Every weekday around 3 p.m., Center City begins to fill up with kids making their way home from school. You can spot them wolfing down slices of pizza, snagging supplies for art projects and shopping Five Below for t-shirts and candy.
But the students aren’t welcome everywhere. Along Chestnut Street in the Rittenhouse area, several shops post signs excluding the teenage crowd.
The Five Guys outpost was one of them — at least until last week, when it was removed after a Billy Penn reporter sent an inquiry to the company’s Virginia-based headquarters. This kind of ban isn’t illegal, a city spokesperson said, but it’s also not condoned.
Up until last Thursday, hanging in the window of the burger joint at 1527 Chestnut St. was a flier reading “No one under 18 admitted.” The sign was reportedly put up at the start of the school year, when students supposedly refused to stop horsing around with the free peanuts Five Guys puts out for customers.
Students outside the shop told Billy Penn those rowdy kids are outliers — and that they’re frustrated with the restriction.
“It’s just a small group that does that,” said 16-year-old Zion Williams, a student at Mastbaum High School. “I see that as childish. There’s no point in doing all the dumb stuff.”
Across the street from Five Guys, the glass doors leading into the Shops at Liberty place are marked with similar message, although it’s not an outright ban: “After 1:00 p.m. all persons under 18 years old must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.” It’s also inscribed into the mall’s Code of Conduct.
“It’s kind of corny,” Williams said. “It’s kind of like we can’t do nothing when we have our free time.”
Christopher, another Mastbaum student who’s 13 years old, said he tried to buy a phone case in Center City last week — but the employees kicked him out for no reason.
“Your parents know you’re mature, but strangers don’t know that you’re mature,” said Christopher, who didn’t want to give his last name. “So they won’t even let you in the store.”
Liberty Place declined to comment on the policy, but in other cities, upscale restaurants have enacted underage bans, citing general loudness and crying as their reasons to keep kids out. A rumor that the recently reopened Fashion District also excludes minors is unfounded — a spokesperson told Billy Penn all ages are welcome.
And it’s true that Philly teens have had their moments of misbehavior. In July of this year, roughly 60 kids were videotaped causing havoc inside a Walgreens on South Street. For the past several years, the city has seen various spontaneous “flash mobs” of hundreds of kids gathering in one spot.
In 2011, then-Mayor Michael Nutter instituted a citywide curfew to quell the under-18 assemblies.
Banning entry for the under-18 crowd isn’t technically illegal. Kids aren’t covered under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, since age isn’t technically a “protected class.”
But the city doesn’t approve of the practice.
“The [Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations] and the Kenney administration find it disappointing that any business which is meant to serve all people would exclude young people from enjoying their products and services,” said Lauren Cox, a spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office. “Our young people deserve to be able to access all this city has to offer, and they also need places to enjoy themselves outside of school hours.”
Vanessa Massaro, an urban geographer who studied the flash mobs, told Billy Penn in 2017 that keeping kids out can have permanent consequences on their emotional well-being.
“It sends a clear message about where they belong, and where they don’t belong,” Massaro said. “Those messages are not particularly subtle, and they’re internalized.”