Mirror, Mirror: Welcome to Philadelphia, city of shopping

The clothing boutique Sugarcube was among the shops Condé Nast Traveler cited when its survey ranked Philadelphia the No. 2 shopping city in the world (behind only Barcelona). (Photo via Sugarcube)

Shortly after the new year, Condé Nast Traveler ranked Philadelphia the No. 2 shopping city in the world.

I repeat, the world.

It said our Reading Terminal Market and Third Street independents - namely clothing boutique Sugarcube and sleek furniture shop Minima - boasted better shopping than Hong Kong or Chicago's Magnificent Mile.

The only burg that outranked Philly on the 24-city list - based on an online survey of 77,000 readers and information compiled by Traveler's blog coordinator - was Barcelona, Spain.

"The information is taken straight from the data," said Gaia Filicori, associate director of communications at Traveler. "It wasn't a case of pitching the writer."

After the votes were tallied during an eight-week period last spring, experts - Traveler writers, editors and other trendsetters - who had been to those cities gave their take on their favorite spots.

When it comes to shopping - which, let's face it, conjures up images of fashionistas more than foodies - the accolades are a big deal. Traveler shares the Louboutin-walked halls of influential style glossies Vogue, Lucky and Allure.

So a positive shout-out from the likes of Condé Nast raises our profile as a bona fide center of style, certainly much more than our recent No. 7 ranking in Coupons.com's Top 10 Most Beauty-Obsessed Cities list.

Yet when talk of the Jan. 3 posting got very loud last week, some Philadelphia tastemakers uttered a sarcastic, "Come again?"

"Is that really accurate?" said Nicole Paloux, CEO of Red Balloon Public Relations, who shops both high-end (she owns a cobalt blue Céline handbag that I'd die for) and middle of the road (she recently purchased a pair of Acne Studios jeans from Erdon in Old City). "We're not quite there yet. We've made great progress. But an inflated statement like that could be misleading in a way that is more harmful than helpful."

In the last year, national and local retailers have opened many Philadelphia outposts. We are home to the only Century 21 outside the greater New York metropolitan area. Designer Liz Rymar opened the ellelauri boutique on 19th Street, a cute collection of made-in-America designs that include a grouping of leather-trimmed sheaths.

In late fall, a Uniqlo and a Banana Republic Factory Store set up shop on Chestnut Street, while fast-fashion paradise Forever 21 will likely open in the 1600 block this spring. And in December, we got an 8,000-square-foot Michael Kors boutique around the corner at 1705 Walnut St.

Yet there are no department stores of Bloomingdale's or Nordstrom quality; such stores have vast inventories but with the personalized service of boutiques. The most dedicated shoppers say there need to be more runway-caliber designer boutiques like Prada, Gucci, or Diane Von Furstenberg.

Ironically, this ranking may help us get there.

Michelle Shannon, vice president of marketing and communications for the Center City District, has been courting such high-end retailers as Tory Burch, Kate Spade and Alice + Olivia since 2009. Generally speaking, these brands demand to be in cities and neighborhoods already proved to be fashionably elite.

"You bet this is the kind of thing we will put on our portfolio when we are talking to prospective retailers," said an excited Shannon, already crafting her newsletter of Center City happenings. "It's a result of all that has been going on, all we have been working on."

For developers of the city's emerging retail spaces - 1500 Walnut Street, where the Cheesecake Factory plans to open; the "East Market" downtown shopping district between 11th and 12th, from Market to Chestnut; and the Gallery, in the process of being overhauled - the Condé Nast ranking will make their jobs much easier.

At the Lits building at Eighth and Market, managed by Brickstone Realty for 28 years, brokers now say they have a shot at landing a big-box such as Kohl's, or Bed, Bath & Beyond. Those stores wouldn't consider Philadelphia two years ago, said John Connors, president of Brickstone.

"The Center City renaissance is not a difficult story to tell these days," said Connors. "Over the last 36 months, a lot of barriers we had to deal with went away, and we have seen an uptick of institutional investment."

But does that mean we're the No. 2 city in the world for shopping, I asked him?

"I don't know how to deal with that other than to say: You can have a world-class experience when you come to Philadelphia. And that sets us up for more greatness."