Only in York County

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Readers recall Tanger’s, whistle and Greek Christmas cookies

Christmas image from Betsy Baird
A longtime Only in York County reader named Betsy Baird, who has since passed away, shared this Christmas card back in 2011. To those who celebrate, Merry Christmas, York County style!

I’m sure everyone has been busy getting ready for the holidays. In our house, things got a little more hectic than normal when my mom fell and broke her hip. She’s recovering quite well, but there’s nothing like a family emergency to cause you to stop and think, “Do I REALLY need to buy even more gifts, or are there more important things to focus on?” I’m just glad she’s healing so nicely and going to be able to be home with us soon; it’s the best gift I could ask for this Christmas.

What’s inside

1. More on Tanger’s Toyland in Hanover
2. An additional Christmas whistle memory
3. Remembering Roupas family contributions

1. Tanger’s Toyland

About a month ago, we had talked about the holiday display at Tanger Hardware in Hanover, which took up most of the store’s second floor at Christmastime.

I received another great memory about that event that I’d like to share this week, from Larry Wallace. Larry wrote:

“I would like to add some information about Tanger’s Toyland. I was a teacher, and just like most teachers at that time I had a summer job. From 1973 until 1985 that job was at J.C. Tanger and Sons Hardware. It was full-time in the summer and weekends in spring and fall as well as the Christmas holiday season.”

He continued, “This was a very old business. If I remember correctly, it started as Tanger and Metzger in the 1850s and eventually became just Tanger’s. When I worked there John C. Tanger Jr., who was in his late 80s at the time, worked every day. We very respectfully referred to him as ‘Mr. John.’ John C. Tanger III, his son, we called Jack.”

Larry added, “The Hanover downtown in the mid- to late ’70s was still the shopping district; the malls hadn’t arrived yet. The toyland tradition goes back to the ’50s and ’60s, but was still doing well in the ’70s. It was managed at that time by Mark Deardorf, and each spring or summer he and Jack would go to Chicago to a huge toy show. All the toy makers were displaying the new toys that were predicted to be big sellers at Christmas. When the toys arrived at the store, Mark would start setting up the second floor toyland. Most of the toy business was done at Christmas, but toys were sold all year. Each summer the downtown stores would have sidewalk sales, and Tanger’s would sell a lot of the toys that weren’t as popular as predicted to make room for new stock next year. And yes, we did have layaway for those Christmas toys.”

He concluded, “As the malls came in to the area, Tanger’s couldn’t remain competitive with toys, and toyland closed. The downtown store closed about 1984.”

Larry, I hate hearing things like that but am so grateful to you for sharing this memory!

2. Whistle memories continue

On another holiday-season note, I received another letter recently about the Christmas steam whistle concerts in York.

This came from Lee Wagner, who wrote: “Just a note on the steam whistle. I took music lessons from Alex Smyser in the ’40s when he played the annual Christmas music on the steam whistle at the New York Wire Screen Co. every Christmas Eve. He also had a small band that played in the area. He lived on West Philadelphia Street just west of Roosevelt Avenue. His studio was on the second floor.”

Lee added, “He was a big heavy man that had a hard time getting into the small area to play the whistle. He lost 10 to 20 pounds each season he played it, It was very warm causing him to sweat a lot. At that time there was no mistaking what tunes were being played. We often heard them two miles northwest of the city.”

Lee, thank you for adding to our steam whistle stories! I am looking forward to seeing if I can hear this year’s – we could from our house just outside the city in West Manchester Township, but we just moved back to Dover Township in May so I think I’ll be live-streaming this year’s!

3. Memories of Roupas family contributions

My final letter today comes from Chris Roupas and is a follow-up to a column from back in July where we talked about Greek Christmas cookies.

Chris wrote, “Thank you for your stories you write that touch upon the proud history of York, PA… A reader, Marian, talked about my grandmother Olga Roupas (he article said Rufus) who brought her Greek cookies at Christmas time. My grandfather Christ Roupas and his brother, my great-uncle Gust, ran the shoe shop on the square. Their uncle Nick Roupas had the shop in the 1890s until my grandfather came to York in 1907 to work there until he and my Uncle Gust bought the shop from Nick. The shop also was a hat cleaning and hat repair shop as well. It was located between Newswanger’s shoe store and Futer Brothers jewelry store.” I should add that Chris noted that grandfather and great-uncle’s names were pronounced with the Ts silent, so “Chris” and “Gus.”

He continued, “Their journey has been well documented in your newspaper when they retired in the ’70s. It seemed many of the Greek immigrants that came to York got their start working at the shoe repair shop until they got settled. Nick, Christ and Gust Roupas were also three of the five people that started the Greek church in York that has since moved from the city out to York Township. My aunt, their daughter, absolutely loved your story as we all smiled when we read about the part of Marian recalling the Greek cookies… My brother Gus has the original Roupas sign from the shop on the square at his house today. Great stuff. Thank you so much for all you, Jim McClure and Gordon Freireich do to keep York alive through its past and great history.”

Chris, thank YOU for sharing more of your family’s story with us, and I apologize that it took me this long to share your letter!

Have questions or memories to share? Email me at or write to Ask Joan, York Daily Record/Sunday News, 1891 Loucks Road, York PA 17408. We cannot accept any phone calls with questions or information.