In anticipation of upcoming improvements to the Gallery at Market East, and Market East as a whole, PREIT has been closing shops within the mall and promising very few lease renewals. At this point, PREIT's plans seem unclear. No formal proposals have been released, all of which seem to hinge on the city relinquishing its ownership of the mall's exterior.
Many of the closures are what you'd expect. Kiosks selling knock-off sunglasses and local businesses that kept the mall's doors opened since its decline. If PREIT wants to reinvent the Gallery as a mall that shoppers - tourists being ferried to the historic district - expect, then they plan to flood it with predictability.
But there is one business within the Gallery that has managed to succeed in some form or fashion since the mall opened in 1977. 2 Street Cafe, named for the Mummers, opened in 1990, but its heart has been in the Gallery since it opened.
Jimmy Plessas played for the Greek National Soccer Team and moved to the U.S. to play in Chicago. After retiring he moved to Philadelphia and opened several restaurants, at a time when Philadelphia actually had its very own Greektown.
A small restaurant in the Gallery eventually became the 2 Street Cafe, perhaps the mall's only business that attracts "regulars." 2 Street Cafe is one-part classic diner, and one-part bar. It's the perfect place to grab lunch, or a beer before heading home to the suburbs. But more importantly, it is still quintessentially Philadelphian, a rare feat for any business leasing space in a mall.
2 Street Cafe gets a wide variety of regulars from every demographic, something New Philadelphians don't seem too in tune with.
While improvements to Market East aren't just welcome, they're essential, the district doesn't have to become Times Square. And 2 Street Cafe is the proof. Success doesn't mean we have to lick all the icing off the cake of what makes us a great city. All that leaves us with is bread. The Gallery is big enough to accommodate both the expected and the home-grown.
PREIT is thinking like a mall, and that's what the trust is designed to do. But Market East is more than a mall, it's a community of residents, commuters, and tourists willing to welcome more than a Gap or a Ruby Tuesday. Despite its Brutalist exterior, the Gallery can be a Philadelphian experience. Instead of replacing 2 Street Cafe with a chain restaurant offering watered down cocktails, the mall can offer the expected along side the unexpected. PREIT has the opportunity to learn from the flaws at Times Square and Eaton Center, as well as what makes them work, and grant the city a better experience.