In response, I received a wonderful letter from the Rev. Charles W. Keller of Hummelstown.
Rev. Keller writes, “I worked at Schwenk’s News Stand at 47 1/2 West Market Street from 1954 through 1961. I was a mere 13 years old, my family had just moved from Wrightsville to York. I carried newspapers for Mr. Schwenk in Wrightsville. When he learned we would be moving to York he said, ‘I will have a job for you, I would like you to work in my newsstand.’ I was 13 years old and started work there at 33 cents an hour.”
He continues, “Mr. John Schwenk was a fine man. ‘Johnny’ as he was known, had some serious deformities in his body, especially in his legs and feet, but he was always smiling and a great man to work for. I did not know of a newsstand at 14 N. George St. but I did know about two stands he owned, one in the first block of W. Philadelphia St. and one at West Market St. where the Plough Tavern now stands. The Plough was one of Mr. Schwenk’s newsstands before its modern facade was removed to reveal the building as it now stands.”
“The newsstand at 47 1/2 W. Market was an old alley way (enclosed) between two businesses (The Deb Shop and York Supply Company) and remains there to this day. It was just the place for a teenage boy, that is, next to The Deb Shop owned by a Mr. Sussman where all of the upscale teenage girls of the city came to buy the latest fashions for teens. My customers were downtown merchants, attorneys, pastors, employees of the many stores, and hundreds of shoppers who came to the city during the week and in greater numbers Friday nights and Saturdays.”
Now he gets to the part I’m most excited about! Rev. Keller says, “We sold newspapers from many places including of course, the York Dispatch that published two editions every day, and the Gazette and Daily, a morning paper. We sold magazines of every kind with our largest sellers being ones with names like Seventeen (for teenage girls) LIFE, LOOK, SATURDAY EVENING POST, and the most popular gossip magazine of the day called CONFIDENTIAL. We had a good business selling paperback books then called ‘pocket books.’ These books were displayed on racks to the rear of the store. One Friday night a city official was looking at the paperbacks, and I, watching him in a mirror saw him put one in his coat pocket. On the way out he purchased for 24 cents a pack of Lucky Strikes and was about to leave when I asked him if he wanted to pay for the book he had put into his pocket. The embarrassed official paid quickly and never tried that again.”
He adds, “I remember too that one item we sold by the hundreds over the weekend was Smitties Soft Pretzels. The price of a pretzel was 7 cents and they were the best soft pretzels I ever ate.” (I would agree; in fact, you can even order some Smittie’s online if you’d like to have some sent to Hummelstown!)
Anyway, back to the newsstand. Rev. Keller says, “The manager of Schwenk’s was a Mr. James Bostic who lived on the third floor above the York Supply Company. If I needed him I would drop a foot long piece of iron used to keep magazines from blowing away. The iron hitting the sidewalk could be heard a half-block away. My best memory of that was having to used it on a Saturday night when stores were closed but we were open until 9 p.m. A man entered the newsstand and his actions aroused my suspicion. When I saw a pistol in his hand I ran out, dropped the iron and Mr. Bostic came down but not before the man disappeared. City police looked for but never found him.”
He adds, “A good day at the newsstand was when I took the money bag to Mr. Bostic with a cash register reading over sixty dollars. Mr. Schwenk was always smiling but when the register readings exceeded sixty dollars he had an in-describable glow. Mr. Bostic and I lobbied Mr. Schwenk to close the stand at 6 p.m. on Saturdays, telling him that after 5 p.m. we were not selling enough to pay the utility bill. Mr. Schwenk always replied, ‘Men, as long as the cash
register rings we will stay open.’ Working at Schwenk’s Newsstand was the joy of my teenage years in York except that is, for Friday night football games when York High’s band marched past playing and kids following them to Small Athletic Field for a game I could not attend because I had to work.”
He concludes, “I worked there until I went off to Albright College. I was a lucky lad to be able to work in downtown York for Mr. Schwenk and Mr. Bostic and … because I always had money in my pocket, in my savings account, and never wanted for anything including a 49 Pontiac I bought and paid cash for the day before I was sixteen. O what memories! Thanks for your column that got me to thinking about a time that is gone forever.”
Thank YOU, Rev. Keller, for sharing some of that time with me! I’d have loved to come visit the newsstand in its heyday!