Larry Steinberg talks with PBJ on Changes Ahead in Philadelphia Retail
On a warm Friday afternoon in late January, workers were hauling white shelving and racks out of what had been American Eagle Outfitters on Chestnut Street in Center City and indiscriminately hurtling the items on the bed of a truck.
The store, like the Forever 21 just across the street, had closed.
Philadelphia’s High Street retail corridors is hitting a low. Talbots, Forever 21 and American Eagle joined other retailers such as Under Armour, Jack Wells, Timberland, Barneys, Zara, A.C. Moore among others that have shuttered.
The same forces that have devastated malls have manifested themselves along Main Street and High Street retail corridors such as Walnut and Chestnut. E-commerce, a change in spending habits after the Great Recession, and millennials and GenZers willingness to spend on restaurants, entertainment and fitness rather than apparel have reconfigured retail. That has, combined, created a worrisome situation.
“We’re seeing many more vacancies than we’ve ever seen before,” said Larry Steinberg, a retail broker with Colliers International. “We’re in a critical situation if these stores stay vacant. It will begin to affect other merchants.”
Center City’s retail scene has its strengths in spite of the current situation. An increase in residents, visitors, college students and workers with disposable income to spend on everything from Salvatore Ferragamo shoes, Nars makeup and a pair of Brunello Cucinelli trousers has helped to generate $1 billion in retail demand in Philadelphia, according to a 2019 Center City District and Central Philadelphia Development Corp. report on the city’s retail market.