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The Death Of Jewelers' Row? Residents React To City's Approval Of Luxury Apartments

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- They are the experts who know a gem when they see one. Jewelers' Row, widely known as the country's oldest diamond district, is no exception.

Business owners along the 700 block of Sansom Street heard about Toll Brothers' interest in building a 16-story luxury apartment building in the area. "We never thought it would come to fruition," said Frank Schaffer of FGS Gems.

The city recently approved a zoning permit for Toll Brothers to do just that along a five-parcel stretch of Jewelers' Row. Though officials have yet to approve actual demolition.

"I don't know why we're not being protected," Jane Theis said. "This is just the death of Jewelers' Row if this happens."

The change would uproot several small business owners like Theis, who spent decades working on Jewelers' Row. "It's breaking my heart and I definitely feel forced out. This building can be put anywhere else, even within 1,000 feet of Jewelers' Row. You don't touch something so precious."

In an effort to stop the project, the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia launched a petition that has gathered thousands of signatures in just a few days.

"Once you destroy it, you destroy it forever," said Paul Steinke of the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia. "Just because it's, as they say, in the right development world, doesn't make it right."

Other business owners fear a luxury apartment building would draw in more commercial properties. "The last thing we want is a brick facade coming down to the ground with a CVS. God forbid!," said Hy Goldberg of Safian & Rudolph. Goldberg, head of the Philadelphia Jewelers Association, is staying positive.

"If there's nothing that can be done to reverse it, we'll do the best we can," he said.

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