345 Spring Mill Avenue
A Neighborhood Lifeline For Many Years
By Jack Coll
Editor’s Note: (This is one in a series of short articles on random houses throughout the borough of Conshohocken, enjoy)
Houses up-and-down the avenues and streets of Conshohocken are, well, today, just houses, but back in the early part of last century, say a hundred years ago many of these houses provided needed services to the community. Many of them were corner stores or mid-block stores, the living rooms of some of these houses doubled as pool rooms, barber shops, cigar stores, candy stores and doctors’ offices. I thought it might be fun, and interesting to point out of few of these houses, that today are occupied by residents who I’m sure had no idea that their house was at one time something more than just a house.
A lot was going on in Conshohocken a little more than a century ago in 1910, there was talk about building a new bridge to replace the old deteriorating iron bridge with a concrete span crossing the Schuylkill River. The grandchildren of Lewis Lukens gave the Lukens home, located at Third Avenue and Fayette Street to the Borough of Conshohocken to be used as the Conshohocken Free Library. Fayette Street continued to expand with family owned businesses like Fred J. Bloomhall Jewelry Business at the corner of Fayette and Hector Streets, (Bloomhall served as the Conshohocken Burgess from 1906-1908 and again from 1914-1917) Mr. Hushen’s Butcher Shop once located at 48 Fayette Street, Jennie Fishbein’s Millinery Shop at 35 Fayette Street and the Conshohocken Candy Kitchen at 51 Fayette Street.
In 1910 the borough was experiencing a housing shortage, Conshohocken and West Conshohocken had more jobs than residents. Borough contractors back in 1910 were working around the clock in an effort to supply housing mostly to immigrants who came to this country, with relatives in Conshohocken where they would stay until housing became available.
As the lower streets like Hector and Elm along with Spring Mill Avenue housing was popping up overnight like the house at 345 Spring Mill Avenue. At that time new housing in the borough offered all the finest conveniences including running water, a bathtub and a flush toilet. At that time a two story vernacular house like the one at 345 Spring Mill Avenue could cost in the area of close to $4,000, a price beyond the average laborer who was bringing in perhaps a little more than $1,000 per year. The average rent or mortgage back then was anywhere from $10.00—$15.00 per month, considering the average laborer was making less than $20.00 per week, a $15.00 a month mortgage was a stretch especially if that laborer had a wife and four or five children.
In the spring of 1919 the owner of 345 Spring Mill Avenue announced he was opening a store at his home. The Conshohocken Recorder Newspaper announced the GRAND OPENING of the “THE SPRING MILL AVENUE MEAT MARKET,” claiming they had the “Best City-Dressed Beef and Fresh Pork at the Lowest Prices. The store opened with a full line of meats, groceries & provisions.
The Spring Mill Avenue Meat Market was joining the ranks of corner and mid-block stores sprinkled throughout the borough in an effort to make a good living in America and providing the neighborhood with a local market to shop at. I’ve written about the many corner stores throughout the borough a number of times and one might think, “What did we need all these stores for?” Keep in mind this was 1919, very, very few residents owned automobiles, just as very few residents owned a horse and wagon at that time, it cost a lot of money to keep a horse and around $450.00 to buy a new car So most residents were left walking to the nearest store to purchase food.
Without refrigerators residents were generally purchasing enough food for the evenings dinner, that order might involve a quarter stick of butter, one, or two fistfuls of pasta sticks depending on the size of the family, two cups of milk and whatever else was on the evenings menu. Furthermore the local store was more inclined to extend credit to a neighbor or someone within close proximity as opposed to someone across town that they didn’t know.
So a business like the Spring Mill Avenue Meat Market became vital to the community and served their neighbors for more than four decades. In the 1940’s Edward Decker purchased the property and continued the business under his name “Edward Deckers Delicatessen” thru the 1950’s. During this time Nick Malantonio opened a grocery store next door at 347 Spring Mill Avenue sometime during the 1950’s, but I don’t have any further information on Nick’s store.
I’m not sure when either business ceased to operate but following World War Two, Detroit was pumping out automobiles at very affordable prices and Americans fell in love with the automobile and traveling the country. At the same time the bigger stores started moving into Conshohocken and vicinity like A&P Super markets and Acme Markets, these stores brought a bigger and better selection and sold their products at a lower price. The mid-block stores were the first to go, by the 1960’s stores like Zadroga’s Market at 325 Hector Street weren’t drawing the business they needed to make a living.
A number of corner stores were able to hang on into the 1970’s and 1980’s like Jim’s Cold Cuts, formerly Lenzi’s Meat Market and before that it was Eberle’s Cash Market. There was the Italian Market, Cherry’s, Jack’s Grocery Store, Gray’s Grocery Store, Maria’s Grocery, D&S Murphy Grocery, Josie’s Candy Store, Storti Grocery, The Corner Market, Julia’s Market, Don’s Cold Cuts and a handful of others. The love affair with corner stores where you could go in and actually have a conversation with the owner was over, not just in Conshohocken but throughout the country, although corner stores still excise in the larger cities.
As we look back we recognize how vital stores like the Spring Mill Avenue Meat Market and Edward Decker’s Delicatessen were to this community along with all the other mid-block and corner stores. 345 Spring Mill Avenue looks like another beautiful little Conshohocken house, but not so long ago it was the heartbeat of what makes Conshohocken Great! Thanks for the Memories!