Good Life: How We Spend: Trend: After Hours

Center City stores get ready to stay up past their bedtimes

Not too long ago, my entire wardrobe consisted of clothes from two stores. Not by choice, of course. Simply because long days at the office forced me, like many time-strapped working-and-dwelling-in-Center City-ites, to buy at the dinky sprinkling of Center City stores that stay open past sunset.

So often did I lament the limited options that I was given the official assignment of finding out just why Philly closes shop so early. Is it the cost of labor? The risk of late-night shoplifters? The price of electricity?

The more research I did, though, the more relieved I became: Turns out change is afoot. Retailers are recognizing that in our over-scheduled lives, shopping has to fit into our free time—not the other way around.

Now you’ll hear the swiping of Amexes well past happy hour. Macy’s recently extended its hours until 8 p.m.; other consistent 8 p.m.-ers include Kenneth Cole, West Elm, H&M and Club Monaco. Some stores, like Banana Republic and MaxStudio, are staying open until nine. Retailers are finally taking cues from our flooded streets and realizing that people spend more money when they’re actually in stores than when they’re staring at dark window displays.

And while the change at Macy’s, for one, was spurred by customer requests, such pleas aren’t usually enough; stats, however, are. According to a 2006 Center City District study, 45 percent of visitors come to Center City primarily to shop, and the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation says that leisure visitors who spend the night (9.2 million in 2006) will drop an average of $153 on shopping while in town. Cha-ching.

But it’s the increase in residential occupants, not tourism, that’s really fueled the shift, says Larry Steinberg, of Michael Salove Company Commercial Real Estate. More than 9,000 new Center City housing units are slated to be built by 2009, and 11,500 have been added since 1998. “The demographic in the city is younger now; they have disposable incomes, and they don’t have kids,” Steinberg says.

It was the chains that first responded to these spend-happy residents. “The coming of certain chains, which at first people derided, is what gave the other retailers the confidence to stay open,” says Meryl Levitz, president and CEO of the GPTMC. Ann Gitter, owner of Knit Wit and Plage Tahiti, concurs: “When I moved to Walnut Street in the mid-’80s, we weren’t even open on Sundays. Now, you don’t want to be the only one on the block not open.” Her shops stay open all weekend and until 8 p.m. Wednesday through Friday. The change has been worthwhile, but wasn’t without hassles. “You’ve got to find and schedule more staff and the security guard,” Gitter says. Jimmy Contreras, co-owner of Kimberly Boutique, agrees that it’s been a challenge to find extra help for his 16th Street shop. But he says in Kimberly’s case, volume isn’t the name of the game: “We don’t stay open past seven, because our store is so client-based.” Contreras says his customers come not just for the clothes, but for the level of customer service. Which is one thing, open later or not, chain stores admittedly don’t always ­provide.

Still, sometimes a girl just needs a new pair of black pants. And now, ­picking them up after a long day on the job in Philly is—finally—becoming a reality.