Port Richmond: A Look At Bookstore Owner Greg Gillespie

Many forces are up against Greg Gillespie and his bookstore.

“They’ve closed Richmond Street from Cambria south. So it’s all dead end,” Gillespie said of recent construction in the area. “This used to be an alternate route to I-95 and once they cut off the flow, the traffic, it’s been pretty rough here.”

Port Richmond Books has served as a neighborhood hub for over a decade, with Gillespie’s passion, and help from his friend, Deen Kogan, founder of Society Hill Playhouse, as the driving forces behind its survival.

Even major bookstores, like Borders, failed to lure customers in recent times in which digital purchase of books has increased.


But encompassing about 6,000 square feet of space and more than 300,000 books, the place has a story, and Gillespie is interested in preserving that.

Lifetime Port Richmond resident Ronald Bonk recalled frequenting the space in the 1950s, when it was Richmond Theater.

“We’d catch the chapters—Superman or Batman,” Bonk said. “We had to go see them. You didn’t want to miss them.”

The building later became Blue Ribbon Vending, and then Fischer Hardware Company. When Gillespie and Kogan bought the space, they had to clear out lots of hardware, while remnants of the original pipe organ from the movie house still remain in the bookstore’s basement.

“You have to have a brave heart to go in the basement,” Kogan said.


Gillespie said two separate paranormal investigators have confirmed “some type of presence” resides in the store. But it still comes off a second home to Gillespie. He pointed to a couch in the back of the bookstore.

“I’ve slept there a couple of times,” he said, walking through the bookcases in the cluttered, freezing back room.

Gillespie grew up in Narberth, Pennsylvania, but claimed he wasn’t always an avid reader.

“I was a terrible reader,” Gillespie said of his time at Bonner Prendergast Catholic High School.

After a brief visit to Ireland in 1973, Gillespie considered joining the Irish Republican Army. He “cowered out” but returned to Philadelphia with a growing interest in Irish literature.  A friend returned home from the Marines and had a house in Manayunk, and Gillespie moved in.

It was around this time that he started acting for Society Hill Playhouse, where he met the founders, Kogan, and her late husband, Jay Kogan. Gillepsie didn’t exactly have ambition to be an actor, but was more interested in being in a play by his favorite Irish novelist, Brendan Behan.


Although Gillespie said this decision was not based out of his love for acting, he ended up volunteering for Society Hill Playhouse for about 30 years.

“Greg came to the theater when he was quite young, so we’d known him a long, long time,” Kogan said.

Jay Kogan and Gillespie became “booking” buddies—together they would look for and buy books for Kogan’s collection: what eventually amassed to over 30,000 volumes in crime fiction.

“I was convinced that the third floor was going to collapse,” Kogan said of her husband’s collection in their former house. “I live in a four-story house now, but the third and fourth floors were dedicated to books, and they couldn’t hold what was being acquired.”

Kogan originally stored the books in a South Philadelphia building on Passyunk Avenue, but eventually the four stories of that building weren’t enough.

When her husband died in 1993, she decided to find an official spot for the books, along with Gillespie’s own blossoming collection of Irish literature. An advertisement in a newspaper drove them to the Port Richmond location (on 30th and Richmond Streets) and in 2005 the space officially became Port Richmond Books.


Gillespie and Kogan have hosted events like readings, book signings, small play productions, and, most notably, a place for people in the area to come and talk about something that brings them together – a good book.

“I’m most proud of is the people that come and meet here that have become friends,” Gillespie said.

Friends will join him at the bookstore, grab a soda or a beer, and talk books.

“The thing that’s amazing to me, is how big that place is, he can tell you where every book is,” Kogan said.

At 66-years-old, Gillespie said he’s not so sure that he’s able to keep up with the times.

“I think it’s more of a young man’s game, young woman’s game,” Gillespie said. “Somebody that knows their way around the Internet.”

But for local residents, Gillespie does the job just fine.

At Julie’s Corner Bar, across the street from Port Richmond Books, the owner’s son, Mike Savage, said Gillespie has brought a positive facet to Port Richmond.

“It seems like he’s actually trying to change the neighborhood there, for the better,” Savage said. “There’s something good there.”


– Text and images by Regan K Abato and Kerriann Raimo.


  1. The Internet may be a young person’s game, but then why not hire one to get your inventory online? Seriously, this little place sounds fantastic — there is a way to save it by letting it be both brick-and-mortar WITH online inventory and selling. It’d be a pity to see if disappear.

  2. Going online means competing with the penny sellers, who are depreciating the value of books. That is not the answer. I am a bookseller with a brick and mortar shop. I know what I’m talking about.

  3. A true gem! Every book worm absolutely must visit Greg and his book space. The photos in no way do justice to how large / tall / wide this place is. Every nook and cranny and crammed with treasures. We keep a stack in our living room to this day, the old bindings are beauties in themselves! <3<3<3

  4. Yes Greg is HISTORY just being himself-it’s just another treasure port richmond has to offer among all the other treasures that neighborhood has to offer.I grew up
    there so i know what i’m talking about.Greg i will be down soon,make sure you have a Guinness in the ice box for me.

  5. I love it at Port Richmond books, after reading about the paranormal activity I wanna see the basement lol Greg is a one of a kind glad he loves and cares about books as much I do! I support Port Richmond books 100%

  6. Greg has collected a fantastic set of books but the best thing about the place is Greg himself and the wonderful crazy talented people he attracts. If you remember Kauffman and Hart’s “You Can’t take It With You”, well, it is that kind of a crazy loving place

  7. Port Richmond Books is more than a great source of reading material, it’s an experience of good comaraderie while on a treasure hunt for literally gems

  8. This is Marsha; we met on a Southwest flight from Philadelphia to Dallas, Texas. We shared a chocolate bar, discussed Irish authors (I was reading ‘Tis ‘ on my Kindle), you were on your way to Alberque to see buddies.) I am in town (in New Hope) for my nephews wedding tomorrow, but I would love to see your haunted bookstore AND see you again. Email is down below.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.