York Town Square

Part of the USAToday Network

Wiest’s first store in Dover: ‘Segars’ 5 cents a grab

The Wiest family that owned the venerable Wiest’s Department Store of York also operated the Wiest Motor Co., a Chrysler/Plymouth dealership, at 462 W. Market St. It later moved to 1890 W. Market St. Background post: York’s Wolf Organization builds from deep foundation and Add Blind Melon’s Thorn to list of Dover-area celebs.

And here’s another luminary from Dover, that town that has produced so many famous folks.
This one is a local celebrity.
Doverite Peter Wiest founded the celebrated Wiest’s Department Store on West Market Street in York. It was one of the big three in York’s downtown during the first 75 years of the 20th century, joined by Bear’s and the Bon-Ton.
In fact, Wiest’s started as a general store in Dover – an establishment that resembled a shed. That was in 1843… .

A history states that he sold “segars” at 5 cents a grab. The man with the biggest grab made the buy for his small-handed friends. York County Heritage Trust ledgers show Wiest sold 5 cents worth of whiskey, 10 cents for a dozen eggs or a pound of butter. Three-quarters of a cord of wood sold for $2.25.
A fire and snowstorm destroyed his Dover enterprise, and he moved to the big town – York.
And the rest is history, as told in this excerpted story in Builders and Heroes, published as part of York County’s 250th anniversary in 1999:

Christian Wiest, a member of the York County militia during the Revolutionary War and a relative of today’s 82-year-old John Wiest, stepped into the pre-dawn mist each day for a walk between two ghosts, one white and one black.
John Wiest and his wife, June, smiled at the myth unearthed by R.D. Silver from Denver, Colo. They had forgotten about it. June scanned the yellowed pages that Silver compiled in 1933 about his Wiest kin. On page 5, she found the the story.
She ran a finger along the faded typewritten lines and read aloud.
“Tradition has it that Christian Wiest . . . was compelled, on account of some offense committed, to walk every morning before dawn between two ghosts,” she read. “He was enjoined to talk to neither, and the morning of his violation of the injunction, he received a stroke of paralysis and immediately died.”
The legend had not made its way to John Wiest until Silver visited. He remembered the York County tour his father, Philip R. Wiest, gave to Silver.
“He took him to Spring Grove,” Wiest recalled. “There was a farm up there whose owners were related to the Wiest family. I know exactly where the land is. The land around has been developed into a shopping center.”
That would be today’s Spring Forge shopping center.
He remembered being in the large farmhouse, which has since been torn down.
Wiest never knew his great-grandfather, Peter Wiest, the founder of one of York County’s premier department stores. He is among the last of Peter Wiest’s direct descendants still in the county. The Wiest’s only child, Peter, is a physician of infectious diseases and geographic medicine in Cleveland. Before settling down to provide stability for his family – wife Linda, Tyler John, 8, and Allie, 10 – he had traveled widely to work in China, Japan and Africa.
Back in 1843, another Peter Wiest opened a shed-like general store in Dover.
“Peter Wiest decided that a larger town would give him better opportunities,” John Wiest said. “He packed his goods in a big box for York. But a great village fire damaged his goods and a snowstorm finished them off.”
Undeterred, John Wiest’s entrepreneurial ancestor set up a store at 218 W. Market St. selling rakes, calico and farm goods. He made nails in his blacksmith shop.
A flood in 1884 led Peter Wiest to move his business. When he died in 1887, his sons renamed the firm P. Wiest’s Sons.
“My grandfather ran the department store,” John Wiest said.
In 1895, P. Wiest’s Sons built its final home of four stories and a basement on the south side of West Market Street near Continental Square. It dropped the blacksmith shop and sugar sales and specialized in ready-to-wear clothes.
P. Wiest’s Sons formed a closed corporation in 1913, in which Harry Wiest, the founder’s son, brought in Leon S. Hydeman and J.M. Rogers, formerly of Gimbel Brothers. In time, Albert Hydeman Sr. was named president and Albert Hydeman Jr., the secretary.
Hydeman Jr., by the way, served with York Mayor Bill Althaus as the director of economic and community development.
John Wiest’s father, Philip Wiest, worked at the family store – but not for long. It was, however, where he met his future bride, Tennetta Seyler, also a store employee.
“It was a big store,” John Wiest remembered. “There were three major department stores in York – the Bon-Ton, Bears and Wiest’s. I remember when I was a kid on Saturday night, people flocked downtown to shop.”
The store celebrated its 125th year in 1968. It closed four years later, victim to the shopping center phenomenon, John Wiest said.
“I worked there during the summers,” he said. “I was just a kid then.”
John Wiest graduated from the Mercersburg Academy, then joined the U.S. Air Force for four years. He never left the country. When he returned to York, he and June bought a 150-acre farm in Springettsbury Township. That would have been in 1953. It’s where their son grew up, where they raised black Angus cows and grain crops for feed.
He gave up farming after a heart attack 15 years ago but kept the homestead. The century-and-a-half-old restored home nestles among birdsongs, trees and a meadow down a short lane behind much newer homes.
Sources: Interview with John and June Wiest; The Wiest Family by R.D. Silver in 1933.

Other York Town Square posts involving national newsmakers or news stories with Dover ties: Jeff Koons, Ray Krone, Daniel Drawbaugh, Jeb Stuart, John Kuhn , Scott Strausbaugh and the intelligent design case.
Also: John “Clarkie” Souza, Cate Reinart (mother of Nick and Drew Lachey), long trumpeter Bill School, rock group Blind Melon’s Chris Thorn, Jeff Koons, Part II, Gov. George Leader, weightlifting guru Bob Hoffman.