Greg Alexander

Let freedom – to shop – ring

Baltimore Sun, September 2005

Philadelphia – a town synonymous with Benjamin Franklin, the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Betsy Ross and even Rocky Balboa. However, there’s more to the City of Brotherly Love than American and cinematic history. Not merely the birthplace of much of American history, Philadelphia also is the birthplace of other important names – Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie and Lagos, a high-end jewelry line, all of which were founded in Philadelphia. Yes, Philadelphia is a shopaholic’s dream, offering everything from “Big Box” chain stores and high-end department stores to quaint boutiques, brand-name retail stores and antiques galore. And, in case you needed any more excuses to shop, remember – there is no sales tax on clothing in Pennsylvania.

Shopping in Philadelphia will expose you to all of the beautiful, historical neighborhoods, many of which have countless shops that will keep your credit card busy. Philadelphia is definitely a town of neighborhoods, each one taking pride in its own unique charm. So, where should you go?

If you’ve been to Philadelphia before, some mainstay neighborhoods will immediately pop to the top of your shopping list; however, there are some new, up-and-coming ones that need not be ignored. “In the city, I like all of the shops along the new revived 13th Street corridor,” says David W. Smith, a lawyer and 28-year resident of Philadelphia. “This new shopping district is quite hot and trendy along a street that has really turned around.” Smith, who grew up in Gwynedd Valley, Pa., says that one of his favorite shops in this area, dubbed “B3” (Blocks Below Broad), is Sparacino-Mens, which relocated to 13th Street two years ago. “We had two locations in Philadelphia and decided to consolidate into one location. We chose 13th Street since it seemed like a growing area,” says owner Anthony Sparacino. “The change in the neighborhood is amazing. It all started when Open House [a neighboring shop] and my store opened; everything started to change for the better.”

Sparacino says that locals have supported his business for the past seven years, but the new location also is driving tourists to his store. “We’ve had strong support by locals, and we’ve been involved in the community by hosting fundraisers and Happy Hours to raise money for HIV/AIDS. Our new location is close to the Pennsylvania Convention Center and several large hotels, so now we’re getting lots of out-of-town customers,” says Sparacino, who sells clothes by Ben Sherman, Penguin, 2xist, Lee Allison, Verge, as well as his own label, Sparacino.

Other popular stores on 13th Street include Matthew Izzo Shop, a clothing, home accessories and furniture gallery where Jennifer Lopez is rumored to be one of several celebrity clients, and Open House, which sells handcrafted furniture and arts and crafts by local artisans. Sparacino notes that future 13th Street stores include West Elm, which is slated to open later this year.

Looking for something that sparkles for that special someone in you life – or yourself? No need to run all over town. Simply head to Jewelers’ Row, the oldest and second-largest diamond shopping area in the country, and be dazzled by the offerings of over 150 jewelry stores. Not just home to diamonds, Jewelers’ Row has every stone you can imagine, watches and accessories, priced well below what you would pay retail.

Not into jewelry? Well, how about a stunning antique to showcase in your Baltimore rowhome? Not far from Jewelers’ Row is Antiques Row, a collection of antique stores, as well as clothing, furniture and home accessories stores. “When you come to Philadelphia, don't forget Antique Row along Pine Street. There are some great galleries and antique dealers on this stretch, and it is a cool place to window shop … or actually buy something,” says Smith. One of the more popular antique destinations is M. Finkel & Daughter, a family business located in a circa 1810 building with two stories of antique furniture and world-famous antique samplers, needlework and silk embroideries. While in the neighborhood, check out Twist, a home décor store co-owned by Sharne Algotsson, who has been featured in Metropolitan Home, Southern Living and Elle Décor.

Speaking of home furnishings, Smith also recommends the various shops in Old City Philadelphia, including Flotsam + Jetsam, which carries high-end beds, armoires, sofas, tables and chairs. Old City also is the home to myriad art galleries and clothing stores geared toward the young hipsters. Another popular shopping destination is the Rittenhouse Square and Rittenhouse Row area, home to Lord & Taylor, which is housed in the former John Wanamaker department store and is a popular spot around the holidays, especially for its 30,000-pipe organ. “Rittenhouse Row is great for shopping,” says Smith, who shops at Banana Republic, Diesel and Kenneth Cole. Other retail chain stores can be found at The Shops at Liberty Place in the heart of the Center City business district, including J. Crew, Coach, Ann Taylor Loft, Express and Victoria’s Secret.

If you’re more of a Rodeo Drive shopper, head to Walnut Street. “The shops along Walnut Street are pretty upscale and have good service, including Kiel's and Tiffany,” says Smith, who also stops in Puma and City Sports when in the area. Chestnut Hill is another great neighborhood for specialty shops and upscale boutiques, as well as admiring the fabulous homes. Meanwhile, if you prefer people watching, Smith suggests South Street, Philadelphia’s answer to Greenwich Village. “South Street is more interesting for people watching than shopping, and it draws diverse crowds at night,” he says of the neighborhood, home to funky boutiques and restaurants.

Of course, shopping in Philadelphia is not limited to neighborhood shops. “I love Peddler's Village; it is especially great around the holidays with all of the lights and decorations,” says Smith. Peddler's Village, located just an hour from Philadelphia, allows you to shop in a “country village,” while browsing for home furnishings, gifts, toys, collectibles and apparel from 70 specialty shops. Upscale shopping can be had at King of Prussia Mall, self-dubbed as “The East Coast's Premier Shopping Destination,” with over 400 stores, restaurants and boutiques, including Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Bloomingdale's, Lord & Taylor, Macy's and Strawbridge’s, a part of The May Company, which owns Filene’s, Hecht’s and Marshall Fields. Bargain shoppers will delight at Franklin Mills Mall, located just 15 miles from Philadelphia and a sister company to Arundel Mills. Find great deals at OFF 5th Saks Fifth Avenue Outlet, H&M, Polo Ralph Lauren Factory Store, Banana Republic Factory Store, Brooks Brothers Factory Store and Kenneth Cole Outlet Store.

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