Subdued Christmas in Center City

It’s Christmastime in Center City! And you would hardly know that from looking at the papers. The city’s best light shows this year, declared the Metro last week, are in Franklin Square, Chestnut Hill, and Lower Moyamensing (so spectacular it merited its own article).

But what about, y’know, Walnut Street? Or Market? Aren’t the best Christmas decorations in the city supposed to be in its commercial core? Shouldn’t they? After all, is there any better way to encourage people to buy something than to be festive about it?

So I took my camera, and I observed the good, the bad, and the ugly of Center City’s Christmas decorations.


Macy’s Christmas display is what a Center City department store Christmas display should be. Here is a shot of the tree and light show in down time.

Here is an exterior shot. The ornament display windows on the Market Street side are beautiful, and the other displays all also show a strong holiday theme (not quite a wonderland, however, that’s inside).

I. Goldberg is as festive outside as it is cramped inside.

Boyd’s is also in the Christmas spirit…

As is Daffy’s…

And the Lit Brother’s Building, on Market East.

Outside it isn’t too shabby either.

The Comcast Center has a heckuva Christmas show. Here are two stills.

…And Christmas Village is certainly worth a visit.

The Reading Terminal Market’s train display is handsome–and popular with the kiddies.

Let’s check out some imaginative storefronts now. Here’s Tiffany’s…

And a block of British-theme stores on Walnut show for sure they’re in the holiday spirit.

Liberty Place’s atrium looks like Lit Brothers’, but more opulent. I couldn’t get a picture, though, so here’s one from outside.

And let’s not forget Franklin Square!


On the inside, the Gallery has nice decorations…

With Christmas-y window displays…

They even have a Santa!

Some wreaths on the outside.

But no Gallery store actually has an exterior Christmas display. Not Burlington Coat Factory…

Or Old Navy…

Or Kmart…

Or the potential display windows in the old Strawbridge’s…

Or Ross, in the Lit Brothers building…

In fact, they are upstaged by an office building…

Image courtesy of

 By the building’s own past…

And even a pawn shop!


Without a doubt, though, the worst Christmas job is the streetscape. Here, for example, is Walnut, looking from Broad.

And this is Market, looking east from City Hall.

Cheap baubles in the trees are not enough to bring a streetscape alive. This is what success looks like.

But when I saw this, I was floored. The grand entrance to no less than three major Center City attractions…has no decorations whatsoever?!?

No matter how much the private realm tries to spruce things up, the effect is lost if the public one does not reciprocate. It is not that expensive–and it is a showcase, a branding of Center City as the Christmas destination. This is precisely the sort of work that commonly is under a Business Improvement District’s (BID) purview. Interestingly, the problem in this case is that the BID in question, the Center City District, has grown well-beyond this traditional role, undertaking the responsibility of remaking key public spaces, like the Parkway and Dilworth Plaza. With its focus on much grander schemes, perhaps another agency needs to step into the void.

About the author

Stephen Stofka is interested in the urban form and the way we change it. A graduate of the Geography and Urban Studies program at Temple University, he enjoys examining the architecture, siting, streetscapes, transportation, access, and other subtle elements that make a city a city.

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  1. You must be new to Philadelphia. This city is broker and can’t afford to “get in the spirit” even if it wanted to.

    This is a deprssed city in so many respects:

    Half the population is poor, uneducated, and living off the taxes of the other half.

    It is a filthy, dirty, smelly city.

    It is crime-ridden, dangerous, and corrupt.

    Finally it is completely devoid of competent leaders.


      The sharp edge of the article is not directed at City Hall, but at someone else. Someone who isn’t broke and is known for getting things done.

    • BS. This city is only depressed by people who promulgate the myth that Philadelphia is a “loser city”. Philadelphia has had a rough history but if you check our last decade or so objectively you’ll find a lively city that has made big steps in reversing that rough history and overcoming negative trends. The last thing a city on the rise needs are cynics who enjoy simmering in the negativity of yesteryear.

      When it comes to Christmas and getting in the spirit we do have some awesome public displays (especially Rittenhouse Park) and also has a lot of missed opportunities. However, the missed opportunities are not a result of the inadequacies you so hyperbolically described. The city and its finances have very little to do with whether or not the Gallery has exterior decorations. Note that most of the good was provided by private businesses.

      I agree that Walnut St’s blandness was pretty bad and if we ever do get it right, it will be because we ignored cynics like yourself.

  2. Philadelphia = Loser City.


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