Maplewood Mall: Promises To Keep

Posted: December 01, 1987

In 1971, newspaper articles heralded the proposed transformation of Maplewood Avenue in Germantown from a crowded side street into a pedestrian mall that would be a "tree-shaded, park-fringed oasis for weary shoppers."

"The block-long mall will become the core of activity in that part of the business area," said the Inquirer. The mall would cost more than $800,000 to build, most of it federal urban renewal funds.

But the mall hasn't lived up to the promise.

The cobbled pedestrian street lined with a few shops and more service establishments and offices is quiet rather than bustling on most weekday afternoons.

There are positive signs - a planned reconstruction of several neighboring buildings as apartments - but for now, the mall is very, very quiet.

While Maplewood did make some moves in the direction of a budding South Street - at one time boasting a bookstore, craft shop, several shoe stores, cheese store and cafe, folk music club, health food store, gift shops, and more. But today only a few of those businesses remain.

The Cheese Shop, once one of the mall's most prominent anchor businesses, has been closed since a fire earlier this year. However, the shop is slated to be rebuilt.

The number of retailers along its way (Maplewood Avenue, between Germantown Avenue and Greene Street, just south of Chelten Avenue) has ebbed to fewer than a dozen, while the number of offices and hairdressers has increased.

Merchants on the mall today say it is a project without a parent, that it receives less than its share of city services and was never given the funding or support needed to make the original vision a reality.

Nevertheless, the survivors say they like doing business on the mall and that, while the street operates far below its potential, there are enough customers coming through to keep their doors open.

"The mall is a unique oasis in Philadelphia, but it needs promotion and support so people will know it's here," said Diane McNeal, a weaver who designs and produces women's clothing in her shop at 17 Maplewood Mall.

At the Maplewood Nutrition and Dietary Food Shop, Al Ciment said Maplewood Avenue was in better shape as a street with plenty of parking - and the shopper traffic.

"The redevelopment just diverted a lot of traffic away from the mall, and now the parking problem is horrendous around here, despite the small lot at the corner," Ciment said. What keeps his family's shop strong, he said, is that longtime customers "know us well. They keep coming back."

Disillusionment with the mall concept began back in 1973, when merchants started screaming "double-cross" about the parking situation - saying that there was too little parking, with too much of it alloted for monthly customers, not shoppers.

As the mall's tenant mix continues to shift from retail stores towards services, some remain enthusiastic.

"It's fine for us - since we're not dependent on a lot of passers-by," said Shirly Melvin, a real estate broker with Twin Realty, which has been located on Maplewood Mall for the past 10 years. "We've always enjoyed being here," she added.

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