Community staple, Port Richmond Books, is under threat of demolition

According to the appeal, the potential buyers are looking to turn the soon-to-be-former bookstore into a 31-unit residential complex with a roof deck.

Port Richmond Books, currently owned by Greg Gillespie, but likely not for long.

The current home of Port Richmond Books, located at 3037 Richmond St., is in danger of being demolished, according to both the building’s owner, Greg Gillespie, and city records. Gillespie, who’s owned the business since 2004, is in talks to sell the building to a Philadelphia-based real estate company called Metropolitan Group (more accurately, it’s members of Gillespie’s family who are in talks to sell. By his own admission, Gillespie doesn’t think he has the business acumen to sell the building, so he’s letting some family members handle it). Gillespie made it clear to the Star that the building was “important” to him and that he’d prefer to see the building remain and not be torn down by the new owner. At one point during the talks, Gillespie said he told this to Metropolitan.

“The very next day, we get a notice from the ZBA that they’re [planning] to tear it down,” Gillespie said. According to city records, the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment denied the potential buyer’s plans to demolish the building, but that decision has been appealed. As a result, the building’s fate is still up in the air. According to the appeal, the potential buyers are looking to turn the soon-to-be-former bookstore, which for the time being is still open and operating, into a 31-unit residential complex with a roof deck.

For many Port Richmond residents, the building that housed Port Richmond books is a staple of the neighborhood.

“It was a big meeting place for us,” said Connie Jesiolowska, who owns the property across the street that used to be Szypula Bakery. “We had people who would come in and buy books and start talking.” Jesiolowska said the building’s demolition would be “a loss” for the community.

Gillespie has yet to close on the building, and could technically still back out of the deal. However, Gillespie said he’s unlikely to do that for family-related reasons he’d prefer to keep private. Metropolitan Group was unable to return a request for comment before the Star’s weekly print deadline.

The building, which was originally built in 1913 as the Richmond Theater, was a wholesale hardware store called Fisher Hardware when it was purchased by Gillespie in 2003. 

“I was in the hardware business for a year, selling off the contents,” he said. “We gave ourselves a year to do that, and we didn’t empty it completely, but we gave what was left to Habitat [For Humanity] and we just made enough money to put a new roof on it.”

Prior to Fisher Hardware, the building was home to Blue Ribbon Vending, which sold cigarette machines, vending machines and pinball machines, according to Gillespie. 

In 2004 – a year after purchasing the building – Gillespie officially turned Fisher Hardware into Port Richmond Books.

Gillespie said that business initially started going downhill when SEPTA’s 15 trolley was replaced by a bus along Richmond Street. It got worse when the bus was removed. The final nail in the coffin, according to Gillespie, was the beginning of the 95 Revive construction along the street. 

Construction along Richmond Street | Photo by Tom Beck

“With the street construction, I couldn’t afford to keep the building,” said Gillespie. “You can’t even park on the street now. It’s had a really incredible impact on businesses and residents.”

Despite the imminent closing of his bookstore, Gillespie still looks on the bright side.

“I’m not complaining,” he said. “I had a great run with the bookstore.”

For now, Gillespie is going to enjoy the last few weeks of running his business as he collects on the pension he earned when he retired from his city health inspector career 18 years ago. He’s not done yet, though. He’s even got one more sales pitch: “Everything is half off,” he told the Star. “We have hours 12 to 5 Tuesday through Saturday.”