McDonald’s are closing across Philly’s downtown, but the one in University City could make a return

What’s replacing all these fast-food joints?

The former McDonald's at Broad and Carpenter streets closed in February 2021

The former McDonald's at Broad and Carpenter streets closed in February 2021

Flickr Creative Commons / Timothy Kim
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The University of Pennsylvania announced plans this week to purchase the McDonald’s at 40th and Walnut streets, closing yet another of the city’s golden arches. It’s the sixth location to close between West Philly and Center City since 2017.

The space will be renovated into a mixed-used office building — with a McDonald’s on the ground floor — but some University City residents are worried about what the interim would mean for affordable food options in the area.

“Are they replacing it with a cheap and healthy source of food or will the community continue to struggle with food insecurity?” reads a popular Instagram comment under a post from UPenn’s student newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian, which broke news of the agreement.

“So will all the people who *aren’t* Penn students going to be able to eat in the new McDonald’s?” wrote another commenter.

That particular McDonald’s had previous brushes with demise. In 2001, it was almost relocated to 43rd and Market Streets, and in 2011 Penn’s then-Director of Real Estate Paul Sehnert expressed interest in transforming the fast food joint into a mixed-use development. At the time, university administrators alleged the outpost as currently standing attracted crime and “unruly crowds” to campus.

As commercial rents continue to increase, chain restaurants have been priced out by larger residential developments across Philly’s urban core. “Generally speaking, fast food is not a great complimentary use for high-end residential. The tenants don’t view it as an amenity,” real estate developer Leo Addimando told Inquirer columnist Inga Saffron in June.

What’s been replacing Philadelphia’s disappearing fast food outposts? Typically, something fast casual, the catchy marketing term for grab-and-go food ordered in a more visually appealing space at a higher price point — think Chipotle, HipCityVeg, or Honeygrow.

As the pandemic continues, the line between a McDonald’s and something like a Shake Shack is disappearing. Fast food is getting more expensive, with prices rising 7.1% between October 2020 and October 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Meanwhile, fast-casual chains are embracing drive-thrus and mobile ordering.

Mourning the loss of McChickens and McFlurries, even if you’re now grabbing Sweetgreen salads? We cataloged the city’s fallen McDonald’s, from the Rittenhouse Square holdout to the retro version that graced the corner of Broad and Carpenter.

🍟 The Gallery at Market East

This location closed with the rest of The Gallery in 2015 as mall owner PREIT made plans to redevelop the space into the Fashion District, which combines standard mall fare with local businesses, a coworking space, art installations, and a City Winery outpost. PREIT designed The Fashion District to serve higher-end clientele than the typically working-class customers who would frequent The Gallery in hopes of revitalizing Market Street. So the McDonald’s was not replaced when the new mall opened in 2019. Instead the food court has offerings like Oath Pizza and Rolling Cow ice cream.

πŸ” Rittenhouse Square

After sustaining fire damage following a night of vandalism that coincided with last summer’s peaceful Black Lives Matter demonstrations, the Department of Licenses & Inspection recommended the building containing this McDonald’s — which was previously still humming along amid posh clothing stores on Rittenhouse Row — be demolished and rebuilt to preserve the neighborhood’s character. To date, construction is still ongoing, and no purchase of the property has yet been announced.

🍟 Suburban Station

After opting to not renew its lease despite pushback from the franchisee, this McDonald’s location closed in fall 2014. MetroMarket Management, the company that leases out space in the train station, wanted to immediately fill those storefronts with new restaurants. The underground concourse there now has several independent delis and sandwich shops, along with a Dunkin, a juice shop, a pizzeria, and a Philly Pretzel Factory.

πŸ” 30th Street Station

Not much info is available about why the 30th Street Station McDonald’s closed, but it happened sometime between this 2012 Yelp post and this 2014 City Data Forum thread. The space it once occupied, just off the main Amtrak waiting room, is now a Jersey’s Mike’s and a Wendy’s.

🍟 Broad & Carpenter

This retro-style McD’s closed in February 2021, leaving a 17,000 square foot plot of land up for grabs across the street from the Lincoln Square apartment and retail complex. It had been serving chicken nuggets and cheeseburgers since at least the 1970s, but the vintage design wasn’t added until a renovation in 2000.

πŸ” University City

Penn has yet to announce when it will officially purchase the McDonald’s at 40th and Walnut, or begin construction on the new space, but University City will not be without fast food options in the short term. Philly’s fourth Five Guys is slated to open at 3714 Spruce St., replacing community favorite Chinese restaurant Beijing, while southern chicken chain Raising Canes will open its first Philadelphia location at 3925 Walnut St. in April or May of next year.

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