Charlie had a store in Downtown Conshohocken
But Charlie Hicks really was all about the music
by Jack Coll
A few days back Conshystuff.Com published a photograph on our Facebook page of Charlie Hicks Store once located at 70 Fayette Street, next to Herb Wilkinson Meat Store at 72 Fayette Street. Judging by residents and former residents comments Charlie Hicks Store was a very popular place to shop. Conversations with my in-laws, Roger and Connie Touhey over the years led me to believe that back in the 1940’s and 1950’s Charlie Hicks store really was all about the music.
All the latest records, (78 RPM’s) were sold along with the most up-to-date phonographs, (Record Player’s). Oh my! There was Lawrence Welk, Bing Crosby, Harry James, Dinah Shore, The Andrew Sisters, Perry Como, Sammy Kaye, Count Basie, Peggy Lee, Art Mooney, (“I’m looking Over A Four Leaf Clover”), Patti Page, (“The Doggie In The Window”), Frankie Lane, Nat “King” Cole, (“Mona Lisa”), Doris Day, Rosemary Clooney, and of course Frank Sinatra.
In later years residents will tell you how they rushed down to Charlie Hicks Music Store on Saturday mornings to purchase 45RPM records that included The Beatles, Beach Boys, Four Seasons, Lovin’ Spoonful, The Doors, The Monkees and Rolling Stones.
Charlie Hicks was actually Charles Pienkos who was a lifelong resident of Conshohocken and for many years lived on West Eighth Avenue. Charles was an accomplished accordion player who led big bands which toured the country throughout the 1920’s and 1930’s. He also toured with his band “The Charlie Hicks Orchestra” and toured with the Major Bowes Touring Company of New York.
In addition to his national touring career, Mr. Pienkos recorded for RCA and also was a “State of the Art” producer (at that time) for the record company.
As the Big Band era faded in the 1950’s Charles switched to polka music and continued his successful performing and recording career. He was honored in 1984 by Conshohocken officials at a sold-out testimonial dinner at the Sunnybrook Ballroom in Pottstown where his polka band had been a popular attraction for many years. He also hosted a very popular polka radio program on a Philadelphia radio station during the 1940’s.
In 1984, Mr. Pienkos was inducted into the Polka Hall of Fame located in Chicago, Ill. He opened his store on Fayette Street in 1941 and for more than three decades provided residents with all the latest records, many of which were mentioned above. As lower Fayette Street continued to decline and shopping malls and shopping centers continued to rise in popularity, many of the family owned and operated businesses on Fayette Street continued to close at an alarming rate. Charlie Hicks Store closed in 1975 as many of the former stores along the Fayette Street strip continued to be demolished in the urban redevelopment effort.
For many years Chick McCarter sang with Charlie Hicks, Chick was a 65 year Washington Fire Company firefighter who had golden pipes and sang for many years with his band “The Washies Sirens.” The band was made up of all firemen back in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Members of Chick’s Band included Walt Pope, Bill Magee, Henry Sauter, Mike Nally, Eddie Cavanaugh and Chris Bailey.
Charles was born in 1910 and lived most of his life in Conshohocken, he died in 1993 at the age of 83 in Erdenheim, Pa, but left his life legacy in Conshohocken.
John “Chick” McCarter was a good friend of mine for many years. Chick had a lifetime of stories. I only met Charlie Hicks a couple of times but also enjoyed his company.
The photograph above shows Charlie with the accordion and John “Chick” McCarter back when they performed at the Washington Fire Company banquet in February of 1980 at the T. K. Club on Hector Street.
The Advertisement was in the Conshohocken Recorder newspaper in December 1951.
Thanks for the response from the photograph of Charlie Hicks Store that ran on our Facebook page Conshystuff.com, it’s good to reminisce about days-gone-bye in the old “Ironborough,” nice to know that long-time residents remember.
HEY, Thanks for the Memories!