Photograph by Darrow Montgomery
It’s amazing what some flashy advertising, Pret A Manger, H&M, and an additional Starbucks can do to an aging and congested retail space. Without billions of dollars in long-term, big-ticket upgrades needed to expand and improve the nation’s second-busiest Amtrak hub, Union Station will remain a dysfunctional mass of humanity for years to come. Still, the powers-that-be have made some cosmetic but impactful improvements in how the place looks and what retail offerings are available. In the Amtrak concourse, bright, colorful advertisements projected on large screens draw eyes away from the otherwise dated Reagan-era aesthetic. Efforts to increase the variety of food options outside the inconvenient lower-level food court have resulted in a revitalized West Hall food cluster, with Chipotle Mexican Grill, Chop’t, Potbelly’s, Roti, YO! Sushi and, eventually, a Shake Shack outpost. All the additions at Union Station beat most of the current offerings at New York’s Penn Station (and forget about Philadelphia’s 30th Street). These relatively simple improvements were needed, but there’s still a lot more to be done to untangle the commuter mess. Anyone have a few billion dollars to spare?