💌 Do you like Philly? Sign up for Billy Penn’s free newsletter to get everything you need to know about Philadelphia, every day.
It’s not every day that you’ll be able to browse more than 100 kinds of cheese by the glow of a majestic chandelier or shop for produce among the Art Deco columns that have stood proudly since the 1930s.
With ornate elevator doors, decorative trim, and a restored boar fountain nicknamed “Il Porcellino,” these are features of Philadelphia’s new Giant Heirloom Market.
His home, the historic Strawbridge building at 8th and Market, is a monument to the department store’s golden age. The supermarket that just opened inside is a modern company’s best attempt to create the same kind of experience – offering convenience while making a good impression.
“That’s really what the Heirloom brand stands for,” said store manager Nicholas Meyer, explaining why Giant chose to bring its urban grocery brand Heirloom to the former Strawbridge & Clothier.
Three other Heirloom Markets have opened in different corners of Philly in recent years, all with smaller footprints. They inhabit newer buildings and are intended to streamline grocery shopping for city dwellers and commuters.
This fourth location also serves city commuters – it’s connected to the Regional Railroad via the Fashion District and directly adjacent to SEPTA and PATCO – but at 32,000 square feet, it’s twice the size of a City Trader. Joe’s, Aldi or nearby Mom’s. And it stocks more than just basic necessities, all in a surprisingly opulent environment.
First opened in 1868, Strawbridge & Clothier was a pioneer in a growing movement of large retail stores that transformed shopping into a fashionable and luxurious experience.
The company began constructing a new building in 1928, replacing three stories of masonry with the ornate 5-story structure we see today. It took another half-decade and $10 million to complete the Beaux-Arts-style building, with architectural features as grand as the retailer’s reputation was soon to be.
If you doubt the store’s high place in local history, just look at one of the stone tablets installed in 1943, on the store’s 75th anniversary, in honor of founders Justus C. Strawbridge and Isaac H.Clothier.
“Strawbridge & Clothier’s”, the engraving reads, “is as distinctly Philadelphian as Carpenter’s Hall or the Betsy Ross House”.
From our point of view, the statement may seem a bit exaggerated. But Strawbridge & Clothier was a social hub where shoppers congregated and dined. Heirloom mimics this, inviting customers to stay a while with a full-service Starbucks, Hissho sushi bar, deli serving hot and cold sandwiches and wraps, and a dining room to sit down and enjoy a meal. .
“The layout and flow was really designed with commuters in mind, as well as business people who might be in town and just want to stop in for a quick lunch or a quick meeting with a client,” explained Meyer, the Heirloom store. director.
The back of the store holds the most interesting feature.
What was once the grand entrance to Strawbridge & Clothier’s iconic Food Hall is now called the Tap Hall, a wall of self-service taps offering over 30 kinds of beer, cider and wine. There are even taps for Prosecco and orange juice, so customers can pour themselves mimosas. Tap Hall is also home to the working fountain with the boar statue, and the seating area is surrounded by paintings depicting 19th-century opulence.
Strawbridge’s flagship went out of business in 1996, when it was taken over by the May department store. This lasted until 2005, when the company was acquired by Macy’s. Doors closed entirely the following year.
The restoration of all historical elements required a great effort. “It was very dirty and underloved over the years,” Meyer said, describing 15 years of dust and grime. “Our team took great pride in polishing it up and making it operational again.”
Now, the space where decades of shoppers have combined shopping and fun is ready to welcome a whole new generation of Philadelphians.
Scroll down to see inside.