Sunday, February 1, 2009

Department Store Building of the Week, Vol. 24

As noted in a previous post on Bethlehem, Orr's Department Store was the other main downtown department store in Easton, Pa. As the photo shows, Orr's -- the front of the store is the red-brick building in the center, 306 Northampton St. -- meandered through a number of buildings (the two buildings behind it and slightly to the right). I always liked stores that clearly had been cobbled together. Shopping on the upper floors H.& S. Pogue Co. in Cincinnati involved circuituous paths and the occasional step or ramp where the buildings did not line up well. I am sure Pogue's saw this as a negative, but it was certainly unique. I remember that when one went into Orr's, it seemed incredibly small, because of the narrowness of the original store and the small space in front of the elevators (it was, what, maybe 10 feet wide at that point?). Gilmore Bros. in Kalamazoo was similar in having a small street frontage that expanded as you went further back.

Orr's was started by Matthew Orr and passed into the hands of his widow, who sold it to the Bixler family, which continued to operate it into the late 20th century. Orr's also had a shopping-center store across the river from Easton in Phillipsburg, N.J., but the main store never moved from its original site. I know there was an entrance off Center Square (seen at the left of the photo) as well, but that seems to have been taken down in redevelopment.

Here's a postcard view of Northampton Street in its heyday. All you can see of Orr's, of course, is the sign. In those days Easton was the shopping center not only for the Slate Belt towns around Bangor, Pa., but also for small towns in rural Hunterdon and Warren counties in New Jersey. It is best known today for two products -- the boxer Larry Holmes and Crayola. The Route 22 expressway made all three of the Lehigh Valley towns (Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton) into one connected metro area, and so it is seen by many today as sort of an appendage to Allentown, although Easton has tried to establish itself as the western edge of metropolitan New York from time to time.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Commuters to New York City are settling not only in Easton but in Bethlehem, assuming that the December 2005 NY Times article ( isn't out of date.