Fairhill: Auto Shop Owner Unveils Plans for Shopping Center

Richard Lepow looked at digital plans for the shopping center at the auto shop's front desk.

The Fairhill community may be on the verge of a major revitalization, and Richard Lepow is the man trying to make it happen.

Richard Lepow looked at digital plans for the shopping center at the auto shop's front desk.

Richard Lepow is the owner of Fifth Street Auto Parts and Service on 3107 N. Fifth St., which has been in his family since the 1920s. Behind his shop, there is a salvage yard and a decaying bridge that shears off tops of trucks like it’s opening a can of tuna fish. The atrophied landscape overshadows the brand new Maria de los Santos Health Center.

“It’s called the blight on Allegheny Avenue,” Lepow said.

Lepow then had an idea to stimulate the local economy and spur revitalization: create a well-constructed, modern, suburban-style shopping center.Lepow consulted his financial partner, David Groverman, and the two pooled their funds together. Lepow convinced Conrail, the company that owns train tracks along the East Coast, to partially fund the venture.

Lepow, Groverman and Conrail purchased the 10 acres of land where the “blight” currently exists. The area will be transformed into a mixed-use, 150,000-square-foot facility of retail stores, a supermarket and office space. IMC Construction Inc. signed on to build the facility, which is the company that constructed Plymouth Meeting Mall and Penn College of Technology.

The center is projected to create 300 to 400 jobs and bring a much-needed fiscal boost to the ailing neighborhood.

“It will be an economic stimulus,” Lepow said. “It will be a Latino-themed shopping center, and we’re gonna have stores that are hopefully owned by Hispanic entrepreneurs. This will have a huge impact on the Hispanic community.”

The project has the support of the Hispanic organizations like HACE, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez.

Efrien Torres, a mechanic who works in Lepow’s auto shop, has been a resident of Fairhill for 37 years. Torres has seen the community fall into decay, and is looking forward to positive change.

Efrein Torres charged a truck battery in the shop on Saturday.

“It’s great for the neighborhood,” Torres said. “The stores are going to be for people who don’t have jobs. There will also be more competition, and prices will be lower because of more business.”

Lepow is very optimistic about the potential benefits.

“It will be the catalyst to spur economic development to create jobs,” Lepow said. “Instead of spending money outside the area (…) it will bring money into it. It will revitalize North Philadelphia for generations to come.”

The transformative project is planned to break ground in September 2012.

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