On its first day open to the shopping public, Century 21's new Philadelphia department store was hopping Thursday with a curious lunchtime crowd of men and women, young millennials with dyed hair, mothers pushing baby strollers and masculine sports fans in Eagles jackets and caps.
And the high price tags for some luxury items on offer in the old Strawbridge & Clothier building at 8th and Market Streets didn't seem to scare anyone away.
At the Century 21 entrance inside the Gallery mall, Carol Goodlett wandered in to inspect the store's designer sunglasses, jewelry, gloves, perfume, and handbags, like a Dolce & Gabbana gold sequined clutch for $1,998 and a Prada handbag for $1,469.
She had passed by the A$Dollar store entrance to come in from the rain, underneath giant, low-hanging gold chandeliers, high white ceilings and track lighting.
"What got my attention was the sign. I thought it was the real estate company" by the same name, Goodlett said. "I came by here two weeks ago before [Century 21] opened and I was wondering what it was." Thursday at noon, she returned to inspect the wares.
After a "soft launch" for the weekend, the store will close Monday and have an official ribbon cutting at 11 a.m. Tuesday.
In ladies shoes, women eyed the open boxes by brand with serious intent. One high-energy shopper quipped to her friend, "the Lanvin shoes run small and narrow. You have to buy them up a size." She tried on a pair of black and red leather heels and then moved on.
The triple-digit Lanvins lay in boxes next to Henry Ferrera rain boots for $24.99.
"I just heard Prada . . . I'm going over there," said Takiya Young from the Northeast, also eyeing what was on offer in shoes.
"I used to shop at the Century 21 in New York when I lived there," said Young. "It's a great location here at the Gallery, but I wouldn't have come here unless this store was opening."
Her friend Gwen, who declined to give her last name, said she recalled the Gallery from the late 1970s and early 1980s and said "back then, it was so nice. But it's changed."
In men's on the next floor up, Pharrell's brand Billionaire Boys Club was attracting attention from male customers.
And "even the straight men are buying the brands like Roberto Cavalli, Versace and Rag & Bone," said a salesman, who couldn't give his name due to store policy. "We're getting shoppers from the gayborhood but also getting the Rittenhouse crowd for the first time."
The Center City store is Century 21's ninth location and its first outside the New York metropolitan area.
Century 21 officials have said they hope to "alter the retail landscape" in Philadelphia and the store is expected to give a boost to the Gallery mall.
Executives with the Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT), which owns the Gallery, have said they spent five years trying to lure Century 21 to fill the space that had been vacant since 2006.
Chatter among brokers to center city commercial tenants is that PREIT is abandoning its proposed "fast fashion/entertainment" concept for the Gallery and is considering making the mall a discount outlet destination.
"We hear rumors that PREIT has some good potential lease signings," says Larry Steinberg, broker with CBRE/FAMECO in center city.
PREIT declined to comment.
If PREIT and co-investor Macerich abandon the fast-fashion model, "instead of trying to win the battle over tenants, then they can create their own theme," said Douglas Green, principal of MSC Philly brokerage firm.
"It would be a phenomenal play for the site, given all the tourism at their doorstep, and the lack of a comparable type of asset." Green said.
Smaller retailers feed off of bigger tenants. At 6th and Market, for instance, coffee purveyor La Colombe will be opening another location with outdoor seating to cater to the tourists at the Liberty Bell, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital employees and affluent Washington Square residents.
Anchor tenants such as Nordstrom Rack, which opens Friday on Chestnut Street, "create insane foot traffic that allows retailers to lease off of them," Green said.