Holiday shopping options in Center City, Philadelphia

In the recent past, it has become the widely adopted view that the term “Black Friday”— applied to the (shopping) day after Thanksgiving — got its color from the effect it has on retailers, pushing them out of the red and into the black for the year. But its usage with regards to this specific Friday has a much more local historical context: the Philadelphia police department coined it in the mid-1960s to describe the day between Thanksgiving and the Army-Navy football game, a day notorious for horrible traffic and pedestrian congestion throughout the city. Nowadays, more than traffic, the mention of Black Friday conjures images of department stores and behemoth malls besieged before sunrise by patrons so consumed with sleep deprivation and the spirit of the day that they might trample someone. Thankfully, The Philadelphia Inquirer is not reporting any incidents of this kind in the area.

“Black Friday” may have its roots in Philadelphia traffic, but it has become a popular bellwether for the trajectory of the U.S. economy. This year, as the country continues wending through an economic funk, the main question is: Will this holiday shopping season return better sales figures than the past two years? From their Black Friday investigations, major newspapers around the country are reporting significant sales increases over last year. Consumers describe themselves as both spending more and being more willing to spend. If the stock market is driven by optimism and pessimism, things are looking up.

How should you spend your holiday dollar? As locally as possible. Buying local keeps significantly more cents on the dollar in the community where you spend. If you order from a national online retailer, you’ll feed the national economy, as well as the economy of whatever country manufactured what you bought online — which may or may not be the U.S. If you buy a Shellbark Hollow Farms crottin de chevre cheese ($7-$9) at the Swarthmore Co-op, the money you spend will stay concentrated within a 20-mile radius. In a non-food sense, “buy local” is also taken to mean, “shop at small businesses in your community.”

If you just want to pick up a fancy package of biscotti or a lovely pair of candlesticks, shopping in Swarthmore will suffice. However, if your holiday shopping list is more extensive or more eclectic, pick up a SEPTAIndependence Pass ($11), hop on the train, and let it take you where you want to go. There are plenty of shopping districts in Philadelphia, depending on your tastes; here are details on two of the most accessible areas in Center City.

Rittenhouse Square

The area roughly between Walnut and Spruce Streets and west of Broad has it all, and is home to some of Philadelphia’s most expensive restaurants (Le Bec-Fin, 1523 Walnut Street) and penthouses. The area around Rittenhouse Square Park is Philadelphia’s version of 5th Avenue in New York; if you’re looking for Zara, Armani Exchange, BCBG, H&M, Coach, etc., this is where to come. Premium Steap (111 S. 18th St.) has tea and everything tea related, as well as clever housewares. On the same block, Di Bruno Brothers’ largest location (103 S. 18th St.) is a gourmet food emporium — if you like cheese, it’s worth stopping in just for samples. For hand- and locally-made jewelry and accessories, stop by Tselaine (1927 Walnut St.). Knit Wit (1718 Walnut St.) has a well-curated collection of beautiful and expensive women’s clothes; if you go in with a few hundred dollars to drop, the saleswomen will be very helpful to that end. Right on the Square are Anthropologie and Barnes & Noble. If you want to pick up a book at a large bookstore downtown, this one has a better atmosphere than the somewhat chaotic Borders near City Hall.

[googlemap width=”620″ height=”480″ src=”,+Philadelphia,+PA&hl=en&ll=39.949408,-75.171729&spn=0.004334,0.006791&hnear=Rittenhouse+Square,+Philadelphia,+Pennsylvania&t=m&z=17″]If you like Urban Outfitters and have never been in to Brooklyn Industries, check out the new branch at 1525 Walnut St. For years, Brooklyn Industries was a New York-only chain; now they have locations in Portland, Chicago, Boston and Philadelphia. Omoi (1608 Pine St.) carries men’s and women’s clothes, stationery and Japanese knick-knacks very popular with young adults in Philadelphia.

Just off of Broad Street at 1428 Walnut is Lush Cosmetics, a British company that sells handmade bath & body products made with high-quality natural, often organic and Fair Trade, ingredients. Some of their products bear the V for certified vegan-safe. (If you have a problem with perfumes or other strong odors, steer clear of this store.)

To get to Rittenhouse, get off the train at Suburban Station at 17th & JFK; walk south on 16th, 17th or 18th Street (the first street you cross should be Market–if it’s Arch, you’re going the wrong way) until shiny boutiques dominate. The park itself is between 18th and 19th, between Walnut and Spruce. If it’s freezing or you want to do maximum shopping with minimum walking, the Liberty Place Mall at 17th & Market is home to the major national brands that don’t have boutiques in the Rittenhouse area, like J. Crew & Express.

Midtown Village/City Hall

Just a few blocks east of Rittenhouse is the Midtown Village or City Hall neighborhood. Granted, there are the shops at the Gallery at Market East and the Burlington Coat Factory, but when you emerge from Market East Station, the area doesn’t scream, “Shop here.” Explore beyond Market Street, however, and there are a growing number of small shops worth exploring. Cross Market at 13th and keep walking south until you find Marcie Turney and Valerie Safron’s little empire: Grocery, a gourmet grocery with both hot and salad bars to trump Whole Foods, at least in quality; Open House, a home goods store; Verde, a florist’s, chocolatier’s, and accessory shop all in one; Barbuzzo, one of the city’s hottest restaurants at the moment (try the budino for dessert); and Lolita, a modern-Mexican-BYOT (bring your own tequila).

All of this and more make the 100 block of 13th Street a destination in its own right. A great resource for moderately priced handmade jewelry, bags, and other accessories, Verde is possibly the star of the block. At the back of the shop, watch Turney and her assistants make sumptuous chocolate truffles destined for the display case near the register. Chocolates are $2 a piece; flavors change seasonally, and many ingredients are sourced locally. The seasonal mix for Turney’s chocolate barks — topped with fleur de sel, granola, dried berries and other wonderful things — would make excellent small gifts.

Across the street, Capogiro Gelato and Stephen Starr establishment El Vez boosts the neighborhood’s culinary offerings even further.

Another destination in the City Hall area is Center City’s premier commercial-historical destination, Reading Terminal Market (51 N. 12th St, between Filbert & Arch). The famous indoor market opened in 1892. Only open until 5 or 6 p.m. depending on the day, Reading Terminal Market buzzes at lunchtime as the downtown work crowd pours in to choose from a wide variety of delicious, inexpensive food. If you’re looking for a gift that’s smaller than a breadbox and not electronic, there’s a good chance it can be found here. The market offers free live music, among other events; check for a calendar.

To get to the City Hall area, get off the train at Market East Station. The nearest exit from the train tends to be the Philadelphia Convention Center, which will put you on Market Street between 11th and 12th. Wherever you emerge, you will be in the City Hall neighborhood. As you stand on Market Street, City Hall and higher street numbers lie to the west; Penn’s Landing, Old City, and New Jersey lie to the east. If you stop to shxop in Rittenhouse first, just walk a few blocks east to get to the City Hall neighborhood. Whether you have an Independence Pass or just a roundtrip ticket, it won’t matter which train station you use to return to Swarthmore; the fare zone is the same, so get off at Market East and back on at Suburban Station if it’s more convenient.

Jen is a junior. She can be reached at

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