Port Richmond Books thrives, even if it is 'haunted'
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 email@example.com.