Rittenhouse Row Exec Director: Walnut Street Is Not a Mall

Several days ago, the Inquirer’s fashion writer Elizabeth Wellington called Walnut Street the King of Prussia of downtown, and mourned its increasing mallification. “When it comes to retail, Walnut Street is already morphing from unique boutique headquarters to a King of Prussia Mall roundup, as big brands like Apple, Ulta, and Juicy Couture remain the only retailers that can pay the roughly $130- to $160-square-foot rents landlords now demand,” she wrote.

While there’s truth to the fact that the rents have increased, Wellington could have chosen better examples to illustrate her piece, as we pointed out here, and it’s important to look at the area with a long lens and an eye toward economic development.

From a personal perspective, I’ve lived here long enough to remember an endless number of national chains come and go, so I’m not much worried about them taking over. In fact, strolling by Ulta last night, I said to myself, “Hello and goodbye, Ulta. It was nice knowing you”–not because of anything Ulta has done or will do wrong, but because at this point I just have a sense of what’s going to stick. And today I heard the building Ulta occupies, 1619 Walnut Street, is for sale, so who knows what the future will bring. I suspect it won’t bring more mascara and lipstick.

At any rate, I don’t tend to worry that Walnut Street’s character will be diluted by national chains because, well, I can’t remember the last time it had a lot of character to begin with, but also, it’s Rittenhouse Row already–a marketable and marketed upscale entity and destination. We’re going to get Madewell? Mon dieu! Come on, guys. Walnut Street isn’t Belleville.

I like what Corie Moskow, executive director of the nonprofit Rittenhouse Row, has to say about the matter. She has responded at length to Wellington’s piece over at Racked Philly, and makes a few key points:

Rittenhouse Row is not even close to becoming King of Prussia. We are not in the middle of a doomsday retail scenario where everything that is special and cool is threatened. Also, this is not anything that we did not see coming. In fact, it’s something that all of us involved in commercial real estate and Philly-boosting actually willed to make happen…

The fact that Walnut Street real estate prices have risen is great news! As our city and our reputation improve real estate prices should rise; we should worry if they do not. After years of trying to woo exciting national brands, we did it. We have some impressive national tenants that the country’s fifth largest city ought to have. …

Our local, independent retailers have made Rittenhouse Row attractive to national retailers and are integral to the area as a shopping destination. Knit Wit and Plage Tahiti have been here and thriving for longer than I’ve been alive. Boyds is an exquisite temple to fashion and matches the level of offering of any department store anywhere. Town Home crams more style into a closet sized space than I ever thought possible. SA VA keeps us fashionable without killing the environment. Sophy Curson should have a landmark sign in front of it. Aoki brings a pop of worldly cool to 21st Street, and Kembrel feeds our need for the newest and greatest.

And she mentions so many other people. Read the rest of her response here. It’ll calm any fears you might have that Walnut is going the way of all South Street.

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Photo strip via Rittenhouse Row