Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Department Store Buildings of York, Pa. No. 1

York, Pa., a small city west of Harrisburg, was like Wilkes-Barre in that it was the home of a number of department stores, one of which had a significant impact on national retailing. That is the Bon-Ton, which still operates a large chain of stores. Here's a look at what was the main Bon-Ton store in downtown York; which became the corporate headquarters even after the store had closed.

The company name was S. Grumbacher & Son for many years, and it started in Trenton, N.J., as Grumbacher Bros., involving Samuel and Jacob Grumbacher. The brothers went their own ways and Samuel Grumbacher maintained his own store, which eventually became S. Grumbacher & Son when Max Grumbacher became a partner. Grumbacher's sons and sons-in-law spread across Pennsylvania to open their own Bon-Ton stores; Louis Samler in Lebanon was notably successful, but Max's move to York created the modern chain. The story of the Bon-Ton is too extensive to relate here; the Wikipedia article outlines how it sucked up Hess's, AM&A's, and eventually Carson Pirie Scott and Younkers after its own regional expansion that included buying Eyerly's in Hagerstown, Md., and opening branches in downtowns close to York in the 1950s. The Bon-Ton has had struggles in recent years as one of the last determinedly midrange department store chains. A new leader was named this year, the first from outside the Grumbacher family, which still owns the company. Here's hoping he can turn the Bon-Ton around. The picture shows the Bon-Ton store at 100 W. Market St. after its false front from the 1950s had been removed; it had a large Bon-Ton logo on it and the name S. Grumbacher & Son as well. Rooftop views such as this show the persistence of the skylights that let in light before there was today's level of electric lighting, and I'm assuming that all the area with the same color of roofing belonged to the store.

York also had (not pictured here) the farthest-east branch I have been able to find of the Interstate Department Stores brands, although it is rumored there was one near Troy, N.Y. In the mid-1920s, a Stillman's was opened in the building at 31 E. Market St. that had housed James McLean & Sons, then the oldest department store in York. Rudolph Blick, one of the Interstate "old hands" from the Midwest, was the first manager, and as near as I can tell another one of them, Franklyn Mason, was in charge when the store closed in the late 1960s, when lower-end department stores were being wiped out by discounters and the York market had been invaded by Baltimore-based Hochschild Kohn with a new mall store, which led the Bon Ton and another York store, P. Wiest's Sons, to make suburban moves of their own. Stillman's was to the east of the city's other department stores. In 1940 it moved into a new building right next door that was the first air-conditioned department store in York.


Unknown said...

Love the story you had shared about departmental store.

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