“All change is not growth, as all movement is not forward. “
– Ellen Glasgow
I came across a photo of a rather iconic sign in our hometown area. Of course, we are all familiar with Kennywood’s very familiar yellow arrow, but there is yet another yellow arrow that became very familiar to a lot of us.
Whether you lived in Duquesne or the area immediately surrounding it, I’m sure that you were all familiar with Duquesne Village Shopping Center. I realize that Duquesne Village Shopping Center was not located in Duquesne, but nonetheless it was part of my life growing up in the area.
I will be the first to admit that I thought it was kinda strange that the center was named Duquesne Village when it fact it was in West Mifflin. I couldn’t find any information that would explain the mystery. I researched The Duquesne Times and The Pittsburgh Post Gazette to no avail. Finally, in desperation, I called Dom Toretti at Dom’s TV, which I always thought moved from Duquesne as soon as the center opened. Dom set me straight and said he moved his business there in the early 60’s. He suggested that I try to contact Stanley Levine at Levine’s Hardware in Homestead. I called Mr. Levine and he was able to share a great deal of information.
I was very surprised when Mr. Levine said that Duquesne Village opened in 1956! Mr. Levine talked about how his family decided to develop the shopping center in what was then, a slag dump. I vaguely remember when the center was being build. We passed by the area when we would visit my grandfather each week. He lived on Duquesne Ave. Come to think of it, Duquesne Ave. is in West Mifflin too! (I think I’m spotting a trend here.)
He described how the first Levine Bros. Hardware opened in downtown Duquesne in 1922 and remained there until the early 60’s when it was forced to close as a result of the “Redevelopment” and eminent domain. Prior to that time, the family opened the Duquesne Village location along with a host of other merchants.
I asked Mr. Levine if he could help to recall some of the stores that were initial occupants of the center in 1956. Some of the names were familiar to me, yet others were only shadows of a memory. For instance, who remembers LOBLAWS? It was apparently a Canadian based grocery store that was in the space currently occupied by Foodland. I googled the heck out of it, and found some verification that there were some stores in the United States and specifically in Pennsylvania.
Mr. Levine and I tried to recall the various stores that were in the center when it opened in 1956. The list below is what we came up with. If you recall more, please share with us!
- Loblaw’s Supermarket
- State Store
- Kirby’s Shoes
- Woolworth’s 5 & 10
- Sun Drugs
- Beverage Carnival
- Levine Hardware
- A & P Supermarket
I asked Mr. Levine about some other businesses, but neither of us were able to recall the names or if in fact, whether they were part of the center when it opened. I hope some of you who have a ‘photographic memory’ out there will be able to recall the facts:
- There was a bank that was in the center close to Levine’s. Was it a Pittsburgh National Bank (PNB)?
- Near Isaly’s, there was a florist shop. Was it White Oak Florist?
- I believe there was a card shop in the center as well. Hallmark?
- Not sure when it opened, but who could ever forget THE VILLAGE LANES!
- Although the company was not even inexistence in 1956, sometime in the late 60’s a Fotomat became part of the Duquesne Village landscape
- Not sure when the Village Car Wash opened either. I believe it was the mid-60’s.
The three stores that I remember more than the others are; Woolworth’s, Levine Bros. and of course, Isaly’s. I remember that Woolworth’s had only a few registers at the front. One was basically all they ever used. There was a Luncheonette on the right had side of the store and I LOVED eating there. Their hot dogs and fries were the best! (Of course, Jim’s Hot Dogs beat them.) I recall that the toy department was at the upper end of the lunch counter, in the right hand corner of the store.
I remember they had a Pet Department to the left/rear of the toy department. I used to go and play with the critters that had cages that you could get your fingers through, like parakeets, hamsters and such. Of course, there were always the fish tanks that you could tap on and drive the fish crazy! To the left of pets, I think they had gardening items, followed by blinds and curtains. Their clothing areas were on the left hand side of the store and if I’m correct, they had a record department in the front middle of the store near the windows.
What I recall more than anything else about Woolworth’s was how they decked themselves out at Christmas. Just like the like from Perry Como’s “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas,”
“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Ev’rywhere you go;
Take a look in the five and ten, glistening once again
With candy canes and silver lanes aglow.”
The store typified the lyrics of the song. Adding to the ambiance was their large windows that always seemed to be frosted or sweating due to the warmth inside.
