A Very Serious, Not Even Slightly Humorous Ranking of the Best Malls in the Philadelphia Area

Spoiler: The Gallery wins

Two weeks is an acceptable mourning period for the Occupy Philly encampment. Time to embrace rampant capitalism again!

To me, there’s no better way to celebrate American capitalism than go to the mall. What embodies the country more than a climate-controlled shopping palace in a seat of endless parking lots? Only the casino rivals the mall for the perfect American mix of waste, despair and elation.

I’m embarrassed how much I enjoy malls and consumption, but only a little. The way to survive in modern society is to embrace crap. So many things are terrible: Violence, the economy, television, movies, Philadelphia sports teams, Internet comment sections, whiny blog posts, etc. You have to be able to enjoy it. Hurrah for malls!

I’ve developed very specific criteria for rating the malls in the Philadelphia area, meaning I looked at a list of them and decided which were worth writing about. For the purposes of “mall,” only indoor, inward-facing complexes with anchor stores count. (Sorry, Roosevelt Mall!) No strip malls, nothing in Jersey (Cherry Hill Mall is nice), no food or flea markets. Also, it’s completely frivolous and the rankings don’t mean anything. If your favorite mall isn’t ranked, it’s because I didn’t feel like writing about it. Or, I forgot.

To note: When compiling the rankings, I awarded 100,000 bonus points to any mall mentioned in the DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince song “Parents Just Don’t Understand.”

1. The Gallery. Quiet, haters. The Gallery at Market East is awesome. The ultimate mall product is sneakers, and The Gallery has a million great sneaker shops. (Mini-ranking of Gallery sneaker stores: 1. Ubiq. 2. Villa. 3. Kicks USA. 4. Finish Line. 5. City Blue.) There are two video game stores, a surprisingly decent Old Navy and a surprisingly cheap Burlington Coat Factory.

The place is stuck with tacky early-80s art and a decent amount of vacant storefronts, but even that turned out pretty neat: The mall donated studio space for JJ Tiziou’s How Philly Moves mural, now installed at the airport. Sometimes you hear New Order over the sound system. There’s a pizza place that serves dollar slices. Also, there’s a train station and three subway stops.

It’s not just because I live a few blocks away. (Okay, maybe a little.) But I truly, truly hate the Macy’s in Center City—I would rather shop anywhere else—and that’s just as close. Look at my bleak description of malls above. What personifies that more than the Gallery?

And, yes, we really missed out on creating a vortex of tacky Americanism if they had put a casino in the Strawbridge’s building. Instead, they found something an even bleaker tenant: A newspaper!

2. King of Prussia Mall. Eh, whatever, this place is good.

3. Willow Grove Mall. Let’s see: Nordstrom’s, a good Macy’s, three floors, a carousel. I’ll never ride it, but whatever: Just knowing there’s a carousel in my mall warms my heart. Also, it’s near Big Wheel Park.

4. Plymouth Meeting Mall. I simply quote Wikipedia: “The Plymouth Meeting was one of the very first malls in North America which, among its mixture of various stores offered a church within the mall which exists to this day.”

5. Oxford Valley Mall. Eh, Oxford Valley’s okay I guess. The real attraction here is that this mall is right next to Sesame Place! Any mall that’s right next to a children’s amusement park has to be good.

6. Neshaminy Mall. This is the only mall I know of with a sculpture of a Native American next to a fountain. This place also has my favorite H&M and a killer movie theater. Actually, I’m not sure if it has any other stores anymore.

7. Springfield Mall. It has a Macy’s, a Target and it’s in Delaware County. It lands here.

8. Franklin Mills. If you simply must shop at a mall with a giant Ben Franklin head, this is your only option. I grew up right near Franklin Mills and spent most of my seventh and eighth grade free time there. We mallrats were not big fans of it then, but what always confused me were the bus tours to it. Bus tours to the crappy mall that used to be a harness racing track! Still, there’s a Brooks Brothers outlet.

There’s a church here, too, in the old movie theater.

9. The Shops at Liberty Place. Quick: Name me one store at The Shops at Liberty Place. Bzzt! Ha, you can’t do it! The weird ‘spoke’ design—I think this mall was modeled after Eastern State Penitentiary—really makes it impossible to remember anything that’s in the mall. Okay, okay, it has a J. Crew.

Still, even this place isn’t all bad: The food court is big and bright, and the best pop-up calendar shop in the city is here. And sometimes that’s all you really need.