A Three Hour Tour

philly ben franklin parkwayI really enjoy showing people my city.  By my city, I mean Philadelphia of course.  For many decades Philly has been perceived as a city in decline, an also ran, a place that almost was.  That is until recently.  All of a sudden it is getting mentioned in magazines for its beauty, great restaurants and lots of things of things to do.  While Philadelphia can rightly claim to be the birthplace of America where both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were signed, it also has this reputation of being a city that was almost something else.  It almost became the financial center of America and then New York took that away from us.  It almost became the capital of the nation and then Washington, D.C. took that away from us.  Whenever something good starts happening in my city, like the recent national press attention and our designation as the nation’s first World Heritage City, native Philadelphians begin to wonder who might take that away from us.

In the face of all this pessimism, I am an unabashed Philly promoter.  This week, I got to show the city to a new group of people who have recently joined CLC.  Some people in the group are actually from the city or have lived here for a while and I wondered if they were going to fall asleep on our “three hour tour”.  Instead, something wonderful happened.  As we took the scenic route into the city down Lincoln Drive and along the Schuylkill River, everyone chimed in.  While I took the lead in pointing out my favorite places like Fairmount Park and the fact that it is the largest park system contained in a major American city and even bigger than Central Park in NYC, others mentioned places they loved too.  We took some detours so that I could show them where we used to host Gospel Fest at one of the largest churches in city, and neighborhoods with houses that still have incredible character.

Along the way, we stopped into each of our CLC stores that are part and parcel of this city that I love.  Our teams have been hard at work creating spaces that matter to their local communities and that reflect the distinct locations they inhabit.  None of them is alike.  Just like each neighborhood in Philly has its own unique vibe, so do each of our stores.  The Wyncote store in the Cedarbrook Plaza is in an urban strip mall with a relatively stable customer base who really appreciate the ease of access, the parking and extensive array of Christian resources we provide.  Fighting against the tendency to become “all things to all people”, this store is pairing back the selection, opening things up on the sales floor and creating a fresh feel to an already vibrant shop.  The Center City store is located two blocks from Independence Hall and is in the heart of city.  It is smaller and full of energy.  Everywhere you look, you see color and variety.  The local team have curated an incredible selection of products that actually cause people to stop as they walk by the front window.  Lots of people from an array of faith backgrounds stumble into this location on a daily basis.

Crossing the river into New Jersey, my tour takes a slightly different turn as I know a lot less about South Jersey than Philly itself.  Fortunately, one of the people on the tour is a resident of this part of our metro area and kept the conversation going.  Fairly quickly we arrived at the last stop on the tour as we visited our Moorestown shop.  This store is the largest Christian bookstore in this part of the state and has lots of space and incredible selection.  The kids department is one of my favorite areas and actually has a fully functioning elevated train track and train running most of the time.  Located across the street from a major mall, it is our most suburban location and has a diverse customer base including many Spanish speakers looks for books in their native language.  It’s the kind of store you could spend hours in and still not feel like you had seen everything.

As we head home, we make an obligatory stop at Wawa to initiate our out of town guest in the group and to get gas.  For those reading this blog and wondering what Wawa is, you really need to visit Philly.  It is our hometown convenience store, coffee shop, sandwich shop, gas station and so much more.  Ultimately it is all about the experience.  You can’t live in Philly and not love Wawa.  Driving past row homes (urban town houses for those not from my city), I am reminded of the incredible variety and diversity that exist even when the buildings are virtually the same.  I am also amazed at the many viewpoints you can have looking at the very same things.  Taking a tour with people from my city made the experience that much richer as I saw so many things in a new light through their eyes.  I can’t wait for the next group I get to show this city of brotherly love and sisterly affection – and yes that really is our city motto.

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