The Hunky’s Shopping Mecca

Retail Roots

I have spent over 35 years managing retail stores. I have had the privilege of working for some very prestigious companies to include the likes of Federated Department Stores’ Rich’s in Atlanta, Ga. I have often wondered where my fascination with retailing began. I believe that it had to have begun when I was just a child being dragged through the streets of Duquesne and McKeesport, and on very special occasions, downtown Pittsburgh.

My mother, Millie, and her sister, my Aunt Mary, were relentless when it came to shopping. The Puskaric girls never met a store they didn’t like. I vividly remember crossing the streets with my mother or my aunt holding tightly onto my hand. Of course, they felt that somehow I would be safer if they held my hand so tight and so high, that my feet would barely touch the ground as we crossed. Truthfully, I don’t know if it was actually a concern for my safety or their quest to get to the next store as fast as they could.

My mother and aunt were pattern shoppers, and as such, would follow the same course each time we went shopping. During our expeditions to McKeesport, the adventure always began as we departed the 55J bus directly in front of The Famous. The Famous, which later became Misco’s was a multilevel traditional department store. The only thing I remember about Misco’s,  is that it was where I went to buy  huge bottles of bubble bath for my mom’s Christmas Present. Beyond that, there is very little I recall about the store or about its successor. I did find a great article at TubeCityOnline.com written by Jason Togyer that details the history and demise of The Famous building in 1974. Check out his article titled ‘Oh My God, The Famous Is On Fire’. You are certain to enjoy!

During shopping excursions with my mother and aunt, we would always begin our trek at Kadar’s and shop for clothing for my brother and I, as well as my dad. In true hunky fashion, as the younger of two sons, I was always the recipient of hand-me-downs. I never mind this, primarily because I always had direct input on future hand-me-downs by always agreeing to shop with my mother. My brother on the other had, was forced to wear whatever was purchased for him. Although it took a few years, eventually I ended up getting the things I wanted.

The amount of ground that we covered on our trips to McKeesport was pretty amazing. The litany of stores that we would visit was quite lengthy, but we always managed to hit all of them. There was Cox’s, Katzman’s, Immels, and Jaison’s for my mother and aunt to shop. It seems that I spent a lot of time waiting outside of dressing rooms when I was growing up. I don’t remember ever making much of a fuss however, since Mom always kept a carrot dangling in front of me to be sure I would behave. The first thing I would look forward to was lunch. If I recall correctly, Riggs Drug Store on the corner of 5th Ave and Market had a luncheon counter that we would always frequent. The booths and counters were the typical 50’s style with brightly colored formica and aluminum and the waitresses were always friendly. The food was great and worth the wait. If something for our house was on Mom’s shopping list, then The Golden Rule, Helmsteader’s, Ruben’s, and Hirshburg’s would be on the agenda.

 Hands down, the best part of these trips were the two 5 & 10 Cent stores. G.C.Murphy’s and H.L.Greens. I was in heaven at these stores. There was, of course, the toy sections that I immediately gravitated toward, but the cookie counter was also a “magnet” for me as well. I remember staring at all the glass cases and the piles of bulk cookies that were there for me to pester my mother to buy for me. I remember hanging out at the comic book racks as well. Stories about the adventures of Superman, Batman, Captain America, Wonder Woman, and Captain Marvel would always lure me to the rack. Then there were the Western themed titles such as Cheyenne, The Virginian, Wagon Train, Gene Autry, and Have Gun Will Travel that would catch my eye. Richie Rich as well as Archie, Jughead, Veronica, Betty kept me occupied for the longest time. Mom would always let me get one comic book for being patient while they continued shopping. A bag of fresh sugar wafers and a new comic book… life was good!!!

I recall that during the Easter Season, I would stare in fascination at the Easter Peeps in the Pet Department. I of course refer to the live baby chicks as opposed to the marshmallow threats that are on the market these days. There was always a full end counter that was surrounded by glass that housed the critters. Above the obvious over populated crowd of chicks, hovered two large lamps that acted as warming spots for the babies. I think this was the only time the stores would carry the little guys that would be dyed different colors for the season. There were pink, green, purple and blue babies along with the natural yellow ones. The sound of the chirping could be heard immediately as we walk down the steps to the lower level and acted as a magnet for every child that came down. Of course, as we approached the Pet Department, Aunt Mary would inevitably comment about the “stench,” as she called it. I was never allowed to own one of the chicks, but today can only think about how sad it was to treat those babies in this manner, no matter how unintentional.

