1940s Penn Street – Whitner’s Department Store & Sears at Christmas
The Hitching Post was a very popular restaurant located in the Springmont section of West Lawn. Built in the 1930s, it was originally a Howard Johnson’s. It then became an establishment called the Imperial Club. Finally, it became the Hitching Post in the 1960s. Countless anniversaries, birthdays, organizational meetings and other celebrations were held here over the course of 4 decades.
The Hitching Post in West Lawn closed its doors in mid-1997.
In February 1999 Wawa finalized development plans for a Wawa Convenience store to be built on the site of the Hitching Post, and in July they purchased it.
Wawa opened it’s West Lawn location shortly after New Year 2000. Not everyone was happy with Wawa’s rampant takeover of Berks.
As much as I love Wawa, maybe Kyle has a point. We sacrifice history for convenience all the time. Many of these places that take us back to a different time are gone, but my goal with Berks Nostalgia is to make sure they are never forgotten.
The Hitching Post returned in 2011, under a new generation of the Zeppos family, who owned it in West Lawn from 1979-1991. It is located in Bern Township along Route 183. It is still in business today and has great reviews.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Woolworth’s 6th and Penn Reading store was opened on September 20th, 1884, under the name, “Woolworth & Knox”. It was just three doors across 6th street from the successful Pomeroy’s department store.
Woolworth’s moved to the Berkshire Mall when it opened in 1970, as did many of the successful Penn Street department stores. Woolworth’s was again next to Pomeroy’s (first Lit Brothers, but only 1970-1975) near the center of the mall. It could be accessed from the outside of the mall, and was also a restaurant called “Harvest House”.
Woolworths chain started declining in the 80s due to over-expansion, and it is believed the Mall location closed for good in the mid-late 90s. The inner-mall part was subdivided into a few more store spaces. The back half that was accessible from the outside was divided off.
Above is the outside entrance to what was the Woolworth’s at the Berkshire Mall as it is today, next to the defunct BonTon. As long as I can remember this space has been unoccupied. If you remember it being anything since Woolworth’s closing, please post in the comments.