In the middle of a food court, a mother and daughter were snacking and making conversation. The question for their table was: What do they call the Center City mall in which they were sitting at that moment?
“The Gallery,” the daughter, Jamillah Copes, said quickly and plainly.
Her mother, Diane, leaned over and said, “It’s the Fashion District, right?”
“Yeah,” she replied, “but what do you call it?”
Mom paused for a bit, then replied: “The Gallery.”
“They can put new stores in here, new people in here,” Diane Copes went on, “but it’s gon always be the Gallery.”
I keep hearing and having versions of that conversation. The branding and signage carrying the new name have been hard to miss. Yet there are those who aren’t letting the old name go.
Some say they simply don’t care for "the Fashion District.” Some say they’re calling it what other Philadelphia natives call it. Some say it’s a matter of habit. Some say the Gallery is still the Gallery, in the way that Columbus Boulevard is still really Delaware Avenue or, as, Ulta shopper Jen Cannon explained, for "the same reason I don’t call it Jefferson Station. It’s always been Market East and the Gallery.”
The Gallery was a public space. When news of renovation plans spread, it sparked anxiety about retail gentrification, and that a very Philly space could be lost. More specifically, a space where people of color, especially young ones, often came for their screen-printed T-shirts, their tags and chains, their earrings, their full sets, their eyebrow shaping, and, perhaps most important, their quality time with the friends who knew all the capital that those things carried. Getting something custom there could be a sign that you hit a milestone, that you’d made a little money, that you loved someone. We didn’t need to explain. We didn’t even need to shop. We could just be there.
Inside that mall was where you’d tell your friends to meet you to catch up over beef patties and stay for hours if you wanted, no matter the weather. Ricardo Macias, 19, used to come to the Gallery, which he prefers to the Fashion District. That’s not because of the stores.
“I ain’t really come here to buy,” he explained. “I just came here to hang out.”
Sure, the Fashion District name shows that the owners have rebranded a shopping center. But whether they’ve successfully rebranded a landmark is a question that still feels unanswered.
Heather Crowell, executive vice president of strategy and communications for PREIT, the mall operator behind the Fashion District, said in a statement that “when conceptualizing a name, we wanted to ensure it encapsulated this uniquely situated property and expanded beyond our four walls to the community we embrace.”
And, Crowell said, that the old name is lingering doesn’t bother them too much.
“The Gallery was an institution, and that people feel nostalgia and pride in this piece of Philadelphia’s history is also fine with us,” Crowell wrote. “In the end, we are happy to see the community and visitors exploring, shopping, and enjoying the District, and expect to see it continue to gain in popularity as we deliver more new and exciting offerings to Philadelphia.”
Kennedy Allen, 35, doesn’t see a reason to use the new name. Allen, of Mount Airy, took a break from eyeing dresses and sweaters in H&M to explain.
“They just changed the price bracket on the stores,” she said. “When it’s geographically and architecturally the same place, it’s hard not to call it the same thing.”
Shameeka Smith of North Philly doesn’t see much of a difference either. Smith, 26, just thinks the current mall looks better.
Like the degree of transformation — PREIT and co-owner Macerich spent more than $400 million — the sense of the place may change depending on whom you ask. Many shoppers noticed less seating and more upscale ambitions, but the Fashion District is still a mall where you can buy bamboo earrings, screen-printed tees, and $20 boots as teenagers of color swarm the food court.