Philadelphians offer mixed reviews on The Gallery as it ages. A face-lift has long been rumored for the urban shopping mall that opened in the 1970s and now dominates blocks of Market Street east of City Hall.
On a recent unseasonably warm day, The Gallery was busy with noontime shoppers. Friends Nydeera Harvey and Tanya Riddick were sitting outside enjoying the weather.
“When I come to The Gallery, I buy Bath & Body Works. Sometimes I stop in Old Navy, Five Below and Cinnabon,” Harvey says. While she prefers going to King of Prussia to shop, Harvey says The Gallery is closer to her home in West Philadelphia.
Riddick says she likes the urban shopping mall just the way it is.
“It should stay the same! It’s like a tradition,” Riddick says.
While Harvey ticks off a list of stores she’d like to see added to the Gallery — including American Eagle and Aeropostale — Riddick has just one suggestion.
“Only thing they missin’ is Victoria’s Secret!” she says.
Ground-breaking Gallery echoed suburban development
Decades after its debut, The Gallery now feels like a fixture of East Market Street. But Paul Levy, president of the Center City District, says the opening of The Gallery was a big deal.
“This was really the first major regional shopping center built after World War II in the middle of downtown,” Levy said. “It connected not only a regional shopping center to parking garages but to a regional transit system. All that was absolutely wonderful, except all that was totally inward-facing by design.”
Levy says that mirrored designs for shopping centers in the suburbs where there is little potential for the window shopping that streets such as Walnut or Chestnut offer.
Instead, shoppers drive up, park and walk in.
“There are great strengths for The Gallery,” Levy adds. “They do great sales volumes, they meet lots of different needs in the city, but from the perspective of Market Street East, it’s a lot of blank walls with corner entrances.”
He said plans to transform The Gallery, in effect to “turn it inside out,” are exciting. He explains that, at the street level, it would focus outward.
“To have retail that focuses out on to the street. And for a city that now has 275 outdoor cafes, for there to be not one on Market East is clearly a huge gap,” he said. “So the plans envision ground floor retail, ground floor restaurants, people sitting outside.”
Pedestrian traffic enhances potential
Levy points out there are lots of visitors nearby — heading to historic sites and attractions such as the Pennsylvania Convention Center. He says there’s real potential for The Gallery area to be transformed into a major shopping destination by tapping into the vitality on the street. It could, he says, become Philadelphia’s Times Square or Michigan Avenue.
Architect John Bower agrees that there is real opportunity.
“This whole complex has the potential to do for everybody,” Bower said. “In other words, you have Macy’s across the way, you have Reading Terminal Market and the future development along this southern edge — it could really become quite upscale at the western end and serve everybody in this middle ground all the way to the other end. When you think of the thousands of people who pour through this area every day to work, to all of this public transportation.”