And so it's true: Daffy's at 1700 Chestnut is closing, which is going to be hard on many Philadelphians. If ever democracy and diversity were embodied by a retail establishment, it was the scuffed, underdog Daffy's with its bizarre window treatments and oddly earnest gallery displays.
The last day of business is Sept. 30th—which will make it 20 years on Chestnut Street. Not a bad run, all things considered; it's been a rough couple of decades. Daffy's closure sounds a different kind of death knell than the closing of Bonwit Teller, the upscale department store that occupied 1700 Chestnut Street from 1928 to 1990. Much of that time was when Chestnut Street was Walnut Street, so to speak, and lined by independent boutiques. No Staples, no Rite Aid, no dashing into Daffy's or Dress Barn for a half-price umbrella on a stormy afternoon.
For a long time, Bonwit Teller wasn't out of place there, nor was the clock embedded beneath glass in the sidewalk—still there today, a cracked yet remarkably stolid reminder of another Philadelphia.
But Bonwit Teller, a New York-based chain, was—like Daffy's now—suffering financially. The store at 17th and Chestnut went out of business in 1990, as did the Bonwit's in Jenkintown, after no one chose to buy them. An Inquirer report that year noted that it left Philadelphia with only one independently owned department store: John Wanamaker's. Well, not for long.
A year before Bonwit's closed, there was a nasty skirmish with the owner of the building, the Sterik Co. This was 1989, remember. In case you don't remember, this dispatch from a 1989 Inquirer article by Barbara Demick should help:
Business people familiar with Chestnut Street real estate said Bonwit Teller's rent on the building, which amounts to $380,904 annually, is far below the current rates for that area. And with Liberty Place II, the huge Rouse & Associates development on the 1700 block of Chestnut Street, set for completion next year, they say Sterik probably could get a tenant willing to pay much more. Boyd's, the men's clothing store at 12th and Market Streets, apparently had expressed an interest in buying the building last year and sharing the space with Bonwit Teller, according to attorneys familiar with the case.
"I would imagine that they (the landlord) could get a lot more per square foot for the Bonwit's building," said Keith Fagley, the general manager of the Bailey Banks & Biddle jewelry store at 16th and Chestnut Streets. "But it would be a shame to see Bonwit go because it's a wonderful kind of store and precisely the kind of competition we want on Chestnut Street."
Fagley wasn't alone in his disappointment. The Inky's Susan Warner spoke to Ross Brightwell, who worked with the Chestnut Street Association:
...[Brightwell] said the store's closing would be a loss to the street. He said merchants would try to assure that another high-quality tenant would move into the space being vacated by Bonwit. "It's very sad," he said. "When you lose a name like Bonwit Teller, it will just reinforce this perception that Center City Philadelphia is on a downward spiral."
It didn't seem like a downward spiral to Daffy's, which hadn't, at this point, ventured out of New York. It seemed instead like a good bet—and it was, for 20 years.
Daffy's purchased the eight-story, 107,300-square-foot, slightly dilapidated building in 1992, and opened its doors the same year. No news yet on who the new tenant will be.
· Say It Ain’t So: 17th And Chestnut Daffy’s To Close [philebrity]
· The Future of Daffy's Is Looking a Little Grim [Racked]