ONE OF THE THINGS that makes Philadelphia so not-New York is the abundance of old storefronts, even whole rows and blocks of them, that have endured through the decades without being demolished or remodeled out of existence.
Philly still has its retail “districts,” which in New York have been largely squeezed out by residential development. There’s Jewelers’ Row, a low-rise block of Sansom Street tucked into a commercial precinct of Center City; Fabric Row, on South 4th Street in Queen Village, where bolts of fabrics and trimmings fill the windows of numerous small stores with old, faded signs; and there’s Antiques Row on Pine Street in the neighborhood known as Washington Square West, where these photos were taken on a long Thanksgiving morning walk intended to preemptively head off the effects of certain gorging.
Or at least there used to be an Antiques Row. It was quiet in the streets, and drizzly, and I got the sense that things were not what they used to be. There are fewer of the dusty, cluttered shops than I remember from even a few years ago. Quite a few storefronts are vacant, and those that have changed hands haven’t been replaced with anything more upscale.
I fear that Philadelphia’s Antiques Row may be on its way out, and I certainly hope the vintage storefronts there survive whatever changes are coming. For now, though, it’s worth giving thanks for those that remain, in styles that go back to the early 20th century at least.
A few blocks away is gaudy South Street, full of head shops (or whatever they’re called these days) and tattoo parlors.
South Street may be under threat, too. A new Whole Foods recently took over an entire block, and further gentrification is likely to follow. It’s not my scene, but South Street’s exuberant tackiness is preferable to chain stores. Without places like South Street and Antiques Row, Philadelphia could become not-not-New York.