5 Things Philly Needs to Actually Be a World-Class Shopping City

Consider it our ultimate shopping list.


Illustration by Melissa McFeeters.

When a Condé Nast Traveler reader poll last January named Philly the second-best shopping city in the world, eyebrows rose. Philly? Better than Paris (23rd), New York (24th) and Milan (not even on the list)? We accepted the honor graciously but secretly shot each other the side-eye, silently acknowledging that while the recognition was nice, it was also complete B.S.

Don’t get me wrong: I love our retail scene. Shopping here is my job, and for the most part, I wouldn’t want to shop anywhere else. But let’s be real: If you were to chart Philly’s retail landscape, it would look something like a heart monitor, with high peaks (Uniqlo, Michael Kors and Vince came!) and sudden dips (Burberry left; Forever 21 opened instead of, well, anything else). We’re doggedly chugging along — and we’re getting there — but with the whole world descending on our doorstep for the impending DNC and papal visit, we have more reason than ever to step it up. Here, what we need to be a contender in the international shopping scene. 

1. A retail bridge between Center City and Old City // The stretch of Market Street between Midtown Village and Old City is a wasteland. Out-of-towners seeking good shopping must turn on their heels as soon they see the Burlington Coat Factory in all its decrepit glory: Welp, guess that’s it. The East Market development could be the saving grace, but it all depends on what anchor tenants come in. Which brings us to …

2. A high-end department store // Macy’s is resoundingly fine, but not special enough to warrant its hallowed real estate. We need a full-price Neiman Marcus or a Bloomingdale’s to come to town. Pipe dream: snagging Saks from its semi-random Bala Cynwyd spot.

3. More independent boutiques // While everyone rides the swell of national retailers, independents are our lifeblood, saving us from being a big-box pseudo-mall. But as prime retail thoroughfares (see: Walnut and, soon, Chestnut) price the little guys out, the latter are relegated to the smaller ’hoods. It’s imperative that these neighborhoods’ business associations work with shop owners to get better signage, brainstorm events and encourage accessibility. The city could get on board, too, by offering more robust tax incentives for fledgling independent business owners, or even something like …

4. A retail shuttle! // The best independent Philly shopping is scattered about in tight clusters — a sprinkling in Fishtown, a knot of shops in Queen Village — and trekking across town for one or two stores is a hard sell. An easily accessible free shuttle (perhaps funded by neighborhood business associations, the tourism board and the Center City District) could ferry consumers to prime shopping destinations. Arm hotels and stores with curated shopping maps; operate the shuttle on weekends and during holidays (hello, Christmas shopping!), and you’ll get people excited about — and supportive of — our retail scene.

5. Northside retail therapy // Retailers: We need to show some love to Fairmount, North Broad, Girard, NoLibs. We’ll take anything (except another H&M).