Port Richmond Books thrives, even if it is ‘haunted’

Greg Gillespie, co-own­er of Port Rich­mond Books on Rich­mond St. The store is see­ing more cus­tom­ers than ever, he said. SAM NE­W­HOUSE / STAR PHOTO

Even with cus­tom­ers go­ing more di­git­al than hard­cov­er lately as far as books are con­cerned, the former movie theat­er that is Port Rich­mond Books is a rel­ic that stands the test of time.

Greg Gillespie is the king of a castle of books — about 200,000 of them, to be ex­act.

Amass­ing such an an­tho­logy takes time, though.

“It’s 35 years of books,” Gillespie said.

Gillespie, an Over­brook res­id­ent and re­tired city health in­spect­or has op­er­ated the Port Rich­mond Books used book­store, 3307 Rich­mond St., for about a dec­ade – and says that des­pite tech­no­logy’s latest trends in read­ing, the store’s not go­ing out of busi­ness any­time soon.

“It’s go­ing really well,” Gillespie said re­cently in the 100-year-old former movie theat­er that Port Rich­mond Books calls home. “About a year ago, I would have said, ‘It’s ter­rible’ … [but] it’s really picked up.”

Gillespie said that last year, a friend cre­ated a web­site for the store — portrich­mond­books.com — that has drawn in many new cus­tom­ers, as has at­ten­tion from loc­al blogs like Philebrity and Hid­den City Phil­adelphia.

The store is draw­ing about 50 per­cent more cus­tom­ers than in the past, he said.

“Most of my cus­tom­ers are twenty- to thirty-somethings that go against the trends,” Gillespie con­tin­ued. “They may have a Kindle [Amazon’s e-read­er], but they still like the tact­ile idea of a book.”

Port Rich­mond Books’ co-own­er Deen Kogan ded­ic­ated one room of the store to her late hus­band Jay Kogan’s love of book col­lect­ing. That room houses Jay’s col­lec­tion of over 30,000 mys­tery and pulp nov­els.

“They talk about the de­mise of book­stores, and that’s true for the chains [e.g. Barnes & Noble], but its nice to know there are sev­er­al great used book­stores in the Phil­adelphia area,” Kogan said. “Most people don’t think of Port Rich­mond as a cul­tur­al cen­ter, but there’s lots of ter­rif­ic things there.”

Also in the store are clas­sic edi­tions of works like Dante’s “Com­media,” first-run hard­cov­er edi­tions of Joseph Mitchell’s clas­sic journ­al­ism col­lec­tion “Up in the Old Hotel,” and cas­cades of chil­dren’s books.

“All this – is para­dise!” said Al­bani­an im­mig­rant Ah­met, who was shop­ping in Port Rich­mond Books when Star vis­ited. “All the smartest people come here.”

The store is a hangout for loc­al read­ers and writers, a spot for read­ings by loc­al au­thors, and it even may be haunted.

Olde City Paranor­mal, a group of paranor­mal activ­ity in­vest­ig­at­ors, in­vest­ig­ated the store, and ap­par­ently found evid­ence of a ghostly pres­ence.

Two work­ers in the store even told Gillespie they wouldn’t work later at night be­cause of the fear of un­ex­plained phe­nom­ena.

But at least the spooks aren’t scar­ing off their cus­tom­ers, which Gillespie said vary in back­ground.

“It’s pretty mixed. A lot of the ‘hip­sters’ from out of Fishtown, plus people com­ing from South Philly, West Philly, South Jer­sey and Ger­man­town,” he said. “Out here — it’s a des­tin­a­tion.”

One of the hard­est parts of run­ning the busi­ness is main­tain­ing the ram­shackle, mys­ter­i­ous old theat­er, Gillespie said. The sec­ond­ary roof blew off in Novem­ber dur­ing Hur­ricane Sandy.

“We spend a lot of time fight­ing graf­fiti and trash,” Gillespie said. “There’s al­ways work go­ing on.”

Des­pite the chal­lenges though, Gillespie said the job af­fords him the op­por­tun­ity to learn about his greatest pas­sion — lit­er­at­ure. Ori­gin­ally just a fan of con­tem­por­ary fic­tion and mys­tery, Gillespie says he’s been turned on to all sorts of new genres while run­ning the store.

“It just adds on to the agony of not be able to read everything,” Gillespie said. “As people say, “‘If you really want to know how little you know, open a book­store.’”

Re­port­er Sam Ne­w­house can be reached at 215-354-3124 or at sne­w­house@bsmphilly.com.

You can reach at snewhouse@bsmphilly.com.

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