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!