Alexa Chiafullo showed up at the front door of the Last Stop on the day after Christmas. Twenty-five years old, she had 90 days sober under her belt, but she was struggling to maintain her recovery. So, like countless others in similar situations, she went to Kensington to stay sober.
Chiafullo slept on the floor there for seven and a half months, attending regular meetings and holiday dinners. After a year of sobriety, she got to participate in a Last Stop right of passage: she wrote her name on the back wall of the building.
Now, that wall has been painted over. After 17 years, the famous Philly recovery clubhouse is moving.
Last Stop founder Eddie Zampitella recently sold the building at 2440 Kensington Ave. for $200,000. The developer who bought the place will reportedly turn it into an apartment complex — a project emblematic of the reasons behind the move.
“That neighborhood is changing,” Zampitella explained.
When he bought the original building in 2001, it cost just $16,000, and was surrounded by homeless people with addiction who needed help. Now, Zampitella sees $300,000 properties popping up all around. The locus of people on the street needing help has shifted north about a half a mile, he said, so he’s picking up and moving his operation there.
The new Last Stop is slated to go into 1810 East Somerset Street, a formerly abandoned building on the corner of Kensington half a block from the El.
“It’s part of the times,” Zampitella said. “We need to go where we’re needed to be. It’s healthy. It’s good.”
But the practicality of the move doesn’t make it any less emotional.
“It’s heartbreaking for a lot of us,” Chiafullo said. “The building of the Last Stop itself, it’s an empty shell of what it once was. It sucks.”
‘Like a mecca’ for recovery
Seventeen years after it first opened in 2001, the building has seen a lot.
It has seen recovery and death, as well as marriages and births. It has hosted Memorial Day barbecues and Thanksgiving dinners for people who had nowhere else to go. Countless Philadelphians have found home at the Last Stop, sleeping on the floor on one-eighth-inch yoga mats for months, sometimes even years.
“The building itself, it’s like a mecca for us,” Chiafullo said. “If you’ve ever been out there before in the sense of doing drugs, you know this is a place you can always go to.”
Bill Shaw entered his recovery from addiction around the same time Zampitella first bought the building, right off a 10-and-a-half-month stint in prison.
When Shaw first arrived, Last Stop was mostly just a 12-step meeting place, he said, but since then he’s seen it double in size and services. The back wall was demolished and rebuilt several times to expand the footprint. The space morphed into a 24-hour recovery operation, where people could access different services around the clock.
And there were the holiday parties, which turned out to be among the most successful forms of outreach.
“It was weird that it worked,” Shaw said. “People who refused to go to the Last Stop would still go there for a burger on Memorial Day.”
Spreading the word via free PB&J
The new property is nearly ready to go, pending some final contractor work and last approvals from L&I. Once that’s settled, the Last Stop will officially reopen in its new home.
The new building — which Zampitella said he bought for about $160,000 — will offer the same services as the old one, plus a few extra. It’s got enough space to add a reading room, he said, complete with a small lending library of donated books.
To let people know the Last Stop has changed locations, Zampitella plans to rely mostly on word of mouth.
And peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
For the past few weeks, on good-weather days, he’s been handing out free PB&Js and hot tea at the new location, letting people know that the recovery operation has relocated.
“We’re still in action,” Zampitella said. “I didn’t give up.”
In preparation for the move, Zampitella has already relocated most of the items in the old Last Stop building. The other day, he was there by himself, walking around the building and remembering its history. He fondly remembered the people who found recovery there, and went on to get married and have children. He also remembered the people who died there.
Zampitella considers himself blessed to have found the building — but at the end of the day, he said, it’s just a building.
“The comfort of making somebody feel at home is what makes the building,” he said. “But it ain’t the building, it’s the people.”