Miracle Mart – 2101 Centre Ave

Miracle Mart - Reading

Miracle Mart was a 50,000 square foot department store on Route 61/Centre Ave in North Reading. There is very little information online about Miracle Mart or its origins, besides that there was a more well-documented and unrelated Canadian department store chain by the same name. Looking at aerial photos of the area leads me to believe this location in Reading, Pennsylvania was opened in 1959.

October 1958 Aerial

The aerial photograph above was from October 1958, and it appears the building in the location of Miracle Mart is much smaller and shaped differently than the aerial below from July 1971. Perhaps it was under construction or it is another building entirely. Also cropped in the above photograph is Reading Municipal Stadium, which sits diagonally across Route 61 from the department store.

July 1971 Aerial

The newspaper ads below are from the November 1959 Reading Eagle. So its fairly safe to assume the store was built and opened at some point in the year between the aerial and ad.

1959 Reading Eagle Ad

Miracle Mart was just another face in the sea of discount stores that exploded into popularity in the mid-century. The market became over-saturated and like many others, Miracle Mart was eventually consumed by a bigger fish. In 1973 Miracle Mart was bought out by King’s Discount Department store, which operated over 100 other stores across the country at the time.

July 1973 Ad from Reading Eagle

Aside: These ads from 1973 have King’s listed at the junction of Routes 61 & 422, but surely they meant route 61 and route 12/Warren St Bypass? I’m not sure why the bypass there would have ever been considered 422. Even before the Schuylkill bypass 422 business ran East – West through Reading on Penn Street. If you know what’s up with this, feel free to drop it in the comments.

August 1973 Ad from Reading Eagle

Completing the circle of retail life; King’s Department Store filed for bankruptcy in 1982 after it reached a pinnacle of 190 stores nationwide and went defunct by 1984. Eventually this location was converted into office space.

2101 Centre Ave

Currently, the building is occupied by Berks County Intermediate Unit.

Another Company located in this office park is Fromm Electric. I found this Retro signage from Google street view in 2015. It looks like they recently updated the sign and covered their old logo up. Bit of a shame, the cursive “Fromm” is in a lovely mid-century style.

Fromm Electric Retro Sign

Happy Thanksgiving! November 28th, 1974

Thanksgiving Day also fell on November 28th in 1974. Here is a look at that day’s Reading Eagle:

Walter S. Shearer, who owns a poultry farm in Sinking Spring R.D. 6, holds one of his flock. To find out what eventually happened to this turkey turn to page 31 – Eagle Photo

That homemade taste of goodness was plentiful in Berks County today as thousands celebrate Thanksgiving with families and friends. And, of course, Thanksgiving means turkey time for many. Mrs. Donald E. Horning, above of 25 Larchwood Road, Wyomissing, is delighted with a turkey she selects at the Shearer poultry stand in the Shillington Farmers’ Market. Helping her with the selection is Carmen S. Rolinski, son-in-law of Walter S. Shearer, owner of the Sinking Spring R.D. 6 poultry farm. Mrs. Horning, right, gives her husband a sneak preview of things to come while, below, Mr. Horning reacts to that stuffed feeling of Thanksgiving feast. – Eagle Photos by Richard T. Miller

Demolition Under Way

The former fire damaged Reading School District supply house at 933 Walnut St. is being demolished by Rossi Welding Inc., 316 Franklin St., which will use the area for a parking lot. The firm purchased the structure for $9500. -Eagle Photo

Santa at the Berkshire Mall

Santa Claus will make his magic entrance tomorrow morning at 9:30 on our 2nd level then wisk down the glass elevator into his snowy Christmas Village in the Center Court. The first 1,000 children to greet jolly old St. Nick will receive a special gift box of Christmas Candy to sweeten their Holiday spirits.

Santa’s whole gang is back this year including his elves and his giant toy soldiers and his train and workshop and reindeer barn and a whole mallfull of splendid holiday trimmings. So we sure to get the kids up early tomorrow and plan to spend the day shopping through beautiful Berkshire Mall where 87 fine stores are busting and brimming with holiday values for all.

Berkenstock Store – “Berky’s” – Sinking Spring

If you grew up in Sinking Spring during the 50, 60s, or 70s you probably remember Berkenstock’s Store, or just called it, “Berky’s” or “Fern’s”*. The people who have mentioned it to me specifically remember it being a candy store and calling it Berky’s. There is absolutely no information about this place on the web, but I did some sleuthing to find some information about who ran this store. What I had was a last name, location and an idea of a timeframe of when this store was in operation.

