Kmart – 45 Years in Berks

Kmart has been a staple nationwide big box store since the 60s. The company, originally called S. S. Kresge Corporation, dates back to 1899. It wasn’t until 1974 when it broke into the Berks County market, opening a store at the 94,500-square-foot Cumru Township location in Shillington Plaza.

According to the Reading Eagle, it featured an auto service center, a garden shop and a self-service snack bar. It shared space with a newly built Weis Market that eventually moved to a bigger site in Spring Township in 2011.

Blue Light Special

Kmart had a retail cultural phenomenon… as you may remember wandering around waiting to see what the next blue light special would be. The Blue Light Special was a sale promotion within the store for a short period within store hours only. It was advertised using a rotating blue light, in the same style a police car used, and was announced over the store public address system with the phrase “attention Kmart shoppers”, a phrase which became a pop culture reference. 

Expansion in Berks

Two more stores opened within the mid-1970s. One took over the space of a former W.T. Grant Store on Fifth Street Highway, Muhlenberg Township, in 1976. And another was opened in Exeter Township on the site of the former Mount Penn Drive-In Theater in 1977.

Fifth Street Highway Muhlenberg location after closing

At its peak in 1994, Kmart operated 2,323 discount stores and Super Kmart Center locations in the United States.

The Exeter store, which had then made another move to Shelbourne Square shopping center in 1993, was the first to go when the former Kmart Corp. filed for their first bankruptcy in 2002. Shortly after in 2004 Kmart and Sears merged. Both were struggling companies and decided to jointly sell off many of the Sears product lines, including Craftsman tools, to make ends meet.

Things were quiet for the remaining two locations in Berks for over a decade. The Fifth street Highway location was eventually closed in the summer of 2016. It was one of 68 other Kmarts to close nationwide in another attempt to cut off the profitless limbs of the failing company.

The first location in Berks would also be it’s last. The Shillington Plaza Kmart is finally on the chopping block and is set to start liquidating mid-September. It will be fully closed by the end of 2019. I took this video below in July before the news, but we all knew it was only a matter of time. You can see there was virtually no one in the store shopping.

So now we have yet another vacant big box store shell wasting space and potential community tax income. Kmart enjoyed a 45 year run in Berks, and now quietly joins the ranks of Two Guys, Pomeroy’s and other retail relics of the past.

Sources: Reading Eagle Wikipedia

Embassy Theatre – 700 block Penn Street

Historical Society of Berks County

Built on the site of the Empire Theatre. The Embassy Theatre in Reading, PA opened April 4, 1931, with the movie “Stolen Heaven” starring Nancy Carroll. It was owned by Wilmer and Vincent Corp. The Embassy Theatre was designed by Philadelphia architect William H. Lee with his associates Armand de Cortieux Carroll and Charles E. Horn. Dazzling, semi-Atmospheric Art Deco style movie palaces designed by Lee’s firm had opened in late-1930 in Norristown, PA (the Norris Theatre) and in Philadelphia (the Erlen Theatre).

image from the Passing Scene

Like the Norris Theatre and the Erlen Theatre, the Embassy Theatre was a movie palace that combined an Atmospheric style with the new decor of Art Moderne and the more lavish materials of Art Deco. Yet this theatre was even more fanciful, and could have been named ‘The Embassy of the Future’. The futuristic design of the theatre appears inspired by Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” (1927) and the German Expressionist architecture underlying that movie.

The facade was glazed and polychrome Terra Cotta from Conkling-Armstrong of Philadelphia. The oval shaped aluminum ticket booth had carved glass and a marble base. The copper marquee had a glass ceiling. As if it were a rocket, an illuminated lantern topped the 80 feet tall, copper vertical tower! More than 2,000 feet of glass tubing was used for the neon, red neon for letters, and blue and green for the rest.

The lobby’s movie poster frames were set in a wall of black marble. The foyer had copper walls with aluminum horizontal molding and a ceiling of geometric design. Stairs from the foyer led up to the auditorium’s rear loges. A main lounge was on the lower level. Every last detail was Art Deco, including furniture, oval mirrors, drinking fountains, telephone booths, chandeliers and carpet.

