Philadelphia is a many funny thing. For the second-largest Northeastern city (and fifth largest in the US, by population), the first capital of the United States could justifiably be called “overshadowed.” To the north lies New York City – Gotham, Metropolis, America’s gravitational center – while just beyond that is Boston – “The Birthplace of the Revolution,” whose iconic film portrayals and championship sports teams ensure its name still rings ‘round the world.
Then, just three hours south of America’s first capital, there’s its current: Washington, D.C. I don’t need a Kevin Spacey voiceover to tell you why the District punches well above its population.
Yet, perhaps it’s this status as the I-95 underdog (coupled with rent prices literally half of Mahattan’s) that gives Philadelphia its charm, pluck, and sheer vitality. After all, while Boston has “Good Will Hunting” and “The Departed” in its corner, Philly has its own Oscar story: “Rocky,” a tale of an indomitable human spirit beating all the odds. Overshadowed? Not quite. Underrated? You bet.
Last weekend, I spent a sunny Saturday downtown for a day full of eating, shopping, and touring. Since I grew up in Philly’s suburbs and would visit often, I did my best to avoid the chains and seek out the Center City destinations I know and love. I even made a customized Google My Map (link to map here) so you can follow along.
Neat, right? Well, I thought so. Without further ado, here are the stores and sites that made the cut.
Knead Bagels (725 Walnut St)
The culinary avant-garde is typically liquefied, ionized, or at the very least, gluten-free. Knead Bagels, then, is either a slave to convention or the avant-avant – and believe me, there’s little conventional about lavender bagels and scallion lime cream cheese. Knead’s iconoclastic approach to a New York delicacy has nothing to do with any metropolitan rivalries, and is instead a simple story of passion and chance. Two professional chefs, one serendipitous curiosity (quote: “I want to try making bagels”), and countless hours of recipe refinement all came together to form a single delicious result: the best artisan bagels I’ve ever tasted.
While Knead’s bagels certainly cost some dough ($3.50 for a “non-traditional” with spread, $7.00 for a breakfast sandwich), the taste is worth every penny. Go early to avoid the omnipresent line, and whatever you do, don’t default to your deli’s typical “plain on plain.” Knead’s fresh, flavorful bakey is not the place to be stale. Start your time in Philly here with an unforgettable bagel sandwich.
Lapstone and Hammer (1106 Chestnut St)
Visit enough sneaker shops, and even the least fastidious philosophers among us will start believing in singularity – or at the very least, convergent evolution. I’ve been to specialty boutiques in all four corners of the country, and heaven forbid, there are genre tropes. The shelf-warmers needed to guarantee access to big releases; whatever clothing brand rapper of the moment just promoted; the list goes on. Homogeny, thy name is Instagram hype culture.
Lapstone and Hammer, however, is different. In fact, it’s brilliant.
In the same way that NOAH introduced New York City to a combination of store and product best described as “streetwear for grownups,” Lapstone and Hammer has built Philadelphia’s very own temple to the cult of taste. The store is split neatly into two halves, the first of which comprises an oak-paneled room lined with designer shoes on one wall (Common Projects; Filling Pieces; ETQ) and contemporary yet understated menswear (Robert Geller; Momotaro; Schott NYC) on the other.
Just beyond the oak and denim, however, lies the sportswear: a backlit monochrome antechamber lined with every Nike release you’ve ever heard of, plus the hottest selections from other sneaker brands like Asics, Vans, and Saucony (notably absent is Adidas, who’ll be joining the lineup soon). Business in the front, party in the back.
Carve out a good chunk of time to spend at Lapstone and Hammer – it is truly (and refreshingly) like no other sneaker store I’ve ever visited. Oh, and the staff are friendly, too. Take that, boutique genre tropes!
Boyds Philadelphia (1818 Chestnut St)
After you wrap up at Lapstone, walk down Chestnut across Broad Street and keep going until you either a) see blue awnings or b) hear Porsches. Congratulations, sir – you’ve arrived.
As Bergdorf is to New York and Harrods is to London, so is Boyds to Philadelphia. Boyds is a luxury department store in the intangible way that few institutions can ever be, and frankly, may ever be in the rest of our history. Boyds is a landmark draped in silk and marble, its creation due in equal parts to social stratification and an altruistic drive to create pure splendor in our workaday world. The thoroughly-modern luxury brands it stocks at present – Canali, Kiton, Moncler – are testament to the continued vivality of Boyds’ towering heritage.
