Thursday, May 17, 2018

S.P. Kristufek and his stores

Stephen P.  and M. A. Kristufek's store
intersection of Merchant and Beaver Sts.
circa 1903
courtesy of Karl Urda

In 1903, Stephen (Stefan) Kristufek, a Slovak immigrant, moved to the new community of Ambridge and opened a store at the no-longer-existing intersection of Merchant and Beaver Sts. I'd previously written briefly about S. P. Kristufek's stores in an article about the series of "Triangle Buildings" at that intersection.

The photo at the top of this article is of that first store.* I don't have identifying information about the people in the photo, but I'd guess that they may include Kristufek and his wife, Mary, and that the children are some of their eight children who survived infancy.

Josh Selley, S.P. Kristufek's great-grandson, gave me some information about this store:
On November 27, 1903 he bought the corner lot there at 120 Merchant street and built a four room and then increased to a twelve room store. It first started out as a clothing business and then he increased to groceries, meat, hardware and furniture
You can also see Charles Kristufek's General Store, 300 First St., in the photo's background, right. Charles, a prominent Ambridge businessman and builder, was Stephen's older brother. It was Charles Kristufek's grandson, the late Karl Urda, who shared with me the rare photos at the top of this article and immediately below. (In the rest of this article, "Kristufek" refers to S.P. Kristufek, the owner of the Triangle stores.)

S.P. Kristufek's first store, interior
circa 1903
courtesy Karl Urda

The early ad below shows Ambridge's "Big Store" included a restaurant and offered boarding and rooming.

S. P. Kristufek's Store
Ambridge-Economy Citizen
December 16, 1904

This first store was destroyed in a fire on September 6, 1908, in what was called the worst fire in Ambridge's young history. Ambridge mythos has long linked the fire to S. P. Kristufek's receipt of a "Black Hand" extortion letter the previous winter, demanding $200 protection money, which Kristufek refused to pay. However, the Aliquippa Standard of September 11, 1908, reported that Kristufek said he didn't believe the fire was connected to the Black Hand letter, although he didn't offer a theory about how the fire may have started.

The Standard also reported that the bakery of Christopher Damakos (note different spelling of last name by the Gazette Times in quote below) was in the same building and damaged in the fire.

The September 7, 1908, (Pittsburgh) Gazette Times article about the fire said the fire began in the bakery. The article begins:
The first landmarks of the new town of Ambridge with four horses were burned early yesterday morning, despite the efforts of the Fair Oaks, Economy, Ambridge and American Bridge Company's fire departments. The loss is $7,500, cover by insurance. "Triangle Square," the pride of the new steel town, went up in smoke because of an overheated oven in Christopher Damak's bakery, which occupied one building. Several persons narrowly escaped with their lives. 
Undeterred by the fire, Kristufek built a second store. The history of the construction of that second store is a bit murky as of now, and I'm still looking for more information. Selley told me:
That same year he rebuilt the store and it was all wood, no brick. On November 26, 1908 he contracted to have the store made to be brick $4.50 for 1000 bricks. It took 100,000 bricks.
Maria Notarianni found a photo of the second store being constructed--or maybe having a brick facade added to a wooden building--in The Lather, a 1909 publication of the Wood, Wire and Metal Lathers' International Union.

New S. P. Kristufek's Department Store
120 Merchant Street
The Lather
Vol. 9, No. 7
May 1909

Original text: 
The above illustrates S. P. Kristufek's new triangular store, which is being erected on the site of one burned last fall. Mr. Kristufek will be seen in the foreground. This work is in Ambridge, Pa. and is being done by local 263's men. Brother Linhorn as foreman, Warren, Buckles and Skinner.
The photo below shows the second S.P. Kristufek store, sometimes misidentified as the Kristufek store that burned down.

The man in the apron is S. P. Kristufek.* the woman on the left side of the store wearing an apron is his wife, Mary; daughter Rose, Selley's grandmother, is standing near Mary. Kristufek's mother is standing in front of the building.

S. P. Kristufek Department Store
intersection of Merchant St and Beaver Rd. (now Beaver St.)
William Bowan collection

The 1912 photo was featured in a September 12, 1983, Beaver County Times article, "Nostalgia--Marketing returns the good old days" by Joe Tronzo, Beaver County Times staff.