The most amazing feature of the Embassy Theatre was in its 2,246 seat Atmospheric style auditorium, which used rolling metal gates instead of a stage curtain! Instead of the curtain, a metal grille with rolling gates was provided from two tons of carved wood, steel track, and steel draperies. Six grille gates with Art Deco style carvings slowly opened in series. The setting represented an aluminum gateway and arch on a terraced lawn. Silhouettes of tall tree tops faintly illuminated in the shadows of the night appeared in the distance.

image from the Passing Scene

In place of the usual stage, a green terrace rose from the auditorium floor with stone steps, such as might be used in ascending from a sunken garden to the heights of an upper lawn. On the stage level, shrubbery and ornamental garden benches furnished a screen at the sides.

image from the Passing Scene

The auditorium’s side walls near the stage had large columns to accentuate the screen as the focal point. The balcony, side walls and projection booth simulated an outside garden pavilion connected with arcades. Ornamental sea horses were at the balcony pavilions and front. The domed ceiling had a deep blue sky effect curving down behind the garden gates, and with the tall pillars and lights gave the impression of a still greater vista beyond. On the ceiling, stars twinkled, and there were moving clouds.

image from the Passing Scene

There was a section for the hard of hearing, with ear phones.

Source – CinemaTreasures.org

Click to Enlarge

The Embassy Theatre was damaged by fire on March 16th, 1970. It was was demolished on Nov. 10th, 1972 for the Penn Mall, which was never built.

Currently, the DoubleTree Hilton Hotel sits on the site of the former Embassy Theatre.

Sno-Kist – Route 222 – Shillington

Photo taken by C.E. Werley

Sno-Kist was a beloved summer ice-cream place that was located along route 222, just south of Shillington. It was directly across the street from an Adult Video store called the RT. 222 News Outlet and was just north of Simotas Dairy Bar. The building had been an ice cream stand since the 1950s, always called Sno-Kist, but only operated under the most recent and final management since 1988, when it was purchased by Dimitrios Kiritsis.

Image from the Sno-kist facebook fan page
Aerial of the ice cream stand in 1958

Sno-Kist eventually became a casualty of the 222 highway expansion in the early 2000s, along with many other businesses that were located along Lancaster Pike. Sno-kist ultimately closed permanently after the offer from the state not being enough to relocate the business.

August 5th, 1999 Reading Eagle article, click to enlarge

Above is the view today of where Sno-Kist once stood. The former site of Sno-kist is right on the South bound lanes of 222. Macadamed over but forever in the memories of those who enjoyed a sweet summer treat there. You can just see the green roof of the home in the first picture above peaking out from above the sound barrier.

On this Day – June 19th 1972

See what was happening in the June 19th 1972 Reading Eagle-

(click to enlarge)

Hurricane Agnes hits the Florida coast, 14 people were killed. The hurricane would hit Berks County hard just three days later, wreaking havoc on the area.

This morning’s rain delayed until this afternoon the opening of Reading’s playgrounds, but it didn’t dampen things at Hillside Playground where these youngsters decided not to wait and improvised their box hockey equipment – sticks and a stone. Jeffery A. White, left foreground, 10, and Glenn A. Sell, right, 12, square off at the hockey box. Donald P. Boyer, squatting, 12, and Jeffery’s 12 year-old sister, Marcia, watch the contest while Todd D. Evangelista, left, 12, and Timothy L. Clawges, 14, find comfortable perches on the back of a park bench. – Eagle Photo

Schells in West Lawn, now the location of the Ranch House
In the theatre’s in June 1972

Bob Parmer in the Bad Habit AA/Fuel Altered Flat readies to go against Wild Willie Borsch in the Winged Express Saturday night at Maple Grove Dragway in the East vs. West Fuel Altered Challenge. Parmer set two Grove marks in this final run as the East was a 4-2 winner. Parmer, Wrightsville, had a 6.86/205.01 on this run.

Train Derailment – Wyomissing – 1977

Photos Courtesy of Jere Stamm

On Sunday morning, December 4th, 1977, 26 cars of a Conrail freight train derailed right near the intersection of Clayton and Penn Avenue in Wyomissing. The train was bound for Bethlehem from Harrisburg, and was carrying coal.

Ironically, another train derailment happened on the same stretch of track just two months ago in April of 2019. This one was carrying trash and took a few weeks to fully clean up.

Join the discussion on our forum about these derailments by clicking here