As befitting of a luxury clothier, they weren’t keen of me taking too many pictures. All the more reason, then, for you to see it in person. If even just to window shop, no Philadelphia shopping guide is complete without Boyds.
Barneys New York (1811 Walnut St)
As Barneys is to New York, Barneys is to… well, you get the idea. The Philadelphia outpost of New York City’s most stylish luxury department store is every ounce of the polish and prestige you got at Boyds, just with a slightly-younger demographic in mind. On the men’s side, adidas sneakers share shelf space with selections from Gucci and Saint Laurent. For the ladies, it’s all about artistic luxury – brands featured include Balenciage, Fendi, and Acne Studios.
While Boyds is a can’t-miss institution, my personal fashion tastes swing much more towards the selection at Barneys. Thankfully, while they cater to different clientele, the two are mere blocks away. Some things, however, the two share deeply in common: Barney’s, too, was mum on interior photos. Rats. Take time to peruse, try on, and ogle, then exit onto Philadelphia’s iconic Rittenhouse Square.
UBIQ (1509 Walnut St)
After you’ve taken some time to enjoy the Square (if you’re visiting on a Saturday, make sure to check out the Rittenhouse Farmers’ Market), head three blocks down Walnut St and look for the one storefront that’s not a corporate boilerplate. On the same block as Brooks Brothers and Club Monaco is a store that couldn’t be less preppy if it tried: UBIQ, Philly’s own premium streetwear destination.
In short: UBIQ is dope. They get every big release (Yeezy, NikeLab, etc.), stock awesome clothing from off-the-radar international designers, and have ridiculous semiannual sales featuring “last pairs” of hyped-up drops at 40% off. Plus, they even get their own exclusive Stone Island collabs (see: last season’s phenomenal Coral Blouson). UBIQ’s own apparel line also scores high marks from me – their SS17 “World Over” capsule had some really solid graphics, specifically on this Travel Poster tee.
After earlier explaining everything I found stale about typical sneaker shops, what I just said may sound like a scurrilous about-face, but hear me out. Is UBIQ “conventional” for stocking things you’ve heard of before but only ever seen online? To an occasionally-jaded style writer, maybe. Then again, I also go every time I’m in town. Even if you swear by the oxford shirts next door, you’ve gotta check out UBIQ. Huge shoutout to Kahlil and Cleveland for helping me out when I stopped in last.
rikumo (1216 Walnut St)
Cross Broad St again, walk two blocks, and look for the steel-and-glass store front. Pull the door, walk inside, and enter the urban oasis known as rikumo. Founded in 2010 but reopened in 2016, rikumo is a Japanese homewares and lifestyle boutique selling only artisan products discovered by owners Kaz and Yuka Morihata during their frequent trips to Japan. Everything you see in store has been curated to reflect the remarkable tastes of the Morihatas as well as the considerate interior of rikumo itself. Seriously – the store is a feast for the senses.
While you won’t find any apparel here, any visitor shopping for style would be remiss to pass it up. Savor your time at rikumo and leave no stone unturned as you browse the shelves – you might surprise yourself with the unexpectedly-delightful objects you find.
Personally, I’m a fan of the teas, soaps, and Craft Design Technology officewares (below). I never thought I’d have an opinion on office supplies aesthetics, but hey, even memories get older.
Reading Terminal Market (51 N 12th St)
For the grand finale: there’s everything at once.
Take a right out of rikumo, walk three blocks up 12th Street, and look for the shuffling mass of neon-dazed tourists. Don’t worry – it’s still “local character” even if other people have heard of it. It’s just kinda hard to keep a culinary wonderland like Reading Terminal Market out of the guidebooks.
Reading Terminal Market is a sprawling, bustling labyrinth of prepared food and farm-fresh ingredients, as famous for its specialty treats as its hearty lunches. Neon signs and wafting smells jockey for sensory real estate with the intensity of locals queuing for world-famous DiNic’s. The line for one of the deli’s legendary pork sandwiches (claim to fame: named one of the best sandwiches in America by the Travel Channel) was too long to rationalize when I visited, so I took a more intuitive approach to Reading and simply followed my nose. The result: a late lunch made entirely of Beiler’s Bakery donuts. Mmm. Nutrition. If Philly donuts are the key to cultivating mass, Fat Mac has all my sympathy.
Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed this shopping guide to downtown Philadelphia. Anything else I should add? Did I miss your favorite store? Sound off in the comments below or on my Facebook here to start the conversation.