Flash back to Perkiomen Ave in 1978. Apparently this was an area prone to accidents. Popular places of the past pictured are King Hamburgers, Fecera’s Furnture, Sweet William Restaurant and Pathmark.
Drivers Beware – Uncontrolled intersection, confusing entrances and exits, and the lack of a median strip make this five-mile stretch of the Philadelphia Pike in Exeter Township a dangerous road to take. Eight people died in traffic accidents here this year.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
There was a section for the hard of hearing, with ear phones.
Hugo’s was a dance club and bar, incorporated on August 17th, 1972. It was located in Muhlenberg, specifically Laureldale, at the location of the current Alebrije Mexican Restaurant in Plaza 222. Hugo’s was owned by Leonard Kochen, who also owned Grammy’s Restaurant in Reading. It was originally called Disco Hugo’s, but eventually dropped the “Disco” and was more commonly referred to as “Hugo’s”.
Hugo’s offered disco dance lessons in the 70s, but also had a lot of popular bands headlining on other nights throughout its tenure. Many may remember a few of the acts that played there; a couple notable ones being the Sharks and the Jordan Brothers. There was something to go do or see almost any night of the week.
Hugo’s closed in 1988.
In 1991 the club was revived briefly under new ownership but still went by the Hugo’s name.
There were issues with the liquor license transfer and the club was forced to have only “all-age” shows with no alcohol. This must have been short lived because there is no other information on the club until 1996.
In 1996 Hugo’s would gain its liquor license, change its name to the Lions Den and reopen. This was the beginning of the end of the establishment.
The club was starting to attract a less than savory crowd who caused trouble in the parking lot. Police were consistently called to break up altercations and eventually deemed the club a public nuisance. The owners of the club again changed the name to the Confetti Nightclub & Bar, assumedly in an attempt to move away from the reputation the Lion’s Den had gained. By the end, there had been two different shootings outside the club and it was finally shut down and the club’s contents were auctioned off in February of 2001.
Today, Alebrije occupies the space, and has for a long time. If you remember anything being in here between Confetti Nightclub and Alebrije, please let me know in the comments.
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.