Philadelphia’s Jewelers Row Merchants Fight to Save Their Famed Street

Some worry the proposed apartment complex may be a done deal

Merchants on Philadelphia’s Jewelers Row are now talking with local developers about maintaining the character of their district, but some fear that the proposed apartment complex will permanently change the area.  

“They say they want to put jewelry stores back into the five storefronts,” says Hy Goldberg, president of the Jewelers Row Association. “It’s not like they want to put a CVS or something in there. But the bad news is that there are many jewelers who will have to relocate.”

He says his group is still exploring its options.

“Everyone has been kept in the dark,” he says. “We don’t know if this a fait accompli or if we will have to seek middle ground and maintain the integrity of a truly historic area. We are working with the local preservation alliance to stop this. Right now it looks like the developers are holding all the cards. But nobody knows for sure.”

A spokesman for Toll Brothers, the company that plans to build a luxury apartment complex on the street, tells JCK that it “plans to engage the local community” throughout the building process.

“We are committed to delivering a residential building that is respectful of the history of Jewelers Row while rejuvenating it for the future,” says marketing director Michael J. Duff. “Although we are still considering our prospective development plans for this project, we intend, through contextual architectural design, for the existing cornice line of Sansom Street to remain intact while retaining retail space along the street level for jewelry stores to preserve the iconic Jewelers Row streetscape.”

One resident who is in danger of having to move, Frank Schaffer, head of FGS Gems, calls the prospect of relocating a “nightmare.”

“Will it change the street? Absolutely. Will it change business on the street? Absolutely.”

He hopes to rally fellow residents against the plan but says some are just apathetic and hope to close up shop regardless.

“A lot of people feel this is inevitable,” Schaffer says. “There are options to fight this that have been successful in the past, but if there is not enough support there is nothing we can do. It shows the state of the industry.” 

Philadelphia’s Jewelers Row is considered the oldest diamond district in the United States, dating from the 1800s. It is also considered America’s second biggest diamond district, after New York City’s.

JCK News Director