By the end of our shopping day, Mom and Aunt Mary were ready to make their last stop. The first floor of The Famous was always the final shopping spot. I don’t think it was always the final stop because they were saving the best for last. I believe it was a combination of weaning themselves from the shopping frenzy they had just experienced as well as being in a vantage point to see when the 55J had pulled up to whisk us back home. Here’s to the GLORY DAYS of McKeesport. You are missed!

This entry was posted in Food and Restaurants, Life in General, McKeesport, Stores and Businesses. Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to The Hunky’s Shopping Mecca

  1. Reese Slater says:

    Man, I remember most of those stores. I worked at Isalys next to the Liberty Theater in the late 60’s.made $1 an hour and by the time I left in ’72 I was Head Clerk and got bumped up to $1.40! I got the job so I could afford the clothes you needed to fit in at high school between ’66 and ’70…Gant shirts, Arnold Palmer sweaters, Baracuta jackets from David Israel and Henry B Klein . Also needed Converse All Stars from Natalie’s …$10 at the time and my parents wouldn’t buy them cause “you can get a perfectly good pair of sneakers at Murphys for $2. It was a different world.

  2. Keith Moore says:

    Responding about the “peeps” in the 5 & 10’s, I managed to talk my Mother into one peep that we’d take home, and it grew into a rooster. The neighbors in Port Vue would not like waking to all that crowing.We had to get a new home for it with a friend of my Dad’s that had a farm in Perryopolis. What a great memory.

  3. Bill Trautmann says:

    Allthough I came much later, I remember McKeesport from the mid to late 70’s. Jaisons you went in and went downstairs into the mens department. Cox’s had the candy area where you got the candy ice cream cones. Every year the lights outside had Christmas decorations. My mom worked at G.C. Murpheys head quarters and I remember waiting at the bottom of the steps for her to come down. To drive thru now is so sad. The whole area is so run down, its hard to think it can every come back. Hopefully it will.
    Thanks for the pictures of McKeesport in its heyday.

    Bill

  4. Gloria Barone says:

    I am looking for pictures from the DailyNews probably in the 50’s of Margaret Ann Ryniak who modeled for Katzman’s clothing in McKeesport.

  5. Jack Schalk says:

    This is a new site to me but you are all such wonderful writers that you have taken me to places that I haven’t seen in a lot of years and made it all real once again.
    Shopping with my mother in McKeesport was never complete till we went to Balsamo’s and we selected our “Lady Fingers” to take home.
    My Duquesne roots started in 1936 and I left town for other parts in 1959.
    I couldn’t believe the degeneration of the beautiful homes that used to be on my paper route, and my own home.
    Thanks for reliving Kennywood. May it prosper!

    • Bob Chermonitz says:

      Jack I almost forgot about Balsamo’s. Kids would bring their gym clothes to DHS in what we refered to as “Balsamo’s High School gym bags”! 🙂

      • Jack Schalk says:

        How could we tell those bags apart? Our Mothers made do of every scrap and parcel, God love them!
        I also remember going to the Buster Brown shoe store and having my feet X rayed in my new shoes to assure a good fit. It’s a wonder that my toes didn’t curl up and fall off later in life.

      • Lou Andriko says:

        Two Balsamo’s bags, one from Immel’s, and suit bag from Kadar’s was a four piece matched luggage ensemble!

  6. Jim Matscherz says:

    McKeesport was a great place in my teen years. On Fridays after I got paid we would take the bus to McKeesport have lunch at the Club Car see a movie at the Memorial then head over to the Army Navy store and finish up at good old Odo’S

  7. Chris Lupinski says:

    Alot of good memories there. I do remember the Famous fire. My husband was a fireman and fought that fire with a dozen other fire companies. It is a shame that McKeesport is going down hill now. Hopefully it will come back. And I worked at Riggs Drug store alot of good times there.

  8. Bill Connelly says:

    I wonder if the “Aunt Mary Puskaric” was the same lady who was my Mom’s best buddy??? She was married to John Puskaric…

    I roamed that stretch of Fifth Avenue in the late Forties & early Fifties. I knew every crack in the pavement and every store within.

