point.

Primark employees wave flags to welcome customers to the grand opening at Fashion District Philadelphia. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

“I’m excited that everybody can come in and shop,” Brown said. “It should be affordable for pretty much everybody in the city.”

“Fair price is fair fashion,” he added, riffing off of Primark’s tagline, “amazing fashion at amazing prices.”

Shoppers enter the new Primark store at Fashion District Philadelphia for the first time. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Primark’s other locations in the region are at the King of Prussia Mall and Willow Grove Mall in Pennsylvania, and the Freehold Raceway Mall and American Dream Mall in New Jersey. Notably, Primark’s model includes zero online business, instead focusing on lower prices in its 397 stores across 14 countries.

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