November 30, 2002

The Best and Worst of the City of Brotherly Love

Arranged in Thoroughly Random and Unrelated Pairings

PHILADELPHIA - LOVE IT: Philadelphia makes shopping easy. For most things, anyway.

If you have a long shopping list and want the ├╝ber-mall experience, head to King of Prussia Mall, just 15 miles from Center City. With The Court at King of Prussia and King of Prussia Plaza, the mall has, well, gee whiz, everything you might want, sometimes two of everything you want, including two Gaps, two Banana Republics, two AnnTaylor stores, etc., and more space devoted to retail sales than any other mall in the U.S., including the Mall of America. (Yes, I know, the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., is a larger and more ridiculous space, but it is not as psychotically shopping-driven as the King of Prussia Mall. For now, at least, as I hear the MofA is planning an expansion.)

Seeking a more traditional mall experience? There is an abundance of malls in the suburbs: Willow Grove, Montgomery, Plymouth Meeting, Cherry Hill, Springfield, Oxford Valley, Christiana, and more I’ve probably forgotten or never heard of. And if you’re up for some outlet shopping, try the monstrosity called Franklin Mills, located in the far northeast reaches of the city.

Within Philadelphia, if you’re searching “up market,” hit Walnut St., if you’re in a “down market” mood, try Chestnut St. (One of a few notable exceptions to this classification is Lord & Taylor, at S. 13th St., between Chestnut and Market Sts. L&T occupies the famed former flagship home of the John Wanamaker chain, acquired in 1995 by May Department Stores Inc. from the now-imprisoned Alfred A. Taubman. And, yes, the organ is still there.)

The John Wanamaker Building

Center City, Philadelphia

Now the home of Lord & Taylor

Antique shopping? That’s Pine St., east of Broad St., or not-so-far-away Chadds Ford and New Hope, Pa. Want to feel young again? Venture over to the Walnut St. strip in the South Mid-30s in University City, near the campus of the University of Pennsylvania.

Something unusual? Head for South St. or to Main St. in the Manayunk area. And for an old-fashioned “Main Street” experience, make the trek to Germantown Ave. in the Chestnut Hill neighborhood, or drive to nearby West Chester, Pa., or the previously mentioned New Hope.

[An Aside: Yes, the same New Hope, Pa., where Kennett Square, Pa., native and NBC News reporter and anchor Jessica Savitch perished in an automobile accident in October 1983. Savitch, who was once part of the “Dream Team” at Philadelphia’s WKYW, was the best. Okay, so she wasn’t such a great reporter when she went national, but she was treated like crap by her colleagues at NBC, not one of whom could read the news the way she did. Well, read the news like Savitch did until that time when she slurred her words and was about to fall asleep on camera or whatever, and there was a whole lot of chaos, and a quick break to a commercial, and I don’t know what was going on there, I mean it was like a 30-second spot or something, and what was her problem? (Although I saw this famous meltdown when it occurred not long before the tragedy of 1983, if any reader knows where I might find a video of this incident on line, I would appreciate his or her assistance.) I always thought the raspy voice of Savitch that I liked so much was the result of smoking too much, but it turns out it was from cocaine. A shame, really. Anyway, that accident in New Hope, that was like so totally not her fault. I mean, she wasn’t even driving! And it wasn’t her boyfriend’s fault, either. And drugs were not involved! It was just an accident. It was, like, dark, that night, and raining really, really hard. And I saw, with my own eyes, the section of the Delaware Canal they went into, and I might have done the same thing, especially if it were dark and raining hard. And her dog Chewy died, too! Isn’t that sad? I hate stories where the dog dies too. I mean, that’s always just so awful. Just rub it in, why don’t you? Go ahead, kick us when we’re down. Oh, and Savitch’s boyfriend died in the accident. He was driving. Martin something, I think, Martin Fischbein, maybe, from the New York Post, the Daily News maybe, I guess, if memory serves, I don’t really know, nobody talks about him much. (Post-publication note to readers: I switched to this voice for the fun of it, but also because I sometimes talk like this when I'm nervous but not feeling shy. When I'm nervous and feeling shy, I usually don't talk at all.)]

This clustering of stores -- a phenomenon that includes Liberty Place and Market East, both in Center City -- beats the insanity-inducing experience of shopping in Manhattan any day. And no sales tax on clothing!

Saks Fifth Avenue is the only remaining isolated shopping outpost in the Philadelphia area. No worry, though. Located in Bala-Cynwyd, Pa., barely over the city line, it’s easy to get to from anywhere, regardless of your mode of transportation. Just try to clean yourself up a bit before you get there.

PHILADELPHIA - HATE IT: Missing street signs. It’s a fairly universal rule of urban life that the typical intersection has four corners. It would be helpful if the city of Philadelphia would make a point of ensuring that a sign identifying the intersecting streets appeared on at least one of these four corners. Granted, the average Philadelphian is more friendly, approachable, helpful, and knowledgeable than the average New Yorker, Bostonian, or Washingtonian, but sometimes there just isn’t an average Philadelphian around to ask for help. The most lacking street I’ve encountered so far: South St., no doubt about it.


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