Once Again, It’s That Christmas Time of Year
And Once Again I’m Sitting Back and Feeling a little Nostalgic
By Jack Coll
That holiday feeling seems to drift in every fall, early in the fall, well, sometimes late summer, but you can hear it on the radio, see it on television, and you can’t help notice the holiday advertisements on your computer. I don’t pay to-much attention to the holiday distractions anymore, my kids are grown and my grandchildren either tell us what they want, (Everything) or we just slip them a few bucks and tell them to knock themselves out shopping.
For some reason I thought about Chatlin’s Department Store in Norristown. Years ago, I published a book on Norristown and used a lot of photos taken by the late Times Herald photographer Bill Landis. Many of Bill’s photos that I used in the book were retail outlets along Main Street in Norristown, one of them being Chatlin’s Department Store. The photo Bill took of Chatlin’s, one of the earliest true department stores in Montgomery County, established in 1892 was taken on December 24, 1949, taken just prior to opening for the Christmas eve rush. There are 111 employees in the photograph, to the best of my knowledge without spending time to research, Chatlin’s closed its doors sometime in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s.
A lot of us remember shopping at Chatlin’s, the store, once located at 240-252 East Main Street had two or three floors, (I remember the Boy Scout Department being in the basement) So, while we’re in Norristown let’s all take a shopping trip down memory lane and go back maybe 45 or 50 years and see what other stores were in Norristown at the time.
I remember Robert J. Snyder Jeweler, established in 1924 and if I’m not mistaken the location was one or two stores from the P&W Trolley station. There was Taglieber’s Market on West Main Street, and not far from Taglieber’s was Bondi Furniture Store. I would often take the P&W Trolley to Norristown from my home in Hughes Park in Upper Merion Township when I was a young paperboy and I’d always stop in at McCoy’s Music Store then located at 408 Dekalb Street. As a young aspiring guitar player, (Not very good at the time but I could strike all the COOL rock poses which consisted of me standing still, Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones was my idle back then and he really never moved around on stage). You might remember Adams Clothes on West Main Street just across the street from the P&W. I also remember the D. M. Yost Furniture Store on the corner of Dekalb and Airy Street, just up from McCoy’s. I think the NEW YORK STORE was located next to Snyder’s Jewelers on Main Street.
I never went into the Meyers Drug Store but it was a long-time staple on Dekalb Street and of course I remember Blocks Department Store, a few doors down from the Norris Theatre.
In the late 1950’s there was more than 650 retail outlets of every kind in Norristown and there is no-way we’re going to mention all of them but here are just a few more that you might remember.
The Grand Movie Theatre was once located at 67 East Main Street and was later home of John’s Bargain Store. Right across the street from John’s was Norristown’s F. W. Woolworth’s Store. I spent many a Saturday afternoon in that store buying transistor radios, Records and buying lunch from time to time. A few people might remember Gilberts Clothing Store once located at 132 West Main Street. Then there was Kahn’s Women’s Clothing store at 134 Main and who could forget Pep Boys on West Main Street.
At Christmas time the Catholic Shop was always popular, Fashion Bug, Family Shoe, Sheldon’s Card and Gift Shop and Christmas shopping at Zummo’s Hardware was even popular for many years. There was Brockton Shoes, Perry’s Shoe Store, Bellak’s Kiddie Corner, Cooper’s Children’s Center, Mane Changes Clothing Store, and one of the year’s best stops was at Bill Glass Bicycles.
There was also a lot of shopping to be done in Conshohocken and the King of Prussia Plaza, but before we visit those hot-spots from a few years back let’s go to lunch first, or perhaps dinner when we finished shopping.
Let’s see, there was Danny’s Diner on the bridge, I’m wondering who might remember the Viking Hut on Route 202 in the mid 1970’s, or Ye Ole Ale House out on Germantown Pike in Lafayette Hill. Does anyone else remember Capones Coronet Restaurant on Germantown Pike in East Norriton. In 1977, they served Rigatoni or Spaghetti with meatballs or sausage with a nice salad and rolls and butter for an outrageous price of $2.55. There was Alfredo’s Restaurant at the corner of Main and Hamilton Streets in Norristown or if you were eating at the Jade Garden at the King of Prussia Mall you had a choice of three different cuisine’s including Cantonese, Mandarine or Szchuan or something a little more traditional at the Plaza was the Harvest House where in 1977 you could get an entire Thanksgiving style turkey dinner with all the trimmings and deserts for just $6.25.
