Saturday, March 19, 2016

J. C. Penney 1929

J. C. Penney Co.
601 Merchant St.
Daily Times supplement, August 10, 1929 ?
Louis Vukovcan collection
courtesy Jackie Vukovcan

Many of us have fond memories of the J. C. Penney store at the corner of 6th and Merchant Sts. shown above circa 1929. But that wasn't Penney's first Ambridge location. Before the 601 Merchant St. building was built, Penney's did business at 531 Merchant St.

I still don't know when Penney's moved into the 601 Merchant St. building. A January 1917 Sanborn Insurance map indicates that a three-story building was planned for the northwest corner of 6th and Merchant Sts. with two store fronts, a larger one at 601 - 603 Merchant and a smaller one at 605 Merchant. Above the stores, the second floor would have offices, and the third would house a club of some type.

I don't know if the buildings eventually built at 601 - 603 and 605 Merchant were based on those plans, but it took a while for a building to be constructed on that corner. According to an article in the April 4, 1924, Daily Times, the Penney's store was among the building projects, totaling about $1 million dollars, then ongoing in Ambridge. The Penney's ad in the 1924 Economy Centennial program book, Economy of Old, Ambridge of Today, still has the 531 Merchant address.

[Update March 20, 2016, Maria Notarianni pointed out that the 1924 Economy Centennial program book has an ad for the real estate office of John F. Maloney at 605 Merchant. The ad gives information about Maloney's construction of a new building for Penney's. And also some complimentary words about Maloney, which I'm including because they made me smile:
Mr. John F. Maloney, a member of Council and one of our most influential citizens has in the past few years erected more than three hundred homes, which have been sold to people on easy terms.
He opened his first office in 1902, corner Seventh and Glenwood, but his increasing business made larger quarters imperative, and he is now located at the corner of Sixth and Merchant Streets. At the corner, adjoining his real estate, he has now under construction a modern, fire-proof store and apartment building, consisting of a large storeroom on the first floor for the J. C. Penney Co., and eight apartments above, which will have every modern convenience. Each of these apartments will have an incinerator, refrigerator, electric range, tiled bath room with built-in fixtures, Gates' reversible windows, and are finished in a most attractive manner. A feature which will be much appreciated in Ambridge as well as by the occupants of the building will be a roof garden.
As a pioneer in promoting the welfare of Ambridge in every way, Mr. Maloney has few equals.
If I'm remembering correctly, in the 1950s and '60s, Penney's sold merchandise in the first two floors plus a mezzanine and the basement. The first and second floors were connected by a large staircase. The second floor was girls' clothes. Susan Bacon Holowaty reminded me that that's where girls went to buy the lovely (yes, that's definitely sarcasm, mine, not Susan's) one-piece gym uniforms we had to wear in that era. At one time, we also went to Penney's for Girl Scout uniforms and paraphernalia. That's also where my mom bought my underwear, which you didn't need to know, but I thought I'd throw that in.

I loved watching the pneumatic tubes woosh money and receipts between floors, high-tech store entertainment for kids in the 1950s.

If I'm not remembering the store layout correctly, or if you want to add more details about the store that you remember, don't hesitate to leave a comment below.]

Even after Penney's opened a larger, more modern store in the new Northern Lights Shoppers City in 1956, the Ambridge store stayed open for over two more decades. I've been unable to find out when the Ambridge store closed, but it appears ads listing both stores stopped at some point in 1968; after that, ads mentioned only the Northern Lights Penney's. If you know when the Ambridge Penney's store closed, please leave a comment.

This is what the former Penney's building looked like in 2014. Although the sign says Sol's, that business had already closed in January 2014. The building appeared to be vacant the last time I visited Ambridge in 2015.

601 Merchant St.
March 30, 2014

12 comments:

  1. As a kid going into the Penny store, I was fascinated with their money moving machine with the overhead wires and little "cars" that traveled on them.

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  2. When Penney's went out of business in Ambridge they sold furnishings and we bought one huge display table. The table has moved from my Dad's house and now sits usefully in my own basement. It is built so strongly, we use it as a work bench and planting bench. Love it and really loved the old Penney's in Ambridge. I fondly remember the store, but don't remember exactly when it closed.

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  3. I can't remember when it closed, but didn't the Sol's store opposite this location and down the block burn down? I think after that Sol's store burned down (to the ground) they moved to the recently vacated J.C. Penny store. I hope my memory serves me right....

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    1. Andrew Gross, do you see the words "Sol's, that business had already closed in January 2014" highlighted in the last paragraph of my post? If you click on those words, you will be taken to a blog post I wrote in January 2014 about the Ambridge Sol's history, including newspaper photos of the fire.

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  4. What I remember about Penney's in Ambridge were the giant fans in the stores. If you stood in the right spot on a hot day, the breeze would really cool you off. I think Penney's in Ambridge closed around 1970/71 and a book store moved in there before Sol's took it over. I can't remember the name of the book store...

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    1. The book store was Kuzma's. I don't know when it moved into 601 Merchant though.

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    2. jd aka john domansky

      the name kuzma rings a big bell for me from boys town neb, i grad there 1950 a john kuzma from ambridge, grad in 48 or 49 not sure, im sure its the same family, anyone left of the kuzmas to say so???

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  5. Bob Jerman AHS 71June 19, 2016 at 8:52 PM

    The book store was named Kuzmas. I worked there from August 1971 through January 1972. The owner sold books to schools in the area. I remember opening boxes of books coming in from the publishers and lining them on book shelves. We then got the orders for a specific school and we manually picked the books and boxed them to be sent to the customer. I don't remember this location actually selling books as a retail store.
    He had a second store down Merchant Street near 5th street. This was a retail store for books and magazines as I recall. During my time working there, I had the task of washing the front windows and sweeping the sidewalk daily. I think the owners name was John Kuzma. It was either his brother or cousin who was the principal of Highland School in Harmony Township.

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    1. The store was owned by Frank Kuzma, my Father. I am one of his five sons who spent plenty of time in the store. My Dad’s brother, Steve was the principal of Highland School. Dad is still with us as are my four brothers.

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  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    1. Brian, I will allow you this one comment advertising your eBay store, but I don't want you to make this blog a site for free ads for your business.

      If you have Ambridge memorabilia that you think may be of special interest to the blog's readers, send me a message, and we can discuss my perhaps including an item on a Memorabilia Monday.

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  7. Sorry, Nancy. I'll remove those immediately.

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