The Fashion District Philadelphia officially opened in Center City last month, offering Philly residents a luxurious retail and dining experience in the heart of downtown. The multi–floor, multi–block complex was erected in place of the Gallery Mall that had occupied the space since the late seventies. Just a few SEPTA stops from campus, the brand new mall’s suburban feel provides Penn students and the entire Philadelphia community a break from the hustle and bustle of city life. The real estate companies responsible for the venture, PREIT and Macerich, invested over $400 million dollars and four years of work in the project. On Sept. 19, they officially cut the ribbon and opened the mall to the public.
The floor–to–ceiling windows of the grand entryway give pedestrians on the street a look at the opulent world inside. Indoors, the mall boasts wide, open spaces, bright lights, and colorful decor. Friends Lindsey Goldberg and Rachel Harrison—two young professionals who have been living in the city for the past eight years—wander through the grand space. As they attempt to decode the map located on the second floor, Goldberg notes that “[the mall is] definitely trying, what with the colors and the pattern...they’re definitely trying to be hip and relatable.” Although the mall is not yet at full occupancy, even the LED “Coming Soon” signs are visually attractive. What will soon become Sephora’s storefront is currently a wall covered in vivid sequins, inviting shoppers to touch, feel, and engage with the space.
Many people who had previously frequented the Gallery Mall had different things to say about the new center. George Thomas, owner and operator of the Creative Silver shop at the Fashion District, had worked at the Gallery Mall since 1985. To him, the space is personal. “I’ve seen everything but Jesus in this place,” he said. “I liked the Gallery, and I like the Fashion District. It’s home for me. This is where I started out.” He predicts that, as occupation rises, the mall will do very well. While he concedes that parking remains an issue, Thomas has high hopes for the gigantic shopping center.
But Rachel had a more sobering view of the whole experience. “The Gallery Mall was very beloved by many Philadelphians,” she said. “They’re transforming this whole area into 'the Fashion District' and it’s all very corporate...It would be nice to see more local businesses and more affordable stuff.” Lindsey agreed, adding “I mean, Armani Exchange—why?” Despite this, the two shoppers did appreciate the appearance and accessibility of the new establishment.
Overall, the atmosphere in the mall was exciting. Customers strolled gleefully, and children smiled as parents window shopped and enjoyed the amenities of the space. Eventually, the mall will include a bowling alley, a movie theater, and an array of chain eateries like Starbucks and Auntie Anne’s. For Penn students who are still adjusting to University City life, the growing Fashion District could provide an exciting off–campus getaway. “And you never know,” said George Thomas, “you might even run into Jesus.”