Tronzo wrote: "Kristufek's sold meat, groceries, paints, varnishes, clothes, furniture, carpets, and everything from flypaper to wedding gowns." 

Tronzo noted the stable behind the store on the Beaver Rd. side and the horse and wagon used for deliveries. And that dark sculpture-like thing at the intersection's point?  That's a three-level water trough: one bowl for humans, a big one for horses, and the lowest one for dogs.

The Nov. 24, 1913, Pittsburgh Press reported on a Kristufek's store employee, Mary Susineck, chasing, then tussling with a burglar at the store:

Kristufek's store burglary article
Pittsburgh Press
November 24, 1913

In 1914 Kristufek enlarged the store building to 20 rooms and then 30 rooms, according to Selley.

The well-located department store was an enormous success. In November 26, 1916, a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article said that the S. P. Kristufek Department Store, "known throughout the district as the 'Big Triangle,' is one of the busy centers of the community."

Look at the wide variety of items once sold in the Kristufek's store.

Envelope with advertising for Stephen P. and M. A. Kristufek's store
circa 1903 - 1918
courtesy Josh Selley

According to Selley, Kristufek sold the Triangle building in 1919, and bought another at 133 Merchant St. before moving back to Pittsburgh where he restarted his business. He died on February 22, 1934.

In 1930, a store at The Triangle, then reportedly operated by Abraham Redlich, and owned by his mother, Mary, was destroyed by a fire. (The Daily Times, March 17, 1930). I think this may explain what eventually happened to the second store built by S.P. Kristufek, but I haven't yet verified that the Redlich's store was then operating in the building built by Kristufek.

The Stephen P. and Mary A. Kristufek family:

S.P. and Mary A. Kristufek and children
circa 1911
courtesy Josh Selley

Top row left to right: Phillip, Mary, Stephen E. (eldest), and Jeanette;

Middle row left to right: Lydia, Mary A., Stephen P., and Rose;

Bottom row left to right: John and Charles.

Another child, Katherine, died in infancy.

Stephen P. and Mary A. Kristufek
in front of their Pittsburgh home
circa late 1920s - early 1930s
courtesy Josh Selley

* The angle of the photos of Kristufek's two stores make them look extremely narrow. However, because the lot where the stores were built was triangular, the width of the buildings increased as the width of the lot increased.

Here's a snip from a 1905 Sanborn Insurance map that shows the shape of the first Kristufek store. It's the building labeled "Hotel Kristufek."

Kristufek General Store
"Hotel Kristufek"
Sanborn Insurance map

And speaking of shapes: Does anyone know what the triangular frames on the roof of the first Kristufek store are?


  1. Great article, Nancy! Love the family pictures. Wasn't there a McKees Rocks connection in the family history? Maybe Josh Selly would know. Asking for a friend, as they say!

    1. Charles Kristufek lived in McKees Rocks after he arrived in the U.S. He worked at a variety of jobs and reportedly opened a grocery store there.

      I haven't heard of a connection between Stephen P. and McKees Rocks. I'll check with Josh Selly.

  2. Hi Pat, There were actually two Charles Kristufek's. One was the brother of Stephen, and the other was Stephen's son that was born in 1910. I do know that his brother Charles owned an operated several businesses in the Ambridge area, the most well known was the Kristufek Agency. Now Stephen's son Charles lived in the Lawrenceville area and worked in the steel mill(1940 U.S. Census). There isn't much more I can share about my Great Uncle Charles because his family hasn't kept in touch with anyone.

  3. Josh, Just stumbled across this story. The little boy in the front (John) was my grandfather. He was born Dec. 23, 1911. That would make this family photo closer to 1913 I am guessing. Not trying to dispel your info; just trying to help dial in the exact date.

  4. The little boy (John) in the front of the family photo was my grandfather. He was born Dec. 23, 1911. That would make this photo closer to 1913 I am guessing. Not trying to dispel any of your information; just trying to help dial in the accuracy.

  5. Mary was my grandfather's sister. His name was John Marek. These are great pictures and the story is amazing!