Suburban Station is undergoing a major retail reboot to give commuters a reason to visit besides catching a train.
Over the next several months, AthenianRazak, the real-estate services firm hired by SEPTA to spice things up, will roll out mostly new food venues, along with some apparel shops and services in the $3.75 million phase one of the multiphase project, at the city's busiest transit station.
The retail offerings will be called Station Shops at Suburban, and the station, with roughly 100,000 daily commuters, will get a new look and feel from its first upgrade in 15 years.
With a critical mass of riders every day, SEPTA general manager Jeff Knueppel said merchants are eager to see the potential of adding retail to boost revenues across the board.
"Today's sophisticated commuter is really looking for those things," he said. "It's not like the past, where someone is half asleep coming in the morning and running home at night. Now, they're interested in stopping and getting food, or meeting a friend there. It's something that people are really expecting — they want more of an experience at the train station."
Suburban Station has convergence of all main Pennsylvania rail transit lines, including Regional Rail, the Broad Street and Market-Frankford Lines, and the trolleys.
"As we begin to transform the retail and available conveniences in the Station Shops, we are looking at the SEPTA rider as our number-one priority," said Chris Strom, director of project development at AthenianRazak, which won the bid in June 2016 for the master lease for all retail space owned by SEPTA in the Suburban Station concourse.
Strom said he and his team researched transit stations in New York City, Toronto, Los Angeles, and Washington to come up with a plan for Suburban Station. He said that just as shopping malls are revamping their retail and food offerings, it only made sense that transit hubs would follow suit.
Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT), owner of the Gallery at Market East, is currently renovating the mall to become Fashion District Philadelphia and also making changes to better serve the transit commuter at Jefferson Station.
"The 22 million commuters that pass through Fashion District's doors annually represent a tremendous opportunity," said PREIT chief executive officer Joseph Coradino. "We are being very careful in merchandising the center so that we can properly appeal to this customer."
At Suburban, Station Shops is currently home to 20 retailers, such as Philly Pretzel Factory, Dunkin' Donuts, and Au Bon Pain. Strom said he wanted to expand the roster to 30 to 35 retailers, with an emphasis on food offerings.
"It's about creating a more dynamic, rich, and diverse set of offerings for people who use the station and for those who work and live nearby," Strom said.
In addition to those, there will be a small number of apparel and service shops, he said.
Tiffany's Bakery, which has a shop at Jefferson Station, is opening a Suburban Station location during the first week of November. The 620-square-foot space is under construction as the first new merchant at the Station Shops at Suburban.
Last week, Philly Team Sport debuted a 1,400-square-foot pop-up store that carries officially licensed merchandise.
Trey Carlstrom, a partner with Wrigleyville Sports, parent company of Philly Team Store, said he saw the pop-up as a great opportunity to grab business from those commuting to the stadium district on game days. The company has had a store at 1720 Chestnut St. since 2012.
The pop-up will stay open through the 2018 NCAA basketball tournament, "and then we'll evaluate where things are," Carlstrom said.
Strom said AthenianRazak pitched the idea to SEPTA to reposition and redevelop its retail space — SEPTA controls just over 50 percent, or 40,000 square feet, of the retail space at the station. "We are hoping other landlords join with us," he said.
Added Knueppel: "It's not just about maximizing income from the rental properties, but it's really about the experience that our customers want, and they're looking to us for more than just transportation, but the whole experience that includes dining, convenience, and a full range of services from SEPTA so it saves them a trip to the local store on their way home."
Several longtime tenants are also renovating their spaces, including Dunkin' Donuts and Philly Pretzel Factory, which have two locations at Suburban Station, at 1500 Market St. and 1601 JFK Blvd., with both recently signing 10-year extensions.
"We are hoping that the investment that SEPTA is making with AthenianRazak will turn Suburban Station into the hub for Center City transit and retail," said Ron Heil, co-owner of Philly Pretzel Factory. His wife, Shannon, owns Milk House and has signed a 12-year lease at Suburban Station. "With the amount of people coming through there, I see an opportunity to grab more retail dollars and make it more a destination for people to come and congregate and socialize and experience all that Philly has to offer."
Commuter Meghan Strange, 39, of Northeast Philly, is all for the upgrade. She said she works at 1601 Market St. — among the estimated 40,000 nearby office workers that Suburban Station serves — and goes into the concourse area for coffee at Dunkin' Donuts, lunch, and team meetings with colleagues.
"It'll be helpful, especially if you work in the buildings upstairs like I do and come down here often," said Strange, who takes the Trenton line home three times a week and gets off in Torresdale. "It's nice to get more options."