Pulse: How We Spend: Shopping: We’re Looking Good

The Rittenhouse Barneys — which opens this month — is so much more than a shiny new store

The rumors had been swirling around Philadelphia since I moved here in 2003. Fashionistas whispered into one another’s diamond-studded ears that a friend of a friend swore it was true. But it wasn’t until the April opening was recently announced — and I saw it in print — that I actually believed the hearsay: Philadelphia is getting a Barneys!
Sort of. It’s actually a Barneys Co-Op, the New York flagship’s trendy, lower-price-point little sis. The Co-Op — Philadelphia’s will be the 19th in the nation — actually started as a boutique within Barneys New York, a spot filled with up-and-coming designers, a denim bar and a hipper clientele. Still, it carries the powerhouse department store’s name, and it’s exactly the type of anchoring concept that Philly — and Walnut Street specifically — needs to stay relevant and keep growing. Which is why, when I spoke to retail broker Larry Steinberg of Michael Salove Company, I was happy to hear that it wasn’t a lack of viability in our market that had held Barneys back. Apparently, decision-makers decided several years ago that Philly was an ideal fit for the Barneys broad lifestyle conceit — in fact, the brand already had a strong customer base of Philadelphians who regularly trekked to NYC to shop at Barneys. It was the location. Or, rather, finding just the right one.
So where’s the dream locale? In the new 10 Rittenhouse condo building that faces the Square. For the first time in a long time, King of Prussia and Cherry Hill have been passed over for Walnut Street. “Our spot is perfect,” says Timothy Elliott, spokesman for Barneys New York. “How much better does it get than being on historic Rittenhouse Square, surrounded by luxury high-rises, popular restaurants and other notable retailers?” And while Barneys couldn’t have predicted the economic crumble, its choice of Center City just might see Walnut Street through these tough times — and define it for the future.
“This is a critical time for Walnut Street,” explains Steinberg, noting that the harsh economy means lots of leases won’t be renewed. “The question is, are the times so bad that national retailers will stay on the sidelines and wait, or will they jump, with the perception that they’ll get better rents?” Esprit, which is taking over the Ann Taylor Loft space on the 1700 block of Walnut Street in May, is doing the latter. And its Philadelphia foray may not be a fluke. According to Steinberg, Esprit valued highly the fact that Barneys was coming to Philly, as did recent Walnut Street arrivals Juicy Couture, Lululemon and True Religion.  “Barneys means that national retailers will start paying more attention to Walnut Street,” says Steinberg.
Now, next time my heart skips a beat over a rumor of a new store coming (Apple, can you hear me?), I’ll believe it might actually be true.