Levine’s, for this little hunky boy, was like a modern day Home Depot, minus the orange aprons. I recall spending lots of time there just perusing all of the items they had to offer. Aisle after aisle of the “stuff” that dreams are made of! I rarely bought anything, (sorry Mr. Levine), but it provided hours of entertainment nonetheless. I remember one sales associate in particular whom I think worked at the Duquesne Store initially. I think her name was Audrey(?). She was a diminutive young lady who was nothing short of an index of information about ANYTHING that you were looking for. What a dynamo!!
Isaly’s was laid out as they typically were. I remember that there was seating in the store on the right hand side near the back. The ice cream counter was on the right hand side as usual. The delectable cardboard tubs of ice cream were lined up in rows in the freeze in all their glory. The thick glass “window” and counter protected the ice cream from inquiring fingers, and, the glass always had little fingerprints on it from the little hands that had indicated their choice. The cones themselves were Isaly’s skyscraper ice cream cones that featured a long, tall and pointed scoop of ice cream instead of the typical scoop you’d find elsewhere. They always had the slicer running, churning out pound after pound of chipped ham, and the lunch counter offered hot ham barbeque sandwiches for their customer’s dining pleasure.
Like the majority of the area, Duquesne Village has suffered through some very difficult times. A few of the original stores remain, but for the most part, the face of the center has dramatically changed. Just as seeing some vestiges of “Old Duquesne” while driving through the downtown area will help you to recall the better days, so too will a visit to Duquesne Village. Stop by and tell Dom Toritti I said hi!
Following is an article that appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2003. It relates some additional information about the Levine Bros. I thought you’d enjoy!
Wednesday, July 23, 2003
By Linda Wilson Fuoco, Post-Gazette Staff Writer
Levine Brothers Hardware was “going out of business” for eight weeks. Though the liquidation sale ended Saturday, the shop will continue to be a presence on Homestead’s main street.
Brothers Lawrence, left, and Stanley Levine in their Levine Brothers Hardware Store. Their going-out-of-business sale ended Saturday, closing the retail business, but Stanley will continue to operate the service center. (Tony Tye/Post-Gazette)
The business, which began in 1922, has soldiered on through the Great Depression, a devastating 1947 fire, the 1980s shutdown of Mon Valley steel mills, the closing of many neighboring storefronts in the once-prosperous Eighth Avenue business district and competition from big box and building supply stores at The Waterfront.
The family-owned business, at 337 E. Eighth Ave. since 1960, survived all of those challenges and more. Ultimately, the relentless march of time sparked the going-out-of-business sale.
Lawrence Levine, the brother who always wears a bow tie and usually sports a mustache, has decided he is ready to retire after 77 birthdays and 55 years on the job.
But is he actually retiring? And if so, when?
“My brother originally hoped to be out by July 25,” said Stanley Levine. “That’s the birthday of his wife, Claire. Now he’s telling people he’ll be around till the end of the year. I can’t tell what’s on his mind.”
Asked when he will actually retire, Lawrence Levine said, “When I get my work done. I figure at the end of the year. I had fun.”
Lawrence Levine, who lives in Oakland, plans to remain active in the Homestead Economic Revitalization Corp. and the Mon Valley Initiative. Both groups work to revitalize former mill towns.
And that’s about all Lawrence Levine would say in an interview. He turned to his younger brother, Stanley, and said, “I thought we agreed that you would handle this.”
Stanley Levine, who lives in Squirrel Hill, expects to work through the end of the year and beyond.
“I don’t want to retire,” he said. “You are as old as you feel.” He doesn’t feel old at 75, and he’s been working a mere 53 years.
The brothers are actually shutting down their retail business, for the most part, but Stanley will continue operating the service center that long has drawn customers from well beyond the Mon Valley.
They have eight employees and expect to keep most of them on the payroll. The rookie has been on the job six years and the most senior employee for 55 years.
Window screens are a big part of the draw. Levine Brothers repairs them and sells custom-made replacement screens. They will continue to reglaze old windows, cut keys, sharpen lawnmower blades and install hot water tanks. They’ll also continue with their small machine shop, which includes repairing lawn mowers and chain saws.
“I still hope to sell some plants out front,” Levine said, referring to the flats of flowers and vegetables that are a familiar Eighth Avenue sidewalk decoration each spring and early summer.