*Apparently some called it Fern’s, I have added this info after the original release of the article

It was located on the corner of Columbia and Hull Street, 101 S. Hull Street. Just caddy-corner from the Sinking Spring School grounds, making it easy for students to walk there for candy. I found record in the 1940 census of a Berkenstock Family who lived at that address. I knew it was a lady who ran this store, so I figured it had to be one of the daughters. It ended up being Fern Berkenstock.

At first I thought it might be Ethel but my sources said it was definitely Fern. I found Ethel in her 1946 senior yearbook from Sinking Spring High. I wasn’t able to find Fern in any of the mid-late 30s Sinking Spring yearbooks. Perhaps she didn’t go to high school, not surprising or out of the ordinary, many in that time didn’t.

I was able to find that Fern passed away in 2000. Her obituary was in the April 1st, 2000 Reading Eagle. It mentions her owning the store and gave the definitive time of operations, from 1940-1986. She was married at some point and her last name changed to Eyrich.

I would love to see and share some images of Berky’s if anyone has them. Any added info would also be appreciated. People remember this place fondly and I would love to bring it back to them. If you have any memories of the store please share them in the comments.

1958 Aerial of Columbia Ave and Hull St Intersection where Berky’s operated

On this Day – September 30th, 1974

Above the fold in the Sept 30th, 1974 Reading Eagle:

Wagons Moved from Original Gruber Works Grounds

On the Way -Wagons produced near the turn of the century are moved out of the Gruber Wagon Works along the Bernville Road, Route 183, in Penn Township. The county moved the wagons and will store them until a final decision is made on where the structure will be moved. The building is owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer – Reading Eagle

Wagon History – Frank P. Gruber, 90, above, proudly displays one of the many wagons which he helped to construct during his long career at the Gruber Wagon Works founded by his grandfather. At right, two workers lift the old elevator which brings the wagons from the second floor directly outside. Below, one of the wagons is loaded on a county truck to be taken to storage. The structure must be removed because it is in the Blue Marsh Lake Project area. – Eagle Photos by B. Franklin Reber.

In the Theatres…

Penn Square History – Downtown Reading

If you hear someone refer to Penn Square, they are speaking of the 400 and 500 blocks of Penn Street with the center being 5th Street. It marks the center of downtown Reading, which used to be adorned with shops on both sides of the street. Below it’s pictured in the 1930s, when trollies ruled and the entire street was just open macadam. The center of Penn Square was a traffic circle, and traffic gave way to the trollies that ran North/South on 5th Street and East/West on Penn Street.

By the 50s-early 70s, 5th and Penn continued with the circle but made the area a little more pedestrian friendly. Traffic was directed by lights and police officers.

The Penn Square Project

By the early 70s, big plans were in the works for the Penn Square area. The city demolished almost the entire 600 and 700 blocks of Penn Street to build a massive indoor shopping mall that never came to fruition. They did however go through with the part of the plan that involved turning the entire 500 block of Penn Street into an outdoor pedestrian area. It was completed in May of 1975 at a cost of $1.6 million.

Source

Automotive traffic was cut off completely from this block and had to be re-routed around, which caused the inevitable traffic problems. This was a last-ditch effort to help businesses along Penn Street garner more foot traffic and increase profits as a result. The effort was too little too late, however, as established malls like the Berkshire had already started hammering nails into the coffin of downtown being a popular shopping destination. Perhaps it was inevitable.

Dec 31st, 1978 Reading Eagle

Downtown – The downtown continued to provide the top business stories of the year as businessmen within the city as well as surrounding communities made strides to restore the center city as a commercial and financial area. Two such projects are the Penn Square Center shown at right, and the remodeling of the northwest corner of Sixth and Penn streets by the Thomas Brothers – Eagle Photo Daniel J. Devine.

In the 80s, many buildings were developed in the 600 and 700 blocks of Penn Street to fill up the empty space left by the failed mall plans and also to attempt to bring businesses downtown. Penn Square Center was one of those buildings.

By 1990 the city decided that the square needed to be opened back up to traffic and again redeveloped the area, ripping out the pedestrian area. This was completed in 1993 and has remained this way since.