A trio of childhood friends brings development home

by Len Lear
Posted 5/9/24

In an era when developers are descending on Northwest Philadelphia, Ashton Gage, Linard Gay and Jonathan Harris are on a different mission.

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A trio of childhood friends brings development home


In an era when developers are descending on Northwest Philadelphia to gobble up anything resembling vacant or available property, Ashton Gage, Linard Gay and Jonathan Harris are on a different kind of mission.

The childhood friends grew up near each other in East Mt. Airy.  Two of the men work day jobs at PECO, and the trio flips houses on the side. For them, Mt. Airy is not just a development hot spot.

 “This neighborhood has been our home for our entire lives. We are not outsiders,” Gay said. “We are investing in our own neighborhood and encouraging others to do the same.” 

The three friends have created a company called 118 E. Sharpnack Street LLC, and have embarked on their first new construction project. They are developing six new custom townhouses at 116-130 E. Sharpnack St. The property previously was the location of Aaron & Sons Salvage yard. Construction, which started in November, is scheduled to be completed in May or June.

Gage, Gay and Harris will celebrate their achievement in a fitting location on what might seem the perfect occasion – Mt. Airy Day on May 11. The real estate entrepreneurs have scheduled the grand opening of their new restaurant, Germantown Brick Oven Pizza, during the neighborhood festival. The restaurant at Germantown Avenue and Sharpnack Street is near their residential project.

The townhouse construction is the first phase of a development project that later will include six additional houses and eight duplexes located behind the initial six houses. The residences in the second phase will face Upsal Street and will surround a spacious courtyard. Prices are expected to start at $599,000.

Each townhouse will have 3+ bedrooms, 3+ bathrooms, 2-car garages, spacious rooftop decks and balconies. The basements will include a full bathroom, a space that owners can potentially convert into an additional bedroom.  

“We are more hands-on than other developers. You don't find that with new construction these days,” Gay said. 

According to the latest figures available from both the U.S. Census Bureau and research from Pew Charitable Trusts, Black residents make up 43 percent of Philadelphia's population but only six percent of the city's business owners and just 8.6 percent of the city's real estate investors. So the Sharpnack Street trio could be considered pioneers.

Gay and Gage, Germantown High School graduates, and Harris, an alum of the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, and their real estate project remind me of a time in the 1960s when I worked with the Philadelphia Health Department and co-worker Jay Lamont. 

We worked on the department’s epidemiology staff at Broad and Lombard Streets and Lamont had what he called “a side hustle” of buying cheap houses at Sheriff Sales, fixing them up and “flipping” them, i.e., selling them for a profit. 

Lamont, who died at age 76 in 2021, grew up in a working-class rowhouse in Southwest Philadelphia. But he eventually became very wealthy by “flipping” dozens of houses in neighborhoods that were on the verge of gentrification. Lamont also eventually hosted a three-hour radio show, “All About Real Estate,” every Sunday morning for 30 years on WPEN-AM.

According to the real estate website houwzer.com, Philadelphia stands out as a city where home 'flippers' can still make substantial profits. In the third quarter of 2017, the site reports, Philadelphia metro area flippers earned an average $95,875 gross profit. That's a 114 percent return on investment – the third highest in the nation. The financial advice company Motley Fool also rates Philadelphia as one of the top cities for the highest return on investment for property resales. 

Although Gay, Gage and Harris began their venture into real estate by flipping houses, they are now embarking on the new phase of their careers.

“I could not be more proud of these three men,” said Rob Lamb, of Compass Real Estate, the sales representative for the new Sharpnack Street properties. (Lamb is a third-generation Chestnut Hill resident and third-generation real estate broker. He is also co-founder of the United Philly Soccer Club, a Chestnut Hill Youth Sports coach and a former hip-hop professional musician who toured the country for 10 years with A-list acts like G.Love & Special Sauce.) 

“Mt. Airy is one of the hottest parts of the city,” added Lamb, explaining the $599,000 price tag. “People are coming from downtown and out of town to live here. These new Sharpnack Street homes will be available for prospective buyers to see in April. Everything is top-quality. There are new homes on West Gorgas Lane going for $700,000, but the quality of the Sharpnack homes is better.”

For more information, call 267-435-8015 or email rob.lamb@compass.com. Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com.