Jewelers row is the name given to the stretch of Sansom between 7th and 8th streets in center city Philadelphia. With its brick paved street and patchwork of row houses, it certainly stands out from the surrounding city, but what most people know it for is the vibrant array of jewelry stores. The area has a deep history mixed with new businesses and new restaurants. It is the oldest diamond district in America, was the former printing and engraving district and the location of the first cookie-cutter row homes in America. In 2016, Toll Brother construction company announced plans to build a condo tower on the corner of seventh and Sansom where there are active jewelry businesses. Now, in 2018, the condo construction is still only a proposition many believe will soon be a physical reality.
Jeff Barsky, owner of Barsky Diamonds, a family owned business established on Jeweler’s Row in 1898, does not mind the new development and believes it could attract more business. Jeff says the condo will “help with security and broaden the customer base,” that it will “be a good thing” for the community. However, Barsky Diamonds is not one of the businesses being scrapped to make room for the condos, and not everyone welcomes the condos as warmly as the Barskys do. Kate Banford, who lives on the street, passionately hates the construction plan. She plainly said that “it sucks” and “it’s stupid that they would knock all of this down for rich guys.” She views local businesses’ support of the Toll Brothers with suspicion and believes that jewelers are only supporting the construction because “they’re gonna be getting money from them.” She argued that condos, such as the one the Toll Brother’s plan to build, are “blights on the city” and “just ways to bring boring rich people” to a historic and interesting area. Kate hopes for the condo plans to fall through and for the historical integrity of Jeweler’s row to be preserved.
At the Philadelphia Preservation Alliance, Kate’s wishes are being fought for on legal grounds. Patrick Grossi, the director of advocacy at the Philadelphia Preservation Alliance, claims that the alliance has combated the Toll Brothers and their condo plan since it’s proposal. Though Grossi believes the condo will likely be built in that location, he hopes that the Toll Brothers will be forced to change their design to one less destructive. He suggested that “if this condo tower is gonna go forward” that “at a minimum” the Toll Brother’s should “preserve the historic facades of the buildings they’re seeking to demolish.” He explained that the company has been urged by the mayor, Jim Kenney, “to consider that as an option, but unfortunately, they are choosing not to.” Grossi described the feelings of the business owners on Jewelers Row, saying that many owners are “worried about what it means for them and their own businesses,” but other owners “think that it’s gonna bring some captive shoppers” and “inject a little life into the block.” Sushi restaurant, Koto, is a new piece of Jewelers Row that has had a booming business since it’s grand opening 9 months ago. Koto has made Jewelers row a little more lively. The owner, Jay Jay, said that “when you build the new building, the old jewelers need to move, and that’s very sad.”
The Toll Brothers declined to answer any questions posed to them on the subject of their center city construction, but, at this point, it appears that they will succeed with their plan. Jewelers Row has experienced many changes over time and with each big change, the previous businesses and history get shadowed by the new developments. The division between the past and the future of Jewelers Row will remain unresolved and until the condo plans are finalized.