IT’S CHRISTMAS IN CONSHY
But It Ain’t Like It Used-To-Be
By Jack Coll
It’s Christmas-time in Conshy and all over the world. For most people it’s a different kind of Christmas, but for children of age it’s still the most exciting time of year. I can’t tell you what the hottest toys of 2020 are, I’m sure it’s not Bennie Babies or Cabbage Patch dolls. When I was a kid back in the mid 1950’s I found it pretty exciting if Santa brought me a set of guns with a holster, a toy train or a remote police car with flashing lights that was attached to a wire.
As most of us grow older we tend to get nostalgic, and we enjoy reminiscing about better and perhaps younger days gone-bye, as I’ve often said, “It’s good to-be young.”
I thought some of us might enjoy going back to the mid 1950’s and early 1960’s and reminisce about a few places we used to shop at in Conshohocken, and maybe remember a few of the Christmas gifts we either gave, or received.
Paging through my 1956 Conshy file I see in the month of July Henry Saboe was celebrating the grand opening of his “Flying A” Gas Station located at Eighth Avenue and Fayette Street. Charles Hair Cutting Salon once located at 517 Fayette Street was promoting the fact that his shop was equipped with air conditioning, two years later Charles moved to 324 Fayette Street, current home to Coll’s Custom Framing. Ralph’s Luncheonette was a summertime community favorite advertising his DAIRY FREEZE in cones or take-home and the sandwiches were always excellent at Ralph Speriunto’s Luncheonette that was located at 131 West Fifth Avenue.
While many of our residents still send Christmas Cards today I think the sending of Christmas cards is for the most part a lost art, but throughout the 1950’s McClements Pharmacy once located at Sixth Avenue and Fayette Street and operated at the time by Jules Rosenberg offered the biggest and best selection of Christmas Cards in the borough.
A few of the stores offering up sweet Christmas deals throughout the late 1950’s included D’Annunzio Brothers Jewelry once located at 40 Fayette Street, Anthony’s Men’s Shop for all the latest styles once located at 117 Fayette Street and Flocco’s Shoe Store was offering up some nice Christmas deals from their old location at 119 Fayette Street.
A few of the other businesses in town would also thrive at Christmas like Rafferty’s Pharmacy, 57 Fayette Street, Doughtery’s Pharmacy, Fourth Avenue and Fayette Street, People’s Drug Store, once located at 301 East Hector Street and Fayette Pharmacy once located at 902 Fayette Street. Felix Jemionek’s Cleaners at 17 West Elm Street, Kehoe’s Hardware store on lower Fayette Street also sold assorted toys during the Christmas holidays.
Let’s not forget about Nardi’s Market once located at Fourth Avenue and Maple Street for many years and what about Johnny’s Sandwich Shop located for a number of years at 565 Old Elm Street in Connaughtown, just across the street from the old Ivy Rock School.
In December of 1959 Durbas Brothers ran an all-purpose store at 400 East Hector Street and offered Toys, Tools, Paints and Sporting Goods from 25-50 percent off and Durbas Brothers was one of the early local stores to offer a layaway plan. This was around the same time when the Spring Mill Fire Company was still conducting Turkey Shoot’s. Two of the town’s biggest toy suppliers around Christmas-time back then was J. A. Warrell’s once located at Second Avenue and Fayette Street, currently part of the Great American Pub and F. W. Woolworths once located at First Avenue and Fayette Street. Even stores like F. M. Phillips Furniture Store carried toys during December for many years.
A popular stop in December was Charlie Hick’s Store once located at 70 Fayette Street. Charlie Hicks was known as a music store but had so much more than music. He sold records, sheet music and record players, but he also carried Washers, Refrigerators, Televisions, wall paper, paints and in December he sold toys. A little music history and some of the records you could purchase at Charlie Hick’s store starting in 1955, the hottest records on the charts included “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” sung by Bill Hayes, “Rock Around The Clock” by Bill Haley and his Comets, and “The Yellow Rose of Texas” sung by Mitch Miller.
In 1956 Charlie Hick’s record sales greatly improved as Elvis Presley hit the charts with “Heartbreak Hotel,” “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Hound Dog,” and “Love Me Tender.” There were other hit records in 1956 sung by artists like Dean Martin, Kay Starr, and the Platters were extremely hot in 1956 with hits like “The Great Pretender” and “My Prayer.”
Other hits in the late 1950’s included “Young Love” by Sonny James, “Love Letters in the Sand” by Pat Boone, “Tammy” by Debbie Reynolds, “Diana” by Paul Anka, “You Send Me” by Sam Cooke, ”Tequila” by The Champs, “Witch Doctor” by David Seville, “The Purple People Eater” by Sheb Wooley, “Yakety Yak” by the Coasters and on-and-on-and-on.