    Everyone always mentions the Memorial because of it’s beauty but, truth be told, the Capitol, Liberty & Victor were all more frequened by us kids. Especially the CAPITOL! Every Saturday morning was a Cowboy festival for TWELVE CENTS. We had to check our clickerguns, capguns & holsters in the Lobby. Everyone tried to get there the earliest so he could get a seat in the front row (or as close to it as they could get). Once you claimed your seat you could never NEVER leave it because it would be occupied when you returned. Kids didn’t even leave to go to the BATHROOM. They just peed from their seat to the slanted floor and it would roll “downhill”. The kids in the front sat in their seats with their legs curled under them… It reekled of urine but no one ever complained… Jimmy Wakely was my personal favorite because he sat me on his knee once after making a personal appearance. All the other cowboys, to ME, were innerchangeable…
    After the films, when we stormed out the doors, after reclaiming our shoot’n irons, with guns ablazing. We shot up the town all the way home…..
    There was nothing better than spending those magical Saturday mornings at the Capitol with all of my “cowboy” buddies… Even with “damp shoes”….

  9. Gary Rosensteel says:

    Jim,

    Thanks so much for sharing. I grew up in East McKeesport and McKeesport and Braddock (yes, Braddock!) where the places my parents used to shop most of the time before shopping centers began to appear. My mom worked at Cox’s and Jaison’s in McKeesport, before moving to Jaison’s in the NEW Monroeville Mall.

    You didn’t mention the great theaters in McKeesport, particularly the Memorial, which was as grand as the grandest theaters in downtown Pittsburgh. I remember watching many movies from the balcony of the Memorial.

  10. RobtN says:

    Great post. I don’t remember the taffy, but my grandfather sold Murphy’s all of their fudge. I grew up in McKeesport in the early 70s, in the twilight of the downtown shopping district; The Famous was long closed, and would burn down shortly after we moved to the South Hills, but almost all of the other stores were still in business; indeed, many, but not all, reopened in new locations after the fire.

    The fire was, in many ways, the begining of the decline, but it only accelerated the inevitable, once the Century III mall opened and the ill-advised Midtown Plaza failed. But in the early 70s, there was still prosperity, and hope. New buildings went up in the business district – The Executive Building, and the building across 5th Avenue that housed McDonalds. You could still buy a car downtown at Eger Motors, Sullivan Buick, and early in the 70s, Palmer Pontiac, and that drove traffic, as did Cox’s and the big Murphy’s store, along with specialists like The HiFi Center, The Golden Rule, and Morrow’s and Goodman’s jewelers.

    Truth is, we did a fair amount of shopping in Pittsburgh, but I still remember trips to H.B. Klein with my dad when he was buying suits, to Kadar’s for shirts and stuff, and Cox’s for corduroy jeans. I remember Helmsteader’s as a place frozen in time where you bought your scout uniforms, and the barn-like interior of Jeffery’s Feed and Seed.

    I miss them all.

  11. Linda Perhacs says:

    I remember going to McKeesport, every Saturday afternoon, with my mom for our weekly shopping spree. We didn’t often buy anything…we just browsed. I guess this is where my love of shopping/browsing came from. Before we got on the bus in front of the Famous to come back home, we would stop at the Rigg’s Drugstore for a hamburger and fries. This was our “treat” for the the week. I really miss shopping in McKeesport…got a lot of good clothes there!

  12. Paula (Manns) Niedoba says:

    Loved those little peeps too. My parents would never cave and let me take one home.

  13. Debbie Carr Gavlik says:

    I don’t remember if it was Murphy’s or Greens but one of them sold taffy… big slabs of vanilla, chocolate and strawberry taffy! The clerk would break it with a hammer and then put the pieces in a white bag. I’d munch on it on the bus ride home…
    And oh how I loved those peeps! It was the best part of Easter for me. Unfortunately, when they got big my grandfather would take them to the family farm. My grandfather was Joe Gall and he lived on Martin St. Did you live on that street too?

  14. Tom Lane says:

    A fond memory was the wooden floor in Woolworths and the smell of popcorn. Going downstairs to the toy dept. and they had this little shelf where they had a few toys on display that you could play with. Loved it!

  15. Ralph DeRose says:

    What about the famous Balsamo’s Food Market at the intersection of Lyle Blvd at the railroad tracks and 5th Ave.

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