A water pumping station along Old Lancaster Pike in Cumru Township owned by Citizens Utilities Water Co. was destroyed in an explosion Tuesday night, leveling the structure to concrete slabs. The force of the explosion, heard up to five miles away, blew the doors off the building through the containment fence.
“Fearing that the blast had triggered a chlorine leak, police evacuated some 200 residents from about 40 homes after the 10:15 explosion. Police told residents to leave the area for a brief time. No Injuries were reported. Residents were allowed to return a short time later after officials determined there was no chlorine in the station.“
“Cumru Township Fire Marshal Timothy M. Dougherty said the explosion may have been sparked by a malfunction in either a gas generator or furnace operating inside the 30-by-30-foot concrete pumping station near Trusty’s Lawn & Garden Equipment along route 222.“
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.
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.
Many businesses along the Lancaster Pike were taken by eminent domain by the state in the early 2000s, when PennDot was making the final connection of 222 from 422 south toward Lancaster.
Owners of businesses and homes that impeded the construction of the highway were offered compensation for their properties, though generally in situations like this the state’s offer is a complete lowball. If owners say no, the state condemns their properties and takes it anyway. There really isn’t a way to win when the government decides it wants your land. Many businesses along the route drug out this process as long as they possibly could.
A few businesses like Sno Kist were put out of businesses completely due to not getting the money they needed to relocate the business. Many people lost their family homes.
If the state condemns a property, Goida said, it compensates the owner based on a state appraisal and takes title to the property. Owners have the right to seek additional compensation by appealing the matter to a court-appointed Board of Viewers. Out of the 107 properties the state needs to acquire, about three quarters are residences, officials said, and the remaining are businesses. Part of the state’s acquisition process involves trying to help owners relocate, according to Goida.
Colonial Hills Bowl
Colonial Hills was opened in 1957 along route 222 just south of Shillington. It was owned for a majority of those years by Albert Blough, owner of Berks Lanes, Heister Lanes and Limerick Bowl. It hosted many bowling leagues, school games and tournaments over the years. It also had a fitness center that many people belonged to. The center was a hub of social activity for the community for over 40 years.
Because owners of those businesses were not receptive to the state’s offers, Goida said, PennDOT must begin court proceedings to acquire the properties as quickly as possible. “Since we weren’t able to agree on a price,” Goida said, “we were forced to file the condemnation papers”.
Colonial Hills shut down on July 31st, 2001 for the final time. It had successfully moved over to the newly expanded Berks Lanes on Rt. 724 in Sinking Spring. Its contents, including dozens of arcade video games, a walk-in cooler, a bar and many other items were auctioned off on August 21st, 2001 by the state. It was demolished soon after.
Route 222 News Outlet
Directly across from Sno Kist was the Route 222 News Outlet, which was an adult entertainment store. It was owned by Thomas Masciantonio who tried to get the store relocated to a different site he purchased in Brecknock Township. He was opposed by local residents and churches, whose lawyers claimed this site would be unable to be developed because it was a bog-turtle habitat. The bog turtle is an endangered species in Pennsylvania, and federal guidelines protect its habitats from being developed.
Masciantonio provided four different land redevelopment plans for the location but all were denied, appealed and denied again due to the nature of his business. Rt. 222 News Outlet was demolished and never relocated.
The parking lot of the Route 222 News Outlet was also the scene of a grisly murder that is still unsolved. On August 6th, 1999 Gary A. Miller was found dead with multiple gunshot wounds in his car on the lot. Investigators said he was shot while in the car and managed to turn it on and begin driving away before succumbing to his wounds. He lost control of the vehicle and crashed into a fence in front of the Sport Cycle Suzuki business next door.
A motive for the crime nor the murderer have been found.
Sport Cycle Suzuki
Northbound traffic flows by Sport-Cycle Suzuki, which has yet to move from its Cumru Township location to make way for the Route 222 extension project.
The Sport Cycle Suzuki was one of if not the last business to vacate the 222 construction area. Their new location was being built along Route 61 in Leesport, and had a few months to be finished by the August 20th 2001 eviction deadline. The business is still located along Rt 61 in Leesport today.
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.
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.
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.
In 1925, the new Shillington High School was constructed on East Lancaster Avenue on land that was part of the Berks County Alms House complex. An addition of twelve rooms was completed in 1930 and four more rooms were completed in 1936. The last senior class of the Shillington High School graduated in 1953, after which time the building served the newly organized Governor Mifflin School District. It served as Governor Mifflin High School until 1957 when it became Governor Mifflin Junior High School. In 1962, extensive renovations and a sizable addition were completed.
The remodeled building served the community for 30 more years before it was demolished during the summer of 1992, to make way for the new Governor Mifflin Middle School. This building proudly displayed the motto, Learn To Live … Live To Learn for 67 years. The very same letters were saved and are proudly displayed today on the Governor Mifflin Middle School on the same site and nearly the same place. –Source
Below is a video of the demolition of the building from 1992: