In a vexing article in the fall issue of Philadelphia magazine, longtime NYC resident and author Susan Gregory Thomas talks about Philly's newest residents: the NY-Delphians. Though originally from this area herself (she went to Baldwin), Thomas counts herself among the expats, having lived in New York for many years before her relatively recent move to Chestnut Hill.
Though her piece is ostensibly about how pleased she is to live here, it's informed by that unfortunate middle- to upper-class New York exceptionalism that so frequently sets New Yorkers apart—and not in the way they'd like. In Philly, we are happy when people move here and bring energy to the city. But it's a little hard to swallow when those people act like they're doing us a favor.
New Yorkers (read: New Yorkers with money) have always imagined they have special tastes that make them obviously New York—a paradigm richly indulged by Woody Allen until he got on his Europe kick. Thomas seems to buy into this, and it suffuses her writing—directed toward "you," the native Philadelphian—with backhanded compliments:
You've seen us on playgrounds in Chestnut Hill and West Mount Airy, all in black, clutching espressos, waxing ecstatically about how "cheap!" and "pretty!" everything is here, while our Ramones-clad little ones run around giddily. We may look and sound insufferable, but the truth is, we're stunned. Everything is so much nicer—the houses, the people, the landscape—that it can take months for post-traumatic effects to wane. Everything is so much nicer, she says. But the tone is off.
You've seen us thumbing approvingly through racks of clothing on 3rd Street in Old City, the local version of 9th Street and Avenue A, or North 6th Street in Williamsburg. We're openmouthed at the killer artisanal jewelry of designers like J. Rudy Lewis and Bario-Neal—and even more agog that they're not at Barneys and scandalously out of our price range. "Approvingly," "the local version"—it sounds patronizing. Given that Thomas is an accomplished journalist and knows her way around language, these would be minor quibbles if she didn't continue to push the point by finding a local retailer who just comes right out and says it: New Yorkers are better customers than Philadelphians.
"I love all the New Yorkers moving here—they really get it," Heather Stauffer, who owns the Chestnut Hill boutique Roots (could be on Smith Street in BoCoCa!), says to me one day as I greedily snatch up a pair of Helmut Lang-ish shorts. Stauffer laughs. She hasn't been able to get any native Philadelphian to try them on. There are other similar examples, as you'll discover yourself. It's a shame the New York exceptionalism—and an obvious naivete about class—undercuts the article, particularly if, as Thomas claims, New Yorkers "are becoming the new Philadelphians ... changing the economic and cultural landscape of the city." Let's hope they also change their tune.
· Why New Yorkers Are Moving to Philly and What It Means for Our City [Philadelphia magazine]