Out in Trooper was The Old Landmark Restaurant, up on Skippack Pike was the ever-popular Johnny Cross American-Italian Restaurant, and in Bridgeport some of the best pizza in the state of Pennsylvania at Franzone’s. The Hungry Pilgrim was always busy at Ridge and Butler Pikes, if you were out shopping in Collegeville well the Perkiomen Bridge Hotel Restaurant might have been your best stop.
If I was having lunch while shopping in Conshohocken back in the day I might have stopped at, Oh let’s see, so many to choose from! I might have stopped at Jessie Palermo’s Luncheonette at 822 Fayette Street, I understand you could get a good sandwich at Banker’s Tavern back in the day located at Hector and Fayette Streets, Joe Wyrwas served up a pretty good lunch at Joe’s Bar once located at 11 West Elm Street. Good times could be had at Pereseo’s Lunch once located at 822 Fayette Street, not only could you get a good lunch but he had Juke Box Dancing and all the latest Pin Ball machines. It was a little out of the way but Mary and Al Caramenico served up a pretty good lunch from Mary’s Restaurant once located at 932 Hector Street. The building has had a number of name changes over the years but Carol’s Beef & Ale once located at Spring Mill Avenue and Tenth Avenue served up a pretty good lunch at one time.
Of course, Vince’s Tavern once located at 1032 Hector Street was another good lunch stop for a number of years as was DeMarco’s Tavern at an address mentioned earlier 822 Fayette Street. If you didn’t need the beer with your lunch Bolero’s Pizzeria was right next door to DeMarco’s Tavern. The lunch-time talk of the town for many years was located at 521 Fayette Street, Boccella’s Restaurant.
And then there was all the rest, Big John Casinelli at Seventh Avenue and Maple Street, Tony and Joe’s on Fayette Street, May’s Luncheonette at 42 Fayette Street, Paciello’s Bar once located at 53 Fayette street, Sam’s Steak Shop, Jack’s Sea Food, George’s Restaurant, Bill Pounds Diner/401 Diner on Fayette Street for many, many years, Terminal Restaurant at First and Fayette Street and Fran and Bill’s Restaurant was one of many restaurants to occupy the location at 106 Fayette Street.
(For more old-time Conshy restaurant listings, you can look up an article published on Conshystuff a few weeks back, feel free to look up that article for more restaurant memories.)
So, while we’re looking back fifty years or so, let’s go to the King of Prussia Mall, as a young teenager I spent a lot of time hanging out at what we called “The Plaza.” I spent most of my time at the Plaza sitting along side the fountain out side the “Plaza Record Shop” renamed in the 1970’s “The Record Museum.”
Other Plaza stores doing business in during the 1960’s included:
The Yarn shoppe
The Red Barn’s Country Flair Clothing Store
E. J. Korvettes
Brooks Sporting Goods
Royal Auto Supply
Sticky Bun Shop
Plaza Barber Shop
The Cheese world
The Nut House of New Hope at the Plaza
Adacks Donut Shop
The Camera Shop
The Fun Shop
Ye Olde Coin & Hobby Shoppes
Gaudio’s Garden and Christmas Center
The Pickle Barrel Deli
Allied Hobbies Kiddie City
Thanks to Michael Shaw for the Plaza information taken from his book “A Mall And It’s Legacy-The King Of Prussia Mall.” His book provides a great history of the Mall area along with the mall businesses and changes at the mall over its sixty-year history.
Unfortunately, looking back 45-50 years in Conshohocken, the shopping district in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s was a mere shell of itself from years earlier due to industries closing and moving. With that a mass exodus of working-class residents left Conshohocken looking for greener pastures, what little retail businesses we had remaining went looking for retail space outside Conshohocken.
With all that being said, here’s a short list of a few of the retail family-owned businesses that remained long after others departed.
