Sunday, March 10, 2013

Suburban Square

It does seem appropriate that the endpoint of yesterday's experiment in seeing if I can drive on the highway for extended periods of time (as opposed to spending ten seconds on Route 1 panicking) culminated at a place called Suburban Square. This is a real upscale mall, not a derogatory description of the shoppers.


While I may be suburban and square, that mall was not our initial plan. (Of course my husband was present for this - did you think I was going to learn how to merge onto the I-95 unattended?) We were going to go to Narberth (unpronounceable!), a town in a place called Main Line Philadelphia. I'd long been intrigued by this "Main Line," whatever it was, and somehow refused to accept that it would just be wealthy suburbs. I'd read on Wikipedia about Jewish towns that to this day exist because Then (and maybe Now) the neighboring towns were too old-money for such riff-raff. That, and we're already quite far along in our list of possible excursions. How snooty would it be? Would it be like Passy/the 16th in Paris?

Effectively, yes, it would be a great deal like that. Narberth, despite being tiny, has two French bakeries, a consignment shop, a wine store and a cheese store. We saw not one but two bichon-type lap dogs. Paris, Pennsylvania, depending one's plans for the day, how integral the Louvre was to one's checklist...

The real goal yesterday, however, had been to visit Maido, the Japanese supermarket of the greater Philadelphia region. Not that it's so inconvenient to bring back groceries (and superior hair-care products) from lower Manhattan, but yes, it is incredibly inconvenient to do this. And I liked the idea of driving to some big-box store full of frozen tofu-skin and all my other favorites. There's a Korean version of this in Edison (?), H-Mart, which has some Japanese groceries as well, but this was going to be like Sunrise Mart in Target form. I was so excited. If this was it for the Philadelphia area, it would surely be immense. No doubt it was outside the city center because it was just that huge, zoning laws wouldn't permit it in central Philadelphia. I'd built it up in my mind to basically being Tokyo (as I imagine it) somehow housed in a Mid-Atlantic strip-mall.

And... it was a small grocery store in the center of a small town. No strip-mall, no outskirts. Japanese, yes, but with about the same selection in that area, or not quite, as H-Mart. A great place to have nearby if you live in Narberth, and one I'd welcome with immense enthusiasm should it open anywhere near where I live, but maybe not a destination for those who live an hour away. The bakeries had been more impressive, if also not worth the drive for those already capable of highway maneuvering. 

So we did have to go further down the destination list, bringing us to Suburban Square in nearby Ardmore. It sounded intriguing - an old-timey suburban town square-mall-thing, as opposed to the utilitarian strip-malls where we do our grocery shopping. 

The highlight of Suburban Square, in the end, was its grocery-shopping. (Confession: I like grocery-shopping.) The Ardmore Farmers' Market doesn't have anything to do with a farmers' market as in local farm involvement (at least not in this season, from what I could tell), but is instead an indoor food market like the food halls in Montreal or D.C., or, for a more local reference, a bigger version of the Stockton Farm Market. (Or, fine, the Reading Street Market, which everyone loves but me.) A fish store that looked great (and I can vouch for the gravlax), a branch of a high-end Italian cheese-and-more shop from Philadelphia, DiBruno's, which, well, cheese. A vegetable store with baby artichokes. Expensive? Posh? Yes and yes, but so is Princeton, and we don't have a food hall, so it still made for a change of pace. 

Other than that, it was a mall with whichever stores presumably spring up at the income threshold in Princeton and this part of Pennsylvania: J.Crew, Lululemon, etc. While I am not a stuff-rejecting saint, this I could give or take. There was also a Barbour store, which had particular relevance in light of this article

15 comments:

Petey said...

"...culminated at a place called Suburban Square. This is a real upscale mall, not a derogatory description of the shoppers."

It's both! (God, I hate the Main Line with the heat of a thousand suns.)

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"I'd built it up in my mind to basically being Tokyo (as I imagine it) somehow housed in a Mid-Atlantic strip-mall."

Look, are you genuinely unaware that with the equivalent amount of driving, you could have ended up in that actual place?

