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As our definition of luxury shifts, Walnut Street evolves with it

Time:2018-07-11 12:52Shoes websites Click:

Wellington Elizabeth

When Under Armour abruptly closed its flagship on the northeast corner of 15th and Walnut Streets late last month, the mood on the city’s swankiest shopping corridor went dark. During that same week, Diesel padlocked its high-end denim storefront at 1507 Walnut.

The whispers of despair grew even louder.

Take these shutterings and combine them with the demise of Michael Kors, Guess, Jack Wills, Ralph Lauren, and mix in the persistent, pesky rumor that Rag & Bone might also soon be a ghost, and it’s no wonder the street’s merchants are talking.

But instead of looking at this luxe corridor, between Broad and 18th, as a harbinger of all that’s about to be wrong with the Philadelphia retail scene, I encourage you to consider what is happening on Walnut Street through a more positive lens.

Walnut Street is a microcosm of what the future of America’s upscale urban retail experience is likely to become. Like shopping centers — in particular, Ardmore’s Suburban Square — they promise to mix high-end experiences that include healthy restaurant fare, intense workout experiences, and shopping that is set up in a showroom-like environment with a side of bubbly or whiskey (think Warby Parker, the glasses retailer that encourages you to try on their wares in store, but buy online).

>> READ MORE: Ardmore’s Suburban Square shows what’s in store for downtowns as shopping moves online

But unlike these lifestyle-geared shopping centers, many buildings on a street such as Walnut have their own landlords. There is no all-controlling entity with a vision for what their center should be. That makes Walnut an organic, real-time reflection of our changing spending habits that, right now, is much more rooted in experiences than it is the accumulation of things — even that perfect pair of Christian Louboutins.

In many respects Walnut Street’s high prime real estate has made it a magnet for cellphone companies and banks — Citizens Bank will replace Aerosoles on the southeast corner of 17th, making three — count them, three — banks at that intersection. Although not aesthetically pleasing, they have no trouble affording the still well over $200-per-square-foot prime real estate prices.

But it’s in between these two blah anchors of the retail corridor where we see the new definition of luxury coming to life. Designer-led, high-end boutiques, such as Burberry and Coach, had cornered the market on what is aspirational. Now, there is cachet in SoulCycle, sweetgreen, and apparel stores that have a showroom feel and, most important, have a built-in social media (read: devoted) following.

>> READ MORE: Which Philly-area spin studio classes are worth the hype and heavy price tag?

As our definition of luxury shifts, Walnut Street evolves with it

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MARGO REED / Staff Photographer

True Religion closed in August of last year.

“This is what we call a healthy refresh,” said Douglas Green, managing partner of Center City-based commercial real estate company MSC Retail, which has several properties on Walnut. “While the Michael Kors and the Aersoles may close, the Warby Parkers, the Bonobos and Untuckits are going to be 2018 relevant brands.”

So what else is coming down the pike?

Rumble, a boxing-inspired boutique fitness gym will take over the 1520 space, the former home of Guess. Next door to TieBar in the adjoining 1527 building, L.A.-based made-in-America women’s clothing brand Brandy Melville is set to open within a few weeks.

Where there was once a Conestoga Bank at 1632, the interactive bookstore and coffeehouse Shakespeare & Co. will set up shop this fall. In the 1700 block, surfer-casual Marine Layer will move in what was once True Religion’s digs. And Amsterdam-based internet sensation Scotch & Soda (think a Dutch Urban Outfitters, sans kitsch) is rolling into Michael Kors’ old spot.

>> READ MORE: Super-bookstore/cafe/publisher Shakespeare & Co. opening in Philadelphia this summer

Commercial real estate agents confirmed that there are a number of pending leases with — you guessed it — more athleisure, more food, and more fitness.

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