Ardmore's Suburban Square experiments with pop-up shops

Pop-up shop Duke and Winston sells preppy T-shirts, ties, socks, and hoodies.

Change is in the air at Suburban Square, dubbed by some as the "downtown of the lower Main Line."

With the intended departure of anchor Macy's in early 2016, a handful of retailers have either signed long-term leases or short-term ones, known as "pop ups," to test the well-heeled market over the holiday shopping season.

Pam Ahrens of Ardmore sampled Ellelauri - a women's contemporary clothing store and one of three pop-up shops - for the first time Tuesday. Inside, she bought a pair of $198 7 for All Mankind jeans and a silk blouse caught her eye.

"I like the things in there," said Ahrens, an executive for a furniture company. "I would definitely go back."

That is music to the ears of commercial brokers, especially CBRE Inc., the leasing agent for Suburban Square charged with attracting tenants to fill the nearly 100,000 square feet that Macy's now occupies, and space left by other departures this year, including Chico's.

CBRE executive vice president Steven Gartner cited these developments:

Sephora, which sells beauty products, is under construction and will open in January in the former Williams-Sonoma space.

Gilbert and Evans, offering men's and women's apparel and accessories, opened Tuesday.

Besito and Not Your Average Joe's, two new restaurants, recently opened to add to the nighttime traffic.

"The Square in its over 85-year history has always evolved," Gartner said. "It's had paint stores, lamp stores, bookstores, a movie theater, and even a supermarket when I was a kid.

"It's the downtown for the lower Main Line, even with downtown quirks like alleys, basements, and second floors. There's really nothing like it."

Nina Rogers, director of real estate for Kimco Realty Corp. - landlord of Suburban Square since 2007 - said this was the first time the lifestyle center has allowed pop-up leases. "The true test is whether a retailer resonates with the customer base," she said.

She described Ellelauri and the two other pop-up shops - Duke and Winston, which sells primarily men's clothing, and Vineyard Vines, a clothing and accessory retailer - as "very curated concepts for the holidays."

"The retailers coming in are better and stronger and are really listening to the customers," she said.

The 85-year-old Suburban Square has a slice of retail history. Located about four miles from Villanova University, it opened in 1928 as one of the first shopping centers in the United States, and likewise had one of the first department-store anchors when Strawbridge & Clothier opened there two years later. Macy's replaced Strawbridge's in 2006.

Elizabeth "Liz" Rymar, 33, co-owns Ellelauri with her sister, Laura. The name of the women's clothing store is a combination of their first names.

They opened their first store in Avalon three years ago and a second on Rittenhouse Square a year ago.

A common denominator emerged: "The majority of our customers live in Philly or the Main Line," Rymar said. "Being on the Main Line made sense, and we're testing it out with the intention of signing with a long-term lease."

The sisters, who make and design their own products, now have a two-month lease at Suburban Square. The 1,500-square-foot Main Line shop opened two weeks ago next door to Duke and Winston.

Seun Olubodun, who is from the United Kingdom and moved to Cheltenham when he was 12, is the founder of Duke and Winston. It sells preppy T-shirts, ties, socks, hoodies - many with the bulldog logo. Olubodun named the store after his British bulldog, Duke, and the name of his primary school in England.

His store at 18th and Chestnut Street in Center City expanded this fall to include a women's line.

"Being here elevates us from being a really small company to one being right where our customer base lives," he said.

"We hope the traffic comes into the store and they start associating us with the bigger brands."