Officials cut the wide blue ribbon, cannons popped confetti into the sky, the Temple University marching band played, and, in the middle of it all, Frank Pantazopoulos FaceTimed his 12-year-old daughter.
He hopes she will one day take over his 42-year-old family business, Tiffany’s Bakery, the only continuously operating store from the old mall that was reborn Thursday as the Fashion District.
Business leaders boasted about the more than $400 million project spanning three blocks of Market Street, with its flashy stores, national chains, Instagram-ready decorations, live music venue, and “candy museum.”
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney stood outside what used to be the Gallery Mall and talked about how the newly completed project would become a shopping and entertainment destination for the city. The crowd of people there to celebrate the new mall’s opening day swelled, overtaking the sidewalk and spilling onto Ninth and Market Streets.
Tiffany’s Bakery, famous for its strawberry shortcake, is one of the last pieces of tradition left in this rapidly evolving stretch of Philadelphia.
Pantazopoulos, 50, is happy to have made it to opening day. As the new mall was being built, the bakery lost about a third of its business. On Thursday, his customers told him they were glad to see him and taste his familiar treats as they wandered through new territory.
When the doors opened, Cynthaya Johnson, 50, who lives near Rittenhouse, ran straight to Tiffany’s to make sure it was still there. She took a selfie with Pantazopoulos’s father, Tony, and got a free cupcake.
The nervous and excited energy reminded Tony Pantazopoulos, now 77, of when the original Gallery opened on Aug. 11, 1977, the same day his business began.
He was in his mid-30s, and making a career change from being a Sears carpet buyer to running the bakery. He was married with two young children.
“Is it going to work out?” he remembered thinking.
For a time, it did, and here in Philadelphia, he made a name for himself.
As retail changed, experts and local officials said the Gallery did not adapt quickly enough. Such department stores as Strawbridge & Clothier, Gimbel’s, J.C. Penney, Stern’s, Clover, and Kmart were all nearby at one time or another. The Gallery closed in 2015, and Tiffany’s outlasted them all, surviving in a pocket of the mall just off SEPTA’s Jefferson Station.
The bakery has 25 to 30 employees, some of whom have been with the company for decades, calling it a family. The owners made strategic choices in the last few years to stay afloat, more than doubling its online business and opening a second store in Center City, below 15th and Market Streets near the Market Frankford Line. The mall’s reopening was the next step.
On Thursday, before the grand opening, Frank Pantazopoulos and his mother, Kathy, walked through the mall, looking to see what stores the new project was bringing.
“This is fantastic,” Kathy Pantazopoulos, 75, said of the wine barrels lining the window displays of City Winery.
“Oh, come this way I want to see the Gallery shirt,” Frank Pantazopoulos said, motioning to local clothing store South Fellini, now in the mall and selling a shirt with the old Gallery logo. “I’ve got to get one of these later. Can you save me a 2X? That’s like nostalgia right there.”
They were in a rush to make it to the 11:30 a.m. grand opening ceremony. When they did, it was packed. His mother went back to the bakery to make sure they were prepared with 500 cupcakes to give away, and Pantazopoulos squeezed his way closer to the front.
Once the ceremony was over, Pantazopoulos moved back through the crowd as quickly as he could to get to the bakery, where a line was already forming for the cupcakes. At 11:55 a.m., he gave the go-ahead and employees began handing them out.
“Free cupcake, happy day!” his father yelled.
“Holy moly,” his mother said of the crowd.
Within 20 minutes they ran out. A promising sign.
“The Gallery is alive and well,” his mother said.
The countdown clock above Frank Pantazopoulos’ closet “office” had been ticking down as construction crews worked on the new mall. It started with 242 days. Now, it read 000 days, 00 hours, 00 minutes, and 00 seconds.
Tiffany’s Bakery had made it.