MOHAMMAD HOSSAIN has sold jewelry from his Gold Center kiosk in the Gallery mall on East Market Street for 10 years, and yesterday he wore a weary expression.
Despite the holiday season, Hossain and other merchants weren't feeling cheerful. PREIT, the owner of the Gallery, has told them to vacate by either Dec. 31 or Jan. 31.
PREIT has plans to redevelop the Gallery, which means the stores and kiosks will be moved out for at least a year.
George Thomas, who has operated a jewelry kiosk there for 20 years, said merchants are angry.
"People have families to feed, mortgages to pay, and kids in college," Thomas said.
He looked around and said this is the first year the mall hasn't put up Christmas decorations. "There's no Christmas trees, no Santa Claus," he said.
Heather Crowell, PREIT vice president of corporate communications and investor relations, said in an email:
"We are in the process of readying The Gallery for a potential redevelopment and have notified several tenants, per the terms of our agreements with them, to vacate their premises."
No details were released.
For Stephanie Jones, who sells handbags and jewelry, the news was especially hard because she just moved into the Center City mall last month.
"I was misled," Jones said. One week after signing a lease to pay $7,000 for November and December, Jones said, she received a letter to vacate by Dec. 31.
When she had discussed renting the space, Jones said, a PREIT official told her she might be able to renew her lease in January.
Jones had been a "traveling vendor," going to conferences and events to sell her merchandise.
"If I had known it was only going to be for two months, I could have kept my $7,000 and continued to travel," she said.
Hossain said he learned about the plans in mid-November and has to leave by Jan. 31.
"What can I do?" Hossain asked yesterday. Had he known earlier about the lease being terminated, he said, he would have left in October.
Instead, he paid "triple rent" for November and December, he said.
Several kiosk merchants said they pay "double-rents" for the two months - known as "holiday rents" - because PREIT expects they will make more money because of Christmas shopping.
Some said they think the recent opening of a Century 21 department store has motivated the mall to replace their kiosks with higher-end businesses.
According to merchants, the stores and kiosks in Gallery I, along Market Street from 8th to 10th, are being vacated first.
Rodney P. King, who owns R&A Works, a kiosk that sells books, DVDs and T-shirts, has been in the Gallery for 10 months.
He said it's a good thing that PREIT wants to renovate.
"But why can't we come back?" King asked. "I think they are going to pick who they want in here."