Only in York County

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Readers share more memories of days in downtown York


Charles V. Goodwin of Windsor submitted several photos of York's downtown area through the years, including this one.
Charles V. Goodwin of Windsor submitted several photos of York’s downtown area through the years, including this one.

Today, I’d love to share two letters from readers who recall how they passed their time in downtown York in the past. I hope you’ll enjoy these memories of the Salvation Army Band, the Fabric Shop and more!

First, reader Kitty Peters wrote in response to an earlier column on Alice Hoffer’s Dress Shop, also known as The Fabric Shop, a well-known former York business.

Kitty writes, “I was interested in your column about Alice Hoffer Batigne and her marvelous dress shop. But your informants were apparently too young to remember the original Fabric Shop, and the succeeding location.”

She continued, “I was just out of college… and wanted to learn to sew properly. Alice hired me as an apprentice in the sewing room of her Fabric Shop in the first block of North Beaver Street where she indeed sold fabrics and made beautiful clothes for women. From there she moved her shop and me to East Market Street across from the Martin Library. Shortly thereafter, she changed from making clothes to selling ready made clothes. That was in 1944. She remained in that location for about 15 years and then moved to the building across from the YWCA. I worked with Alice on and off for many years, and could give you a history of dear Alice and her remarkable shop.”

Kitty concluded, “I hate to think her memory will not be a part of York. Someone should remember her accurately for she was a marvel.”

Kitty, I agree – and I am so glad we can work to document our York County marvels like Alice! I am certainly interested in as much information as we can gather!

Also today, I’d like to share some thoughts from Emerson H. Rodgers, who shared with me some reminisces of shopping on Friday nights in downtown York.

“We will have to go early in order to get a parking space,” he recalled. “Maybe we can park in the… garage on Philadelphia Street. If not, we’ll just have to run around until someone leaves. From 6 to 9 p.m. the sidewalks on West Market Street, between the Square and Beaver Street, are so full of shoppers that you can not walk, you are just pushed along. Some of the stores have an air conditioning vent in their entrance, blowing cold air out onto the sidewalk, saying ‘Come in this store, cool off, and spend your money.'”

He continued, “As a young kid, I used to like to watch the beggars. The young boys would grab your sleeve and say ‘Give me a dime.’ They seemed to know just who to approach! The same kids were there every week. There was an organ grinder, with a monkey, with a hat. When you put money in his tin cup, he tipped his hat. There was a blind accordion player with a tin cup attached to his accordion. These people walked up and back on the sidewalk between the Square and Beaver Street. A man with no legs always sat on the sidewalk at the same spot. He had his cap laying beside him, with pencils. You put money in the cap and took a pencil. I never saw anyone take a pencil.”

And Emerson continued, “I always listened to the Salvation Army Band. They stood in a parking space on North George Street, aside of Bair’s store. They played hymns and gave a testimony. My dad always took me into Woolworth’s store, stood me at the tin soldier display table and gave me 25 cents to purchase one soldier. Can you imagine how I looked forward to those Friday nights! I collected tin soldiers ever since those days.”

He concluded, “At 9 p.m., the stores closed. We would always go to either Fisher’s or Bierman’s restaurant, on our way home, for an oyster dinner. None of the present day shopping centers can match the sheer joy of Friday night shopping in downtown York, Pa., in 1930-1940.”

Emerson, thank you so much for sharing those memories… you have made that shopping experience come alive for me and, I hope, many of those reading this!