Lens: Inside FGS Gems on Jewelers’ Row

It’s been about six weeks since news broke that the Toll Brothers wanted to build a 16-story story condo tower on Jewelers’ Row. Since then a few storeowners have been thrust into the public eye as advocates for the preservation of the iconic Philadelphia commercial district.

In late August, at a packed Washington Square West Civic Association meeting, Frank Schaffer and several of his compatriots made their case forcefully. The owner of FGS Gems, which is in one of the buildings slated for demolition, Schaffer argued that Jewelers’ Row is a delicate ecosystem and the disruption caused by the construction would change it forever.

To have a deeper understanding of what life is like on Jewelers’ Row, PlanPhilly approached merchants about sharing their stories. We talked with Schaffer at his shop, and home, at 708 Sansom. There are few people better positioned than Schaffer to testify to the hidden world of Jewelers’ Row, which is home to not only merchants but manufacturers and residents as well. The modestly sized buildings contain a surprising variety of uses and people.

Schaffer sells and shapes gems in his shop, and describes himself as the only diamond cutter in Pennsylvania, or any of the states that touch it. But he also lives below his shop with his son and wife in an attractively outfitted, if windowless, bunker-like apartment. In the shop above, prehistoric fossils hang on the wall and a parrot stands guard above the door.  The building contains two more apartments in the stories above.

Take a look inside Schaffer’s domain and hear his take on the existential questions Jewelers’ Row faces in this video by WHYY’s Kimberly Paynter.

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