One Man's Junk is An Entire Corridor's Treasure in West Philly
A self-proclaimed "junk man" for decades, David Groverman has built quite a personal collection of art and antiques in addition to the 40,000 square feet of showroom space for consignment stores he maintains in the region.
Groverman, who started out collecting baseball cards and coins as a kid in Delaware County, admits he can be a hoarder. His wife of 37 years, Linda, maintains a strict rule to combat this tendency: her husband can't bring anything home unless he gets rid of something else.
"I can always sneak in a little piece of silver or a campaign button," says Groverman, also a successful real estate developer. "I have a fondness for this type of business."
Groverman also has developed a fondness for the community surrounding his newest store on Lancaster Ave. in the Mantua section of West Philadelphia, on the doorstep of University City. Groverman opened Resellers Central Market
last fall, returning to the Lancaster Ave. corridor, 16 blocks south from where he had a store for 18 years. His former location was next to the 65,000 square foot retail center he built in 2005, Overbrook Plaza, which at the time was the first new shopping center in West Philly n 30 years.
Now Groverman is at 3939 Lancaster largely because he was able to purchase the cavernous, three-story warehouse for $350,000, and because thousands of cars pass by heading to and from the Main Line suburbs, all potential customers. Having UPenn and Drexel a couple blocks away is also convenient. Just as important, though, is the bond Groverman and the store have begun to develop with nearby business owners and local residents in the heart of a commercial corridor that was once bustling but is now struggling for survival.
It was only a couple months ago when the Market needed a plunger and Groverman ran to a nearby hair salon to borrow one, no questions asked. The Market's customer base is highly local – there's a steady stream of folks from the neighborhood rolling in and out of the store most weekdays.
"To the locals, it's an affirmation of sorts, in that you might expect a pawn shop with inferior quality things to be here, so to them, even if they can't afford some of this stuff, they like it," he says. "They appreciate the fact that someone is bringing upscale stuff into the community."
Most of it is highly affordable -- $25 dining room tables and $75 church pews can be had if your timing is right. Groverman's success as a junk man is a result of his referral network that connects him with private homes looking to clean house and his ability to price things at just the right amount. In addition to furniture, artwork and other appliances and household décor items, Groverman recently added clothing to his inventory.
There's a steady crew who moves the merchandise and Groverman partners with Josh Unruh Antique Transport out of Phoneixville to cart it around (including to his location in suburban Frazer). Groverman has three employees at Central Market, including a new manager who spent the last several years working at a furniture outlet who has helped smooth out the operation. He also tweaked his store's hours to better accommodate customers.
"I think what I forgot was it takes a long time to build up a location," says Groverman, who spends good chunks of must days at the store. "But I can say now that we're here six months, I'm seeing a strong increase."
Investors Who Are Invested
To see such an increase in activity on Lancaster Ave., Groverman believes several things need to happen. For one, it would have been easy for him to purchase the property at 3939 Lancaster and sit on it for several years until UPenn, Drexel or somebody else with a sudden interest in the corridor comes along to buy it at a significant markup.
That approach is lost on Groverman.
"Availability of spending and a need for goods and services will open up the empty stores," Groverman says. "Some people are short-sighted holding out for high rent. But the best thing they can do for their stores and communities is get someone in there for a lower rate. You can work up to that rent a year or two down the line."
Groverman also believes more unified efforts to showcase the corridor, like last fall's LOOK! On Lancaster Ave.
art exhibition that spanned 35th through 40th Sts., will attract more customers, and eventually, more investors.
Onward in West, North Philly
Buoyed by the success of Overbrook Plaza, which he sold a year after it was completed for $10 million, and his 2007 renovation of Fairmount Park's historic Ohio House
, in which he maintains an office and operates Centennial Café
, Groverman is now turning his attention to North Philadelphia. That's where he is developing Plaza Allegheny, a 120,000 square foot shopping center devoted to Hispanics, which make up 85 percent of the population within a square mile of the development at Fifth and Allegheny. The $15 million project involves four parcels –including an existing pre-World War II building and new construction – and will support 25 retail stores, 200 jobs and an anchor supermarket in what is widely considered a food desert.
"There's 62,000 people who live in an area with no services," Groverman says.
It's a situation not unlike the one that exists surrounding his store at 3939 Lancaster. He is hoping to have the bottom two floors full of merchandise by the fall and is actively pursuing opportunities to promote the corridor. Groverman's desire to invest rather than sit on Lancaster Ave. could be the kind of statement that attracts other like-minded investors.
"Will this be the same store 10 years from now? Maybe not," he says. "But in 10 years this will appreciate in value. That's how I look at it."
JOE PETRUCCI is managing editor of Flying Kite. Send feedback here.
PHOTOS of David Groverman and items at Resellers Central Market by BAILEY ELIZABETH