As retail behemoths such as Gimbels, Wanamaker’s, and most recently Barneys New York have fallen to the wayside, Boyds Philadelphia remains strong.

By Vilma Barr
Photos by DAS Architects
Boyds is a retail organization that has become a Philadelphia landmark. For 82 years, the family-owned business has outfitted lawyers, bankers, doctors, politicians, society leaders, corporate scions, and famous athletes with all-American brands and high-end European apparel and accessories. It has survived Depressions, shifting demographic patterns, click-and-buy competitors, and a disastrous fire. Through it all, however, it has maintained its signature core values of peerless style and extreme customer service.

Philadelphia, with its significant law and financial communities, and families who stay in the region for generations, have helped to shield Boyds from the worst of the retail apocalypse that has severely affected retailers of all sizes in the U.S. and U.K. “The family just outthinks other retailers,” a merchandising consultant observes. “They outwork and out-service everyone else.”

Founded by Alec Gushner – who immigrated from Russia in 1936 – and his brothers, the store opened two years later directly across the famous Boyd’s Theater and Opera House. It grew and prospered in its high-traffic location on Market Street until 1990, when the area was cleared of its tenants to be redeveloped by the city to build a convention center. Boyds has since been housed in a grand, classically detailed, five-story limestone building at 1818 Chestnut Street near tony Rittenhouse Square.

A decision made by Kent Gushner and his son Alex (third and fourth generations respectively) to update the sales floors was funded by an $11-million budget that successfully blended a contemporary retail image with the structure’s historic architecture.

At its opening in late 2018, Alex Gushner recounted the emergence of the new store image as it entered its ninth decade. “Given its scale of 50,000 square feet of selling space over four floors, and the level of service we provide – complimentary alterations, 30 tailors and pressers, a free parking area across Chestnut Street, salespeople ready to give solicitous service to everyone who walks in the door, and the continued commitment by members of the same family – we may be the only clothing store of its kind anywhere in the country.”

The rainbow of colors in this men’s area is highlighted by specifically focused beams of light.

New Settings, New Selections

DAS Architects, a Philadelphia firm with a specialty in hospitality and retail, headed the design team and Lee Waldron of Grenald Waldron Associates provided the lighting design for the project.

Susan M. Davidson, principal of DAS Architects, describes the process at the planning meetings for the interior renovation as a dialogue between her firm and the Gushners. “They made it a point to discuss their belief in the brick-and-mortar significance of the Boyds experience, along with the new e-commerce initiative they were also undertaking,” she recounts. “We were reminded of their long-standing client relationships that go back generations, and they wanted these customers to feel comfortable in the new surroundings as well as to attract a broader and younger market.

“When we started, the women’s business represented 20 percent of overall turnover. To boost this category, women’s merchandise was brought down from the third floor to occupy the front and center on the entire first floor and on the mezzanine levels. The renovation modernizes and lightens the interior – with its Greek columns and dark wood cabinetry – to appeal to female shoppers,” Davidson says.

“Alex Gushner made it clear that the environment that we and Lee were conceiving would counter the underwhelming impression typically made by most retail stores, which is one reason why many customers are turning to e-commerce,” Davidson points out. In creating the Boyds surroundings, the designers agreed that their role in presenting a new visual aesthetic and illuminating the selling spaces was to communicate a distinctive supporting visual message for the sales associate who is there to help on a personal and tasteful level, and is not a nameless and faceless electronic signal 1,000 miles away.

“My father, who is the president of the company, as well as me and everyone else in a buying or managerial role, spend a good amount of time on the sales floor,” affirms Alex Gushner. “We put tremendous value on personal relationships, of knowing your clients and greeting them on a first-name basis. Our goal is for Boyds to become even more of a destination for Philadelphia-area residents, but also for people who are visiting Philadelphia, and to continue to work on expanding our market throughout North America and beyond.”

A statement chandelier offers balance, without visual heft, in this expansive foyer outfitted with classic columns and architectural touches.


An Illuminating Tour of Boyds

Lighting designer Lee Waldron details his solutions to the three primary selling levels.

First Floor
  • Display windows retained the vertical-mounted track; new low-profile lampholders were added. Management decided to retain the PAR30 and PAR20 metal halide multi-spot fixtures recessed in coffered beams to light retail clothing fixtures along walls and free-standing, as well as mannequin focal points. Perimeter walls are uplit with floor-mounted LED wall grazers.➜ Con-Tech; Retrofit LED MR Soraa lamps; Lumenpulse Lighting
  • The custom decorative chandelier was designed by DAS Architects. ➜ Preciosa Lustry of Czech Republic
  • Flanking the new central staircase is cable-suspended, multi-head framework. ➜ RSA Lighting
  • The large patterned glass window is backlit behind diffusion material to simulate an exterior source. ➜ Cooledge Square Modules
  • General accent lighting is handled by recessed, three-head adjustable elbow accents. ➜ WAC Lighting
  • Select perimeter walls utilize the linear reveal wall-wash due to ceiling constraints with mechanical systems requiring a fixture depth that was only the thickness of drywall. ➜ Pure Edge Lighting
  • In the women’s dressing rooms, vertical-mounted linear LED striplight fixtures flank the mirrors for soft frontal lighting, along with a recessed downlight to highlight hair and clothing material. ➜ Luminii Lighting
The Mezzanine
  • The mezzanine features brightly lit casework and plush seating. The shoe department is both edgy and modern. In accessories, the existing recessed slot system is fitted with metal halide MR16 lamps. ➜ RSA Lighting
  • Similar to the first floor, general accent lighting is handled by recessed, three-head adjustable elbow accents. Select perimeter walls also use the linear reveal wall-wash due to ceiling constraints.
Second Floor
  • The men’s tailored furnishings and luxury sportswear area is merchandised against bleached wood and textured walls. The formalwear room features dark walls and ceilings, white lacquered casework, and a black-and-white patterned floor, while the made-to-measure room features custom cabinetry and comfortable furnishings.
  • Existing PAR38s combine with re-lamped, recessed LED adjustable accents. ➜ Retrofit LED, Philips
  • The men’s shoe salon – adjacent to the grand stairway – was illuminated with a continuous 2”-wide linear extrusion with LED ambient slot lighting and pinhole LED adjustable spots to highlight shoes. ➜ Lumenwerx Lighting
  • In the men’s Contemporary Sportswear section, select perimeter wall cabinetry uses the linear reveal wall-wash and interior LED strips to highlight. ➜ Pure Edge Lighting; Luminii Lighting
  • An area beneath the third-level glass floor uses RLM pendants mounted on cable catenaries stretched across the space and is supplemented with track-mounted LED accents. ➜ Juno Lighting; Baselight Lighting
  • Existing chandeliers were lamped with retrofit LED G40 lamps. Perimeter cabinetry was relamped in existing fluorescent channels. ➜ Retrofit LED
  • Continuous linear track was placed in the cove of the central ceiling element to highlight suit racks with LED narrow spot accents. ➜ Juno Lighting
Third Floor
  • Mens’ formalwear and made-to-measure is located on this level. ➜ WAC Lighting
  • General accent lighting supplied by recessed, three-head adjustable elbow accents. Select perimeter walls here also use the linear reveal wall-wash due to ceiling constraints. ➜ PureEdge Lighting; Luminii Lighting