Planning for things to blog about that can both cover my new journeys yet entertain readers, I always drift back to what I have seen and learned over the years. This also helps me get a handle on how things change and use this to learn how to personally adapt and change, not for change sake, but for personal growth going forward.
Such is the case when I look back at where I used to shop and visit. This is the first part of what I hope will be both a bit nostalgic for all of us, as well as hopefully encourage everyone and every local business how to keep their identity and their vitality.
Everyone lives somewhere. Everyone grew up somewhere. For those of us who are approaching ancient ages, we remember a time when the main shopping/eating/gathering places were right there. We did much of our consumer activities in the neighborhood.
Even going to the movies, they were neighborhood theaters, and even stranger, had one or two screens in a huge auditorium. As a boy growing up in the Overbrook section of Philly, our go-to shopping districts that were close to home included (besides the relics of corner food and drug stores) 63rd Street, the 69th Street shopping district, the Haverford Ave shopping area, and Ardmore, home of Suburban Square.
Suburban Square is considered to be the first shopping center/mall in American, built in 1928. The “mall” aspect can be attributed to being among the first to add a major anchor store, STRAWBRIDGE AND CLOTHIER in 1930. It was built as an outdoor center, with streets running throughout and landscaped areas to walk and to relax. Many of the stores and a theater were local enterprises that thrived on a unique merchandising scheme or on a connection to the area.
Suburban Square was one of two distinct shopping districts in Ardmore, the other running the length of Lancaster Ave, with its own shops. There were separated by the Pennsylvania Railroads Paoli Line.
This post was triggered by an article that ran a couple of weeks ago in the Philadelphia Inquirer about the current plans for Suburban Square, a $1.5 million revitalization project. Right now, a good bit of it is vacant or being remodeled. What struck me as I read the article was that the article is saying that they want to be a “lifestyle center”, yet will not include a theater. The center used to house THE SUBURBAN THEATER which has housed the farmers market for so many years. Neighborhood theaters used to be common. They had a movie house flavor, sticky seats, a limited snack bar selection but also lots of friends and good films. They were usually right next door (not separated by a parking lot) from a number of stores and restaurants/diners that people would stop at before or after the film.
This is the City Line Center Theater, built in 1949 on City Line near Haverford Ave in the Overbrook Park section of Philly. The center is still there, but the theater is now a TJ Maxx. Also, there are no supermarkets left in this center. Next to it, for those who remember, is a SUN RAY DRUGSTORE. I spent some great times here. Judging by the marquee, I would assume that this is about 1967 or 71, when they re-issued GONE WITH THE WIND.
Of course, those neighborhood theaters are NOW few and far between, replaced by the sterile multiplexes. In addition, the style of localness of many stores have changed or disappeared. For example. In Suburban Square, their local merchants were replaced by more regional and national “brand name” chains and boutiques. Yep, even those either become too numerous or simply too cute for their own good.
Many of the stores that are closed in Suburban Square are chain stores like Talbots and Coach. All high end retailers and most not unique to the center, but represented elsewhere in the Southeastern PA region. In fact, one person interviewed mentions another Talbots in Malvern, where she shops at.
So you have a once unique attraction that could boast individualism and attractiveness in its store selection now trying to shed the move to high end chain retailers and create a “lifestyle” experience. The problem for them is that this “lifestyle” experience already exists out in the 5 county area, in many towns and villages. Suburban Square has a “Ruby’s”, a California chain that attempts to mimic exactly the kind of restaurants and diners that used to exist right there. Instead of a local original, we now get a mass-marketed copy.
What Suburban Square is trying to do is to stop competing against a behemoth like the King Of Prussia Mall and instead turn back time to become what once was, an attractive neighborhood area, albeit one that can attract from a larger area with the prospect of style, comfort, and individuality that a mall simply cannot do. You walk a mall, you stroll these areas.
Suburban Square is trying to manufacture a town square, similar to what has been built in Exton, PA.
What does this have to do with me? A lot, in theory. As I deal with my Interstitial Lung Disease and with the restrictions and changes that I have to face, I get to deal with the same issues in my personal life. What worked once has changed or is not working now. What I accomplished once now may be old news and I need to find a way to grab some of those headlines back. However, you can’t just do what you did before or simply tweek it thinking that it will all return to normal.
The same goes for towns and cities just like Ardmore and Suburban Square. Many of you living in the suburbs and in thriving Philly neighborhoods will know what I mean. They are trying to compete against the behemoths by finding a lifestyle solution instead of a head to head “can you top this” expansion and over expansion. However, that solution still keeps a strong link to the local style and history.
Many of these revivals are centered on creating a social reason for people to return again and again to a favorite area, and a favorite experience. For me, you can add a productive and successful future.
Coming in a few days, some thoughts on how to make everything old new again but not stopping at just trying to blow off the dust…
A Previous Memories post…