George Thomas was about to give up on the sterling silver business he’d run for nearly a quarter-century when he got a life-changing phone call.
Thomas had run Creative Silver as a kiosk in The Gallery since 1994, but was forced to leave in 2015 when the mall closed for renovations. He first took the jewelry shop to South Street, but business was terrible, he said, so he ended up in a tiny spot on Chestnut near 11th Street.
Despite being in a shared space with three other tenants, including a screenprinting operation, a shuttered dollar store and an off-brand electronics outlets, things started looking up — until 2017, when construction on the East Market development began encroaching on that location, too.
“I was gonna just completely give it up,” Thomas, 53, told Billy Penn of his repair and handmade jewelry operation.
He considered joining his sister Anney at her restaurant Chaat and Chai (it’s currently closed for its own relocation). The pair grew up together in Philly’s Logan neighborhood after immigrating with their family from India when they were 8 or 9 years old. “I had to do something,” Thomas said. “I have two dogs. They got to eat!”
Then he got the invitation. “A woman named Linda Berger,” Thomas recalled. “She asked me if I wanted to come back.”
Berger is the East Coast kiosk leasing manager at Macerich, which partnered with developer PREIT on the Gallery mall revamp. She offered Thomas the opportunity to return to his original home and be part of the brand new Fashion District Philadelphia.
Thomas jumped at the chance. Creative Silver is now ensconced in a glittery 300-sq.-ft. kiosk — three times the size of the original.
It’s got a prominent position, just up the escalators from the 9th Street entrance, and is the only all-sterling shop in the mall. Thomas was also awarded the exclusive rights to all jewelry and watch repairs at Fashion District Philadelphia, he said..
“George is a great use for the center,” Macerich’s Berger told Billy Penn. “[Creative Silver] offers an incredible service to our customers, has a great reputation, people love him and he’s a good craftsman.” She referenced Thomas’ handmade jewelry. “Where can you find that in the mall? It’s very unique.”
When the Fashion District was preparing to launch, PREIT CEO Joe Coradino said the goal was to make it world-class. It’s home to the first Nike store in Philadelphia, a new H&M flagship, and outlets for Levi’s, Columbia, Guess and Express. Mid-priced luxury brand Armani Exchange is planned to open later this year, along with several other storefronts.
“It’s not your grandmother’s mall,” reiterated Berger, who said store launches will continue through 2020.
Thomas, who got his start inside The Gallery in 1985 when he worked at Royal Jewelers, said he’s impressed with the renovation and rebrand.
“It’s amazing what they did to this place,” he said. “I was in here for a good 30 years running a business and I saw everything but Jesus in this building. The most important thing is they made it brighter.”
Creative Silver isn’t the only returning tenant. There’s Tiffany’s Bakery, which has been in operation since 1977. Berger pointed to another jewelry sales stand and the Perfect Foto kiosk as two other returning vendors.
In the few weeks since reopening, business has been good, Thomas said. He’s noticed Fashion District attracting a more far-reaching clientele — including customers from Delaware and New Jersey.
Eventually, Thomas, who lives in Blue Bell and has two adult daughters, wants to expand his unique company and set up a second Creative Silver location on the other side of the mall. He says watching sales over the next nine months will give him an idea whether the idea is viable or not.
“Rent is outrageously high,” Thomas said, “but I think I can make it.”