The Edgewater, NJ Mitsuwa Marketplace is literally as close as you can get to being in Japan without actually going to Japan. You can spend a whole weekend there without getting bored.

It's a pilgrimage. It's Disneyland. It's the 8th Wonder of the World. It's the most fun you can have in New Jersey.

Phoebe said...

Mitsuwa! Good to know. That had been on the list as well, but this seemed more feasible with my current driving ability.

Miss Self-Important said...

I have been considering a parallel pilgrimage here on the other coast, to what is purported to be the Mothership of All Taiwanese Bakeries (every food in the world, stuffed into a bun!), in Irvine, which is approximately the driving distance b/w you and the Main Line, also involving a freeway drive which I am not entirely competent to make. It is a hard choice - forego the drive, or forego the buns.

Petey said...

One note regarding the Edgewater Mitsuwa:

Bergen County has an utterly bizarre blue law preventing the sale of appliances on Sunday.

So, if you think there is even a tiny chance you might get tempted into buying a Neuro Fuzzy rice cooker, or a Hello Kitty toilet with built-in automated bidet, don't go on Sunday...

(And for the non-Phoebes in the crowd who might live in NYC, be aware that there is a special dedicated shuttle bus that runs from Port Authority directly to Mitsuwa. You too can join in the pilgrimage.)

Phoebe said...

MSI,

Now I want to drive to Irvine, CA, for that bakery! Which of course isn't going to happen, but you should! Assuming the freeway isn't too scary? I have no idea what it is. But it's comforting to know that even people who didn't first learn to drive five minutes ago also find that kind of thing frightening.

Petey,

More useful information!

Jenny said...

Closer to Princeton, there's the Asian Food Market in Plainsboro. It's huge and hasas good a selection as H-Mart, but it's not as shiny and new as H-Mart.

Phoebe said...

Jenny,

Thanks for the tip. I have been there, actually, and now that I think of it, the advantage of H-Mart is basically that there's better Thai food near it than in Plainsboro. Otherwise, yes, the selection seemed great.

Petey said...

"More useful information!"

Why stop now? There is also a Trader Joe's nearby in Edgewater, so you can theoretically combine the two stops and fill your car so full of stuff that you can't see out the back window. (But I'm not sure that's actually useful info, since any time spent at TJ's will cut into your Mitsuwa time...)

"Assuming the freeway isn't too scary? I have no idea what it is. But it's comforting to know that even people who didn't first learn to drive five minutes ago also find that kind of thing frightening."

I'm baffled at the notion that limited-access highway driving is difficult, once you've done it once or twice. IMHO, it's actually easier than other forms of driving, as all you pretty much need to do is maintain speed and stay in your lane. City and suburban driving pose far more challenges.

What's really difficult is driving in France. I drove around there for several days, with a French native co-piloting with infinite patience and much sudden screaming, and by the end, I still didn't even have a basic grasp of what the rules were. The whole 'folks entering from the right have the right-of-way' notion especially never computed. I'm amazed I didn't kill myself and several others.

FarFromBreton said...

How weird--I just found your blog tonight, and I am from Narberth! Which is pronounced how it's spelled. Maido doesn't offer much in comparison to Chinatown in Philly, but their lunch counter is quite good. And Narberth actually has -3- French bakeries--the third is wholesale only, barely-marked, and provides the pastries for a lot of Philly's fancier cafes. Narberth itself was quite working-class until about 20 years ago (which is maybe why it didn't read quite as Jewish?), but has yuppified a lot recently. Bala Cynwyd, right next door, is much more obviously Jewish and has an amaaazing Jewish deli.

Surburban Square is full of terrible people in luxury SUVs, but it is sort of historical (one of the first U.S. shopping centers) and has Trader Joe's.

Phoebe said...

FarFromBreton,

Quite the coincidence!

Re: Narberth and Jewishness, my phrasing may have been off, but it did seem like a town with Jews, what with the synagogues and such. I'm not sure what you mean re: working-class and Jewish being mutually-exclusive, but given that much of my family grew up in working-class Jewish areas (as in, with working-class Jews), and given, well, the Lower East Side, I, at least, don't think a Jewish neighborhood=a rich one. (Hope that's not where you were going with this!) And, I do wish I'd tried the lunch counter, the deli, or, heck, both.

