The brand new Amazon pickup center at 23rd, South Street and Grays Ferry Avenue

Clarification appended

Philly lost the HQ2 bidding war, but a smaller Amazon deal was in the works the whole time — and the developer lied about it.

At the convergence of 23rd, South Street and Grays Ferry Avenue, an Amazon pickup center opened to the public for the first time on Tuesday morning. It’s the second of its kind in the city — the first opened near Penn in 2016. Now, South Street West neighbors can place orders online and pick them up right inside the store, stoop thieves be damned.

Back in June, rumors began circulating online that the historic property at 2300 South St. was being eyed for redevelopment as an Amazon pickup center. Zoning documents suggested those rumors had merit: In January, the Department of Licenses & Inspections granted developer Jason Nusbaum a permit to allow the “storage of products for sale and delivery, to also include customer pickup of previously-purchased items.” Sounds fairly Amazonian, yes?

The Amazon-branded delivery truck entrance Credit: Michaela Winberg / Billy Penn

The rumor generated some controversy for several reasons. Among them: the building is only zoned to include six parking spots — hardly enough to welcome massive delivery trucks. (Regarding that point: a representative from Amazon contacted Billy Penn to clarify no 18-wheelers will be driving through the neighborhood; all packages will be dropped off by normal-size delivery vans.)

But Nusbaum was quick to deny any Amazon rumors in an August interview with Billy Penn.

He insisted that the triangular property, originally a silent movie theater, would not host Amazon in any capacity. Instead, Nusbaum laid out a vision that included two storefronts on the first level and a yoga studio on the second.

“I do not know how these rumors get started,” Nusbaum said in August, “or how they blow up.”

For his part, Nusbaum said he had to deny the Amazon deal last summer. The company had him sign a non-disclosure agreement during the development process, he explained, barring him from discussing the deal.

“I had to tell you it wasn’t going to be one,” Nusbaum said. “All I can say is I apologize.”

Relations between developers and neighborhood residents have soured over bait-and-switch proposals in the past. But despite the months-long secrecy, South Street neighbors don’t seem all that pissed about the new development. Most are excited the building is being put to use — while some have concerns about traffic and parking.

Neighbors aren’t mad — except about parking

In recent years, the convergence of 23rd Street, South Street and Grays Ferry Avenue has become something of a neighborhood destination. The triangle boasts contemporary attributes like an outdoor plaza seating area, an Indego bike dock, a tavern serving craft beer and a daycare center, all while sitting in the shadow of a massive historic building.

It’s quaint in what’s becoming the typical modern Philadelphia way — made even more modern by the glow of an illuminated Amazon sign across the street.

The convergence of 23rd, South and Grays Ferry back in August Credit: Michaela Winberg / Billy Penn

And so far, neighbors seem to be on board with the new business.

“I’m glad that there’s a retail outlet on the ground level of South Street,” said Tom Westin, who lives just a block away at 22nd and South. “It was a viable commercial building before…so I’m glad to see it gets turned into a new retail space.”

“And I’m glad they fixed up the building,” he added. “It’s a historic part of the fabric of the neighborhood, and I’m always glad to see a reuse of an existing building.”

Even neighborhood resident Garth Connor — who said he rarely uses Amazon — shares that feeling of excitement. From his home at 20th and Kater, he expects his daughters will use the storefront pickup service regularly.

“My daughter is really athletic, and she has to buy kind of unusual sports gear that you might not be able to find in the store,” he said. “But you can find it online.”

But not all neighbors are comfortable with Amazon’s new presence in the neighborhood. Anita Soar, who lives at 24th and South, worries that giant delivery trucks will present a safety issue driving through the neighborhood.

“That area is sort of a haven for young mothers and baby strollers,” Soar said. “That’s what I worry about, having a lot of truck deliveries. It’ll be a lot of noise and a lot more congestion. It’s just not good.”

Irony: across the street from the brand new Amazon pickup center, a neighborhood bar is helping residents out by storing packages that arrive when they’re not home. Credit: Michaela Winberg / Billy Penn

“We’re not terribly happy about it, especially since Amazon really kept it pretty much under wraps all along, and then all of a sudden it appears,” Soar said. “Clearly they were worried about backlash.”

In an August interview — even while the developer was still denying Amazon’s presence — the the local RCO chair proclaimed his support for the idea.

“An Amazon-like thing would help local businesses with more foot traffic, more people visiting the neighborhood,” said Kevin Brown, chair of the board at the South of South Neighborhood Association, back in August. “The hope is, with a great tenant, people walk around more and hang out.”

“Our neighborhood philosophy,” Brown added, “is always to promote all economic development.”

Michaela Winberg is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn. She covers LGBTQ people and culture, public spaces, and transportation and mobility. She also sometimes produces radio and web features...