…”if Philadelphia is indebted to England for the name High Street, which undoubtedly is the case, nearly every American city or town founded since 1700 is, in turn, indebted to Philadelphia for its Market Street, which is particularly Philadelphian in nomenclature. This…was due to the plan of Penn, who, long before his city was laid out or settled, had provided a wide High street, where markets could be held on regular days of the week under certain restrictions and rules.”
Market Street, known as High Street until just before the consolidation of the city with its surrounding districts in 1854, has long been an important street in Philadelphia. For much of its existence, this street has been a corridor of both transportation and commerce. As was the case with most walking cities, in the beginning this street was an area that served functions of both residence and commerce. The famed John Wanamaker, for example, opened his first store here on the corner of 6th and Market Streets in 1861. Many more changes were to follow. The development of one section of the street, that which runs from 7th to 12thStreets, has been particularly notable in the past two centuries. Not only was this section of Market Street an important center for progressive era shoppers, but it has also been a site of simultaneous change and continuity since that time.
One of the early department stores in Philadelphia, Strawbridge and Clothier, was opened in 1868 at the corner of 8th and Market. This three-story brick building was soon replaced with a larger five-story structure. As a wholesaler, Strawbridge’s was particularly popular among shoppers for offering quality goods at low prices. They were also known for taking orders and making deliveries. It would eventually become one of the anchor stores of the Gallery at Market East, an urban shopping mall. In addition to Strawbridge’s, several other stores lined the street. These included Gimbel’s dry goods store, Sharpless Brothers, and Hood, Foullerod, and Company.
It was not until 1910, however, that rapid transit was added to the mix of services offered in the area. Philadelphia was the last of the major metropolitan areas on the east coast to offer such services. Bromley’s 1910 atlas of the city showed two subway stops here: one at 8th Street, the other at 11th. The lines of the Market Elevated, completed in 1907 by the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company, paralleled those of the older trolley lines. This original section of the elevated extended from 69th Street to 15th Street. By 1908, the Market Elevated system also included service to 2nd, Chestnut, and South Streets (the lines to Chestnut and South were discontinued in 1939).
Particularly important for the commercial activities of the section of Market Street discussed here were the special plans for the 8th Street Station of the Market Street Subway. In 1910, three of Philadelphia’s major department stores were found at the intersection of 8th and Market Streets. At this time, Strawbridge and Clothier was located on the northwest corner, Lit Brothers on the northeast, and Gimbel Brothers on the southwest. As a tactic for drawing in more shoppers, supposing that just as they preferred to avoid congestion in the street while driving or riding the trolley, people would prefer to avoid the traffic while shopping, the underground section at 8th and Market was created so that patrons could access all three department stores from underground. This way, shoppers never had to go outside onto the busy, polluted street if they did not desire to do so. The underground department store connection opened at last in August 1908. In 1915, work began on the Frankford Elevated line, which then went into service in 1922. Eventually the two rapid-transit lines were combined to create the Market-Frankford Elevated.
After a downswing in retail business due to suburbanization after World War II (people, it seemed, preferred to shop in branch stores in the suburbs where they could park their cars and shop in clean, relatively crime-free surroundings), the city engaged in a venture to attract shoppers to Center City Philadelphia once again. With funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority planned and implemented changes meant to revitalize the Market East area. One of the main developments of their renewal plan was the construction of the Gallery at Market East, a passenger railroad tunnel, and transportation concourse. The Gallery I (8th to 10th Streets) opened for business in 1977. Gallery II, which extended the mall west to 11th Street, was completed by 1984. The gallery had a successful first year, and since then has remained moderately successful. However, it was not as successful at attracting suburban shoppers as it had been hoped. Instead, the Gallery became a mall most often patronized by residents of the city itself.
Market Street, in the area from 7th to 12th Streets, has since the beginnings of the streetcar city been a center of commerce in the city of Philadelphia. If its past is to be trusted, it may be assumed that Market Street will still be lined with retail shops in the future. However, the character of the establishments that may be found there are susceptible to changes which reflect changes in society as a whole. Market Street went from being the site of multiple department stores known for the quality of their products and fairness of their prices to the site of an innovatively designed urban mall and other smaller retail establishments. In the time between the streetcar city and the present day, these changes can be attributed largely to the movement of people with disposable income out of the city and their propensity for automobile travel.
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