He may continue to sell bulk vegetable seeds because “people come a long way for that. We can ID little niches that there is a demand for.”
He’s looking forward to reduced hours and two-day, work-free weekends.
“My brother and I worked six days a week forever,” Levine said, which generally meant about 54 hours per week.
With the liquidation sale over, Stanley Levine expects to be open from 9:30 a.m. until 3 or 4 p.m. weekdays.
“We will be closed on Saturdays and we never opened on Sundays. Maybe we will have more hours in the spring. We are feeling our way and will fine-tune as we go along.”
Lawrence and Stanley Levine grew up in Squirrel Hill, the only children of Harry E. and Cecile G. Levine.
Stanley Levine described his father as “a real dynamo.” His parents came to the United States from Lithuania and Poland in the early 1890s.
Harry and his brother, A.W. “Chinners” Levine, had athletic talent that propelled them out of the working class and into the University of Pittsburgh. Stanley and Lawrence Levine’s father won a track scholarship and their uncle played basketball there. However, both of their college careers were cut short by World War I.
The first Levine Brothers hardware store opened in 1922 in Duquesne rather than Squirrel Hill “because they went where the need existed,” Stanley Levine said. “My father sensed that one store would not sustain two families. When Nebo Brothers in Homestead went bankrupt in 1935, my dad and brother bought it. It was at 324 East Eighth Ave. That store did well, too, until we had a disastrous fire in 1947. We had a good landlord. He rebuilt the building and it reopened in August 1948.”
Lawrence Levine studied electrical engineering at Carnegie Tech, but his college career was curtailed by World War II. Stanley graduated from the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business.
“I started here in 1950 as a well-grounded businessman and Lawrence always handled the mechanical end of the business.”
Their uncle’s Duquesne store did well until the late 1950s or early 1960s “when we lost the building to eminent domain in some kind of redevelopment program. The building was razed.”
Meanwhile, the family had developed a shopping center in West Mifflin, “so our uncle moved his hardware store there and was successful for many years.” The family still owns the Duquesne Village shopping center on Homeville Road.
“Business was especially good during the war” when mills in Homestead and surrounding towns were supplying steel for World War II. “After the war everyone was building houses, the steel mills were still booming and business was very good,” Levine said.
Their father was only 57 when he died of Hodgkin’s disease in 1952. The sons carried on with the business.
In 1960, the Levine Brothers store moved to the present location. “To Lawrence’s credit, he thought this would be a better location. It had been a 5 and 10 store. We had a wonderful landlady, Mrs. Herron. We didn’t buy this building until about 10 years ago, when she died.”
The long-term survival of a small family business “is a bit of the survival of the fittest,” Stanley Levine said. “Other hardware stores closed in the mid- and late 1970s and we got their customers.”
After steel mill closings and local economic downturns in the 1980s, “business was not as good as it had been but it was still profitable. We didn’t start hitting the speed bumps until the mid-’90s. Maybe if we had been younger and more ambitious we might have done better” against competition from national chain stores.
Lawrence and Claire Levine have three children and seven grandchildren. Stanley and Patricia have four children and eight grandchildren.
None is involved in the family business “because Lawrence could not assure them there would be a viable future for them.”
For the past 25 years the brothers have done their part to help another small, family-owned business.
Every working day they eat lunch at Michael’s diner, directly across the street from their own business.
“But they never eat together,” said Kouhla Manolakis Goughnour, who with her mother operates the diner that her late father opened 25 years ago. “Ask them how two brothers get along so well for so long.”
Stanley Levine had the answer: “Our mother, Cecile, was a very astute, sharp lady. Early on she explained that the way two brothers get along is to have two wives who get along. And that’s what happened. Our wives are best friends to this day.”
Though Cecile never worked in the family business, she had a financial interest as well as a natural interest in how her sons were faring.
“My mother and I were almost joined at the hip. Until she died in 1992, I would talk to her daily on the phone. She called at 10 after 11 each morning. On several occasions she would say, ‘I don’t like the way you and Lawrence get along. We are going to talk.’ And we would and it would be settled,” Stanley Levine said.
“It’s hard to believe that it’s winding down. I have heard a lot of nice comments, including things I was not expecting. We really cherish what we have had here all these years.”