D’Annunzio Bros. Diamonds-Watches-Jewelry—40 Fayette Street—later moved to 103 Fayette St
James P. Meaney Radio’s—44 Fayette Street
General Gift & Novelty Co.—49 Fayette Street
Rafferty’s Pharmacy—57 Fayette Street
Laverty & McGuire—Varity Store—63 Fayette Street
Domenic’s Shoe Store—69 Fayette Street
Charlie Hicks Music Store—70 Fayette Street
Redmond’s Shoe Store—71 Fayette Street
Claire’s Wearing Apparel—73 Fayette Street
A Baby’s Castle–Everything Baby—73 Fayette Street
F. W. Woolworth Co—until 1961—when they moved to Plymouth Square Shopping Center
Philips Gift Shop—105 Fayette Street
Kehoe Hardware—109 Fayette Street
Terry’s Ladies and Children Wear—110 Fayette Street—Above Flocco’s
Flocco’s Discount Shoes and Clothing—110 Fayette Street
Ray’s Appliance—113 Fayette Street
The Best Shop Women’s and Children Clothing—116 Fayette Street
Anthony’s Men’s Shop—117 Fayette Street
Ben Pilla Speed Shop—117 Fayette Street
Wilder’s Fine Footwear—118 Fayette Street
J. A. Warrell—123 Fayette Street
W. H. Wallace Jeweler—200 Fayette Street
Dougherty’s Pharmacy—326 Fayette Street
Penn Jersey—611 Fayette Street
Mary Anna Shop—804 Fayette Street
Melody Music Store—815 Fayette Street
(There was also a music store next to Tony and Joe’s for a number of years and although I would pop into Conshohocken to shop for music at the store, I just can’t remember the name of the place)
That’s not all the retail stores from 45-50 years ago, but keep in mind according to the 1940 census there were 240 retail and service outlets in Conshohocken. Most all of the stores in the lower end were family owned and operated. A lot of them were specialty shops, shoes, clothes, hats and so-on. Pre-World War ll family businesses thrived in Conshohocken, Norristown and Pottstown, they were the shopping capitals of Montgomery County. Following World War ll, suddenly automobiles were in front of every house, industry slowly closed down and moved, all of a sudden steel companies and textiles mills were operating with reduced staffs and then came the shopping centers and nearby malls in the early 1960’s. River-towns built on industry throughout the country took a hit with declining Main Street businesses shrinking leaving vacant store-fronts with whitewashed windows.
It’s great to feel a little nostalgic every once in a while, if you’re of age like me we tend to sit back and wonder where did the years go. I shopped Main Street in Norristown when it was a thriving retail hub, I moved to Conshohocken in the early 1970’s just in time to watch the decline of what used to be a wonderful shopping experience. Now-a-days I walk through the Plymouth Meeting Mall and wonder how much longer Malls will play a part in the retail experience with all the on-line shopping taking place.
Some-day, perhaps when I’m gone/we’re gone, folks will sit around the Thanksgiving Day table and reminisce about the days when families would all get in the car early in the morning and head to the mall for the day checking out the Black Friday bargains, have a lunch together, spend time together, laugh, and tell Black Friday stories for years to come.
I never felt I was born too early or too late, no, I’ve enjoyed living in my time, the 1950’s and 1960’s, the music, the Drive-in Theatres, staying out of the house until the street lights went-on, shoveling snowy sidewalks for a few bucks, sneaking into the Saturday movies, spending more time at the bowling alley so I didn’t have to go out in the freezing cold weather. And then there’s that whole teenager thing, what wonderful times, even when times were bad, they were good. I didn’t get paged, or texted, and I certainly didn’t get a call on my cell phone telling me to get my ass home. I’m sure I was built for the 1950’s—1960’s life-style as I was growing up.
Anyway, Happy Shopping this Holiday season, however you shop, but just for old-times sake, take a drive to the mall, or better yet, help a family out and shop small and local. Chances are the family you’re helping to support has kids in catholic school, a scouting program, perhaps their kids participate in the local youth sports with your kids and/or go to school with them.
I’m a man who doesn’t pretend to know a lot, but I know this and I can guarantee you this, when you shop small and local, eat at a local restaurant, that family you’re supporting truly appreciates your business, we all thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday’s!
A few of the photographs you might see above include FROM NORRISTOWN
Chatlin’s Department Store once located at 240-252 East Main Street
John’s Bargain Store on East Main Street
Gilberts Men’s Clothing Store once located at 132 West Main Street
Friedman’s NEW YORK STORE once located on East Main Street
A few photographs you might see above include from the King of Prussia Plaza
Two photographs of kids hanging outside the Plaza Record Shop, sitting on benches in front of the Plaza fountain back in the spring of 1971.
Assorted advertisements of retail shops at the mall taken from Michael Shaw’s Book, A Mall and its Legacy; The King of Prussia Mall.
A few photographs you might see above from Conshohocken
Looking at the corner of Hector and Fayette Streets showing the old Bankers Tavern.
W. T. Grant Co. once located on Lower Fayette Street, currently Flocco’s Shoes and Clothing
What looks to be a 1950’s photograph on lower Fayette Street. Rafferty’s Pharmacy can be seen in the photo along with Kleins clothing, and a couple of restaurants
A 1960’s photograph taken on Fayette Street looking from East Hector Street up to First Avenue