With more than 70 Lancaster businesses offering special deals and promotions during the city’s first Independent Retail Week, starting today, it’s worth looking back at examples of the independent retail tradition in Lancaster city.
In conjunction with this year’s 225th anniversary of the newspapers that make up LNP’s journalistic history, here’s a look back at a sampling of the many independent retailers — large and small — that have done business downtown over the past century and a half.
Many readers will remember shopping at such independent department stores as Garvin’s, Hager’s and Watt & Shand.
But there have been numerous other stores, named after their founders, selling a variety of merchandise over many decades.
Department store advertisements filled the Semi-Weekly New Era in October 1895.
L. Gansman & Bro., 66-68 N. Queen St., offered custom-order suits for $12, and custom overcoats from $12 to $22. Children’s suits were $1 to $6 each.
Martin Bros., 26-28 N. Queen St., encouraged its customers to avoid “hangy” and “baggy” clothes by having its staff help them find a $14 suit with the “perfect fit.”
Metzger & Haughman’s “cheap store” at 38-40 W. King St. (“opposite Cooper House”), was selling men’s merino shirts and “drawers” for 25 cents to $1.50 apiece.
A fur cape could be had at M.T. Garvin & Co., 35-37 E. King St., for $13.50, marked down from $20.
Williamson and Foster, 32-38 E. King St. (there also was a location on Harrisburg’s Market Street), was selling all kinds of hats for 39 cents, wool knee pants for boys for 50 to 75 cents, glass lamps for $1.69 and seven-piece Bohemian glass lemonade sets for 90 cents.
In March of 1940, you could buy “bewitching new fashions” for spring at Leinbach & Co. in the first block of North Queen Street. Those fashions included new coats and new suits for $16.95 and a “gala collection of spring dresses” for $6.95 apiece, along with handbags for 93 cents and “fascinating hats” for $1.98 each
The store, which operated from 1893 to 1949, was known as the “daylight department store” for its huge skylights and open courtyard floor plan.
Store founder W. Scott Leinbach, incidentally, was a Lancaster champion in lawn bowling.
During a well-publicized October 1927 visit to the Red Rose City, Mayor I.J. Curwen of Lancaster, England, beat Leinbach 21-18 in a lawn-bowling tournament staged in front of 1,000 people in Buchanan Park.
New York City photographers captured the action.
Many local retailers started as apprentices in other stores.
Local clothier Myers & Rathfon promised the best style, in “great abundance” at the most reasonable prices, back in 1872.
According to “The Biographical Annals of Lancaster County,” Jacob Rathfon was apprenticed to a tailor near Lititz in the 1830s, starting at age 14.
In 1866 he partnered with Samuel M. Myers who, around 1839, had been an apprentice in a Columbia dry-goods store at age 15.
“Then and there was born what was destined to become not only the leading clothing establishment of the city, but one of the most prominent in the State,” the annals said.
The store started out in Center Square, now Penn Square, and later moved to 12 E. King St.
The men were “merchant tailors,” selling retail and wholesale and employing 80 to 100 men. They also built around 100 houses in town for people to rent, the annals article said.
Rathfon was a member and trustee of Trinity Lutheran Church, a school director and city councilman.
“His only recreation is in a quiet drive behind a good road horse,” the annals added.
Before there was Garvin’s, there was Fahnestock’s.
Back in 1851, according to the Saturday Express in Lancaster, Fahnestock’s store at the southwest corner of North Queen and Orange streets, was run by Return E. Fahnestock,
“Among our merchants, particularly in the dry goods line, no name was better known than that of R.E. Fahnestock,” the retailer’s obituary in the Oct. 2, 1895, Semi-Weekly New Era, said.
The obit called him “fair, honorable and upright” in his business dealings, and said his “character was without blemish.
“His whole life was devoted to business,” the article said, “and in the trade circle or in the social sphere ... he was universally respected.”
Fahnestock went to Philadelphia at age 15 to work for relatives, as a clerk at Curwen, Stoddard & Co. dry goods store.
He returned to Lancaster eight years later, ran the business at North Queen and Orange streets, and later bought a store next to the county courthouse on East King St.
“Physical infirmities” and “loss of his eyesight” caused Fahnestock to retire in 1983, selling the store to his former store manager, Milton Thomas Garvin, who continued the business as M.T. Garvin & Co.
With its many venues and local musicians, Lancaster has long been a very musical city.
The independent music stores that have come and gone in downtown Lancaster served that market.
Among the well-known stores of the past was J.H. Troup’s Music House, 38-40 W. King St., run by the family of “Route 66” songwriter and “Emergency” actor Bobby Troup.
Troup lived in Lancaster a short time before heading to California for a life in show business.
In December 1924, the local Troup store carried Brunswick Christmas records for 75 cents apiece, and in 1928 you could buy an Ampico Symphonique baby grand piano at Troup’s for $1,300.
You could buy an accordion for $4 in 1921 at Burger’s Musical Shoppe at 6 N. Prince St. In 1932, the shop encouraged students to buy their band and orchestra instruments at the “lowest prices in the city.”
Transport and toys
Transportation needs drove some independent retailers in Lancaster.
The day after his 20th birthday in 1896, A. Leaman Futer went into the bicycle business in Lancaster, Futer recalled in a 1940 Sunday News story. In the 1890s, Futer developed a new style of bike, with coaster brakes, called the Futer Flyer. He and his brother, B. Franklin “Frank” Futer, made and sold the bikes, for $25 in 1900, from a factory at 140-42 N. Christian St. The shop later moved to the first block of East Chestnut Street.
Toys have been another big local retail category over the decades.
If you were thinking about holiday gifts in November 1963, Winky Dink Toys, 16 W. King St., was the place to be.
According to the store’s ad in the New Era, you could buy games such as Password, The Barbie Game and Candy Land for $1 to $3, an Erector Set for $3, a football for $2 or the Kenner Give-a-Show Projector for $5.
And Ouija boards were on sale for $2.23.
Mayor and punks
Even a future Lancaster mayor was an independent retailer in the latter part of the 20th century.
Janice Stork, Lancaster’s mayor for most of the 1990s, opened a gourmet foods store called Marion Cheese in 1975. The store, which sold cheese, gourmet foods and carry-out meals, was located at 37 E. Orange St.
“Beat the blahs,” an ad for the business said in 1977, by sending your favorite college student a Marion Cheese “goodie box” for $5 and up.
The business, which eventually included catering and a Lancaster Central Market stand, was sold in 1986 to Kathleen Pianka. The downtown store closed in 1991, after a second location opened on Columbia Avenue.
The catering operation was eventually sold to restaurateurs who took over the Columbia Avenue space.
In 1984, the Cotton sisters —Suzanne, 17, and Laura, 20 — opened State of Confusion at 49 W. King St., the site of the former Manhattan Peanut Stand.
The store catered to fans of punk, New Wave and heavy metal bands, selling buttons, wristbands, posters, T-shirts and other clothing.
Suzanne Cotton went on to become a fashion designer, according to a 1990 fashion story in the Sunday News, and later an associate professor and chair of fashion design at Columbus College of Art & Design in Ohio.