Sunday, April 27, 2008

Philadelphia 1965

Driving through Baltimore recently I passed a shopping center on Reisterstown Road that clearly had been a mall marvel at some point in the 1960s, and it brought to mind how many abandoned or destroyed suburban department stores there are. The death of downtown stores was evocative for those of us who grew up on them; but how many relics there are for the 1960s and 1970s now as well.

So from a 1965 Inquirer I made a list of the branches of Philadelphia department stores in that year. Very few are still occupied by Macy's, Penney's or Sears, although there were more than 40 locations at that time. It was a tendency of upscale stores to simply list branch names (usually in the order they were opened) and downscale ones to list locations, but here's where a shopper could have gone that year for department-store shopping. It's an amazing list when one thinks that within a few years, almost all of this had been replaced by malls such as Plymouth Meeting, Oxford Valley, Echelon and the like. Clearly at this time people went "to Sears" or "to Wanamakers" rather than "to the mall."


Wynnewood: John Wanamaker, as anchor store of a small plaza, and a Bonwit Teller somewhere.
Ardmore: Strawbridge & Clothier, in its earliest suburban location (from the 1920s) and still a Macy's, just up the road from Wynnewood.

St. Davids: Sears, Roebuck & Co. had its Main Line location here; B. Altman & Co. from New York was nearby.

Bala Cynwyd: Saks Fifth Avenue's Philadelphia outpost was here.


Jenkintown: Wanamaker, Strawbridge, Bonwits, all at separate locations.

Abington: Sears was on Old York Road, near Wanamakers' Jenkintown store.

Cheltenham: Gimbel Bros. at an early mall.

Willow Grove: Lit Bros.' Montco location at York and Easton Rds.

King of Prussia: Wanamakers and J.C. Penney Co. pioneered what is now the largest mall in the East, and where Macy's still holds court. Nearly every East Coast department store chain has been at King of Prussia at one time or another.


Springfield: Strawbridge, not the current Springfield Mall, however.

69th St., Upper Darby: The great middle-class suburban shopping area of Philadelphia before the mall boom, with Gimbels, Lits, Penney's, Sears.

Lawrence Park: Lits, with I think a branch of a Chester store, Weinberg Bros.


Moorestown, N.J.: Wanamaker and Gimbels at an early mall that still has Macy's, Sears and Boscov's. One of the country's oldest malls.

Cherry Hill, N.J.: The first enclosed mall in America had Strawbridge and L. Bamberger & Co. from Newark. Macy's and Penney's are still there.

Camden: Lits was downtown. Penneys had just moved out. Sears was on the Admiral Wilson Boulevard in what was its first purpose-built store in the nation.

Audubon, N.J.: Penneys had moved to the Black Horse Pike Shopping Center from Camden.


Great Northeast: Gimbels was here in 1965; others came later; Macy's is still here. A couple of blocks away was a Lit Bros. store at Cottman and Castor. Sears had a store with its huge Northeast catalog center down Roosevelt Boulevard.

South Philadelphia: Lits at 23rd and Oregon. Sears a block away.

Germantown: Penney's and Sears were here on Chelten Avenue, along with two local department stores, C.H. Rowell and George Allen Inc., also now gone.


Lits had a downtown store in Trenton and a branch in Morrisville, but Trenton was its own market to everyone else. Lits also was in Atlantic City.

Wanamakers and Strawbridge had made early incursions into Wilmington, Del. Penney's and Sears didn't consider Wilmington part of their Philadelphia markets, and Wilmington had its own department stores (Kennard-Pyle Co. and Wilmington Dry Goods) as well.

The Levittown developments had their own shopping centers (Levittown Shop-A-Rama and Willingboro Plaza); both had Sears, one had Penney's, and both also had outposts of the Reading-based Pomeroy's Inc., which Levitt & Sons apparently had invited in.

Sears advertised its Norristown and Chester locations as part of its Philadelphia operation, but those cities also had their own stores (B.E. Block & Bros. in Norristown, Speare Bros. in Chester).
What an amazing world of department stores it was.

1 comment:

Julia said...

Why the death of downtown stores happened in 1960s? What did it cause? And what made people prefer to go "to Sears" or "to Wanamakers" rather than "to the mall"? Sorry for giving these questions. I am just interested in having much information. Thanks.