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New Book Looks Back On ‘Philadelphia’s Golden Age Of Retail’

By John Ostapkovich

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Although the internet attracts a lot of shopping dollars today, there was a time when a few blocks of Philadelphia’s Market Street were like the Mt. Everest of merchandizing.

Two of the buildings still stand at 8th and Market, but Strawbridge’s and Lit’s used to be locked in fierce competition with Gimbels there, and with Wanamaker’s a few blocks off. Philadelphia’s Golden Age of Retail, by Thomas Keels and Lawrence Arrigale, documents the growth, triumph and then withering of a shopping Mecca.

“All of these [at 8th and Market] were major department stores, and during the 1920s and 1930s, according to some sources I’ve read, you would find more retail traffic here than anywhere else in America—including 5th Avenue and including Herald Square,” says Keels.

Keels also says cars, the suburbs and the erosion of the city’s industrial base brought hard times for department stores, which often consolidated, leading to the end of iconic brand names.

Would Macy’s tell Gimbels? Can’t, anymore.

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  • misterlucky

    Came in on the tail end of that Golden was like arriving late to a celebration party, long after the cork was popped and the cheers raised…as a child, Christmas was true magic on Market St, the first year they put lites on the sidewalk trees…Kiddie City, Babytown, with their massive storefront logos; after wandering down Market, from the city hall subway stop, going thru Wanamakers, ogling the toy stores and browsing Gimbels, Strawbridges and Lit Bros as a kid, i soon found Chestnut St. as an older teen, buying everything but food and shelter from I.Goldberg on the corner of 9th and Chestnut, then shopping for my stereo at Sam Goody, while paying my due respects and homage to Radio 437 Store…for Hi Fi there was no better authority around than than Radio 437, with Sid Mark as my guru, leading me to Nirvana.

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