Petey, FarFromBreton,

I like the store as well, but it might not be much, for me, in the way of a destination - there's a Trader Joe's very close to where I live. Well, driving-close, but that's the best I can ever hope for!

Petey said...

Here's a preview of the Mitsuwa experience for you.

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"I'm not sure what you mean re: working-class and Jewish being mutually-exclusive, but given that much of my family grew up in working-class Jewish areas (as in, with working-class Jews), and given, well, the Lower East Side, I, at least, don't think a Jewish neighborhood=a rich one."

When I was growing up in Philly, given the hyper-racial segregation of the city, combined with the lack of any rent regulation, the Jewish population tended to settle in the overall Parisian model.

Upper-middle-class and rich Jews were in Center City, while middle-class and working-class Jews were in the suburbs.

(The Main Line is an exception to the above, as the "rich" suburb of Philly.)

NYC is a bit different due to both less hyper-segregation and rent regulation. But in recent generations, most of the working class (non-dreadlocked) Jews lacking rent regulated apartments were to be found in places like Rego Park, not the LES, no?

FarFromBreton said...

Oh, no I didn't mean that Jews only live in rich areas/are rich! My whole family is Jewish and my mom actually grew up in Bala Cynwyd in a very working-class family, so I guess Bala Cynwyd was also less affluent than it is now.* She did get teased for being poorer than most of her peers, though, and one Reform synagogue (which I still pass and sneer at today!) refused to accept her family because they didn't have enough money.

I was speaking specifically about the Main Line, as Petey mentions. Despite being on the Main Line, much of Narberth is/was historically working-class, with rowhomes and a large Irish/Italian immigrant population. Narberth actually does not have any synagogues, though there are many within walking distance and a family friend runs a havurah. I don't know nearly enough about Philly's history to do more than speculate, but wealthy Jews probably moved to the posher parts of the Main Line, while poorer Jews...stayed in Philly? Stayed closer to main East Coast points of immigration? Then again, seeing as my mom's family was able to live in Cynwyd, maybe middle/working-class Jews did find space in the rest of the Main Line and concentrated in those areas because there were already other Jews there than in Narberth, and the more wealthy Jews had created more Jewish community infrastructure.

I'm sure that's more than you ever wanted to know about Narberth, but I hope I've cleared up what I meant above!

*Though the wealth in the Main Line varies by neighborhood, of course, from middle-class to very wealthy. So many caveats!

Phoebe said...

FarFromBreton,

Ah! Got it.

And, why did I think there were synagogues in Narberth? We definitely passed at least one, and at least one Jewish school, but I have no idea where one town ends and the next begins, so this must have been elsewhere. Plus, I was driving, and as I'm still new at that, I was mostly paying attention to traffic lights, pedestrians, and so forth.

FarFromBreton said...

I'm sure you passed a bunch driving through the area! There are 2 or 3 (Reform and Orthodox, I think) and a Jewish school by a main road in Bala Cynwyd, and at least 1 big one (Reform) on the main road that borders Narberth and goes to Ardmore/Suburban Square. So, there are a bunch very close to Narberth, just not technically within its borders.

Petey said...

"I don't know nearly enough about Philly's history to do more than speculate, but wealthy Jews probably moved to the posher parts of the Main Line, while poorer Jews...stayed in Philly? Stayed closer to main East Coast points of immigration?"

Well, if we exclude the Main Line from our consideration as sui generis, my rudimentary understanding is there was a pretty massive post-WWII migration of working-class Jews out from the city 'neighborhoods' to the suburbs, while some upper-middle-class and wealthy Jews migrated to Center City instead.

In short, while a fair number of non-Jewish working-class 'white ethnics' kept to the old city neighborhoods, working-class Jews pretty much headed to the suburbs en masse.

(And, as the second largest Jewish city on Earth, at least when I was growing up, the migratory patterns are actually an interesting topic.)