Shopping on Saturday’s in the early 1960’s had shoppers stopping for lunch at Terminal Luncheonette once located at First Avenue and Fayette Street, Carl’s Diner at Fourth Avenue and Fayette Street, Wally’s Grill once located at 300 East Sixth Avenue and The Spot once located at Second Avenue and Fayette Street not to mention a dozen other good eateries.
Conshohocken girls had plenty of establishments to visit in preparation for the holiday including Cameo Beauty Shop run by Jennie Kaufholz at 60 Fayette Street, Cathy Ann’s Beauty Salon at 200 Fayette Street, Fran’s Hair Styling at 630 Maple Street and a stop at Claire’s Wearing Apparel at 73 Fayette Street was always a Christmas time favorite for the ladies.
One of the busiest retail outlets in Conshohocken at Christmas-time was Wallace’s Jewelers at Second and Fayette Street
Perhaps if you needed a drink after a busy day of shopping in Conshohocken, WELL, the borough had more than a few places to stop for refreshments including Big John Cassinelli’s Bar at Seventh Avenue and Maple Street, The Brown Derby at 123 Fayette Street, Phil’s Hotel at Elm and Cherry Street when it was run by Phil and Helen Gardocki, Paciello’s Bar at 51 Fayette Street, and of course if you were crossing the bridge to the west-side McGuire’s Tavern had been serving up refreshments to thirsty patrons for more than a hundred years.
In the early 1960’s Conshohocken’s shopping district had changed, F. W. Woolworth’s Store once located at First Avenue and Fayette Street had moved to the Plymouth Square Shopping Center after spending more than 37 years in Conshohocken. W. T. Grants, a popular shopping hub once located on the 100 block of Fayette Street closed due to a fire never to reopen in the borough. Grants became a major anchor in the Valley Forge Shopping Center until a major fire devastated the business in the late 1960’s.
The Plymouth Square shopping center took a lot of business from Fayette Street offering more than 900 FREE parking spaces for shoppers when the center was built in 1960. The King of Prussia Plaza opened in 1964, two years later the Plymouth Meeting Mall opened.
The local steel mills and textile mills were closing, the decline in jobs led to a decline in residents. Many of the buildings on lower Fayette Street were more than a hundred years old and were in decay. Whitewashed windows and boarded up store fronts became more and more common and by the early to mid-1970’s the bull dozers moved in to start the demolition process for the urban redevelopment process.
From 1920-1960 there were three major shopping districts in Montgomery County including Pottstown, Norristown and Conshohocken. In the early 1960’s Main Street America shopping districts were in decline in favor for massive shopping malls.
But thousands of hard working families continue to thrive with small businesses across the country. In Conshohocken we’re blessed to still have a downtown Main Street, with hard working families who all contribute to the community in big-ways. Most of these businesses will do well during the Christmas holidays but let’s remember them year-round, they are our friends and neighbors and I can tell you they appreciate your business.
How about it! Can you remember shopping on lower Fayette Street, Hector Street and Elm Street, feel free to share your memories, perhaps you had a favorite drinking hole that I didn’t mention, again, feel free to share.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from Coll’s Custom Framing, wishing everyone a safe and healthy 2021. A friendly reminder, please keep our restaurants in mind for take-out and gift certificates. This pandemic will pass, I hope when it’s over we still have wonderful eating establishments to go to.
And Hey, Thanks for the memories!
Photographs Above Include:
Lower Fayette Street in the late 1950’s. Photo was taken showing the 100 block of Fayette Street, in the middle of the photo on the right is the Riant Theatre. Notice the clear view of the hills of West Conshohocken.
Rafferty’s Pharmacy seen here in 1961 was once located at 57 Fayette Street, on the left was the Conshohocken Fruit-Market at 59 Fayette Street. In 1959 Samuel Reidenberg and his wife Miriam ran the Conshohocken Fruit-Market, on January 17, 1959 Samuel was robbed and murdered in the alley behind his store, his murder was never solved and according to police the murder is considered a cold case but still open. The store later became Nick & Mike’s Groceries.
On the left showing part of the building was Pacicllo’s Bar once located at 51 Fayette Street, later became the Fayette Tavern owned and operated by Matthew Malantonio. In the center of the photo was a sandwich shop for a number of years before becoming a General Gift and Novelty Shop owned by Vincent Agostinelli. Photograph was also taken in 1961.
On the left was the Perfection Bakery once located at 75 Fayette Street. In the middle was Claire’s Clothing Shop at 73 Fayette Street and on the right was Redmond’s Shoe Store at 71 Fayette Street.