Saturday, July 27, 2013

Outgrowing Walnut Street

According to, Joan Shepp and other unique and successful boutique retailers are being "Priced Out of Posh." With national chains eyeing Walnut Street's retail success, smaller businesses that blazed the trail and being saddled with high rent.

Give it a read, Elizabeth Wellington put together a very thoughtful piece that points out the obstacles of being a independent retailer in a city that still wants more, and points out the exciting growth taking place in our city's retail market.

As long as the independent boutiques don't jump ship and leave the city, this can all be very hopeful. Center City's retail scene is obviously more dynamic than a mall, and while independent boutiques like to "glow" from the presence of high end clothing stores next door, they don't need to be right next door to reap the rewards of proximity.

A lot of people look at our shopping scene as all or nothing in many ways. We're either a city of thriving independent shops and BYOs, or we're en route to becoming a city full of chains catering exclusively to suburban shoppers and tourists who don't know the difference.

It's far more dynamic than that in New York and Chicago, and even smaller cities like San Francisco and Seattle. So why can the two business models thrive side by side, or at least within the same shopping district, in Philadelphia?

They can and will.

Walnut Street is collectively corralling big name stores because those seeking an alternative to King of Prussia like the convenience of one-stop shopping. People shopping at places like Joan Shepp are either seasoned urbanites or seasoned shoppers, and willing to stray off Walnut to Chestnut or the inevitably burgeoning shopping district east of Broad to find something unique.

And even those who prefer KOP, or visitors attracted to name brand stores will stray from the main drag and explore the adjacent blocks.

Cities change rapidly, and successful independent retailers should have enough capital squirreled away to look for these burgeoning neighborhoods before their landlords price them out of business. There's nothing wrong with Walnut Street catering to those who typically hightail it to Cherry Hill or KOP to spend their money, it generates money for the city whether it's a chain or not. 

Think of it this way. If Joan Shepp set Philadelphia's posh retail standards: she's outgrown her crib, sold it on Craigslist, and is ready lead Philadelphia's poshest to the next posh address.

Plenty of people will blow their paycheck for a label and support that label's inflated rent, but the market for those in-the-know still exists and is still growing. Shops like Joan Shepp are better than Burberry and Talbots, not solely because they're independent, but because they can succeed despite the fact that they're independent. They're friendly, knowledgeable, and define neighborhoods.

Personally I'll still be seeking out the quirky little boutiques and independent restaurants that might have to move to another block, but aren't going anywhere.

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