Sears Roebuck and Co. opened with fanfare in the York County Shopping Center. About 35 years later, Sears moved from its outdated store to new digs in the York Galleria. A busy Giant store covers Sears former footprint in the renamed York Marketplace. The shopping center and landmarks like Gino’s feeding off its traffic continue to fascinate local residents. Background posts: ‘I still have my memories … of the bustling downtown York business district’, Bury’s burger memories far from buried and Playland plays nostalgic note for York countians.
The photo with the post Just try to resist studying this memory-tugging photograph spawned the eagerly expected e-mails and comments.
For Bill Landes, as one example, it brought to mind Gino’s:
“What a great photo, lots of memories. Across the street from the Shopping Center entrance (I think) was the first Gino’s 15 cent Hamburger Joint. I remember Gino Marchetti and Alan Ameche signing autographs there at the grand opening …1960 or 61??”
As popular as the controversial Geno’s is in Philadelphia, York’s Gino’s was an equally popular spot around here… .
All this response renewed my search for a piece that would further help place the popularity of Gino’s, Sears, the shopping center and that entire area into context.
The York Daily Record/York Sunday News’ digital archives quickly revealed a thoughtful look at the center in 1993, when it was undergoing the radical renovations that led to its look today:
Stuck at 20 minutes of 10, the hands on the York County Shopping Center clock haven’t moved in years.
The center is an eyesore, a mostly vacant strip of shops along prosperous East Market Street in Springettsbury Township. Its demolition, now under way, is a blessing, a merciful end to an enfeebled vestige of York County’s past.
From the rubble a new generation of stores will emerge. The New York partnership that acquired the center in lieu of foreclosure three years ago, will call it York Marketplace.
“We’re losing a cultural, economic, social landmark there,” said Tom Schaefer, an administrator at Penn State-York who studies local history.
When the York County Shopping Center opened in 1956 there was none like it in York County. It spearheaded growth east of the city. It probably started the demise of downtown York, said Don Epstein, whose family firm was developing nearby Haines Acres subdivision at the same time.
The center wasn’t much to look at.
The architectural theme was “functional,” said Schaefer.
“It was just so convenient to go one place and buy anything,” said Paul Whiteman, 67, who built most of the homes in Haines Acres. “It just completely changed the way we lived.”
Downtown York was still thriving in the 1950s with its department stores and nearby grocers. But an influx of cars to the county after World War II and the few, unsynchronized traffic lights in the city meant congestion downtown, recalls Schaefer, who grew up in East York.
The York County Shopping Center was a welcome relief.
Acme Markets and Food Fair were among the first tenants. W.T. Grant Co., McCrorys, Joe the Motorist’s Friend – an auto parts store – and the East York Bowling Lanes were also there at the beginning.
And of course, there was Sears Roebuck and Co., the reason the shopping center was built in the first place. It moved from downtown York and became the center’s most important anchor. It was a nice change for Whiteman, who had been going to York Paint and Hardware in the city to buy equipment.
“Even in my building trade, if I needed a couple drills, let’s face it, how could I get them any faster?” Whiteman said.
As a child, Schaefer would pile with his family into his father’s black Dodge or grandfather’s green Oldsmobile for the short drive to the York County Shopping Center, usually to buy groceries.
“The big draw to me was always to get 10 or 15 minutes to go into Roger’s Toys,” Schaefer said. He would marvel at the bicycles and gasoline-powered model airplanes. “We would occasionally go into Sears,” he said. “I really wouldn’t pay attention to what my parents were buying.”
The York County Shopping Center was also home to a number of popular watering holes over the years. The Embers was a favorite haunt of nearby Caterpillar workers when it closed late last year.
Early on, there was Liborio’s, then The Pump Room, and finally The Office – where Western Auto is now.
The old joke was to tell the wife you’d be working late at “The Office,” said Bob LeCates, a consulting engineer for Springettsbury Township.
The idea for the center came from Julius Vinik of New Jersey, who owned the old Sears building in downtown York, said Robert Cronheim, 63, president of Suburban Corp. in Chatham, N.J.
Vinik also worked with Suburban. Sears told Vinik the store was too small and it wanted to move to a larger building in the growing east end, Cronheim said.
Suburban then bought a large tract along East Market from Horace Veesey for $175,000 in 1954, according to county deed records.
At the time, East Market was three lanes. Hap Miller’s restaurant was where Hill’s department store is today, and Joe Bury had a hamburger stand just east of the present-day Hardee’s. Gino’s, the first fast-food joint in the area, would open up later across the street, where The Boulevard restaurant is today.
Behind Bury’s and the Playland roller rink was an old race track converted into a trailer park. Best Co. is near there now. The old York-Whitehull Airport, next door to the center, had closed in 1953. Springettsbury Township Fire chief Glenn Kline remembers watching the mail plane swoop low over the field, dangling its hook to snatch mail bags.
“We’d go out and watch mail planes come in and say `miss it,’ ” Kline said.
Shoppers flocked to York County Shopping Center for years, but things began to change in the late 1960s when the York Mall was built where the old airport was, said Whiteman.
“The center started falling apart when the York Mall opened. The only thing holding it together was Sears.”
Then Sears left in 1989 to move into the new York Galleria mall two miles away on Whiteford Road.
By that time, the center was peppered with empty stores. Cronheim had sold the shopping center to National Property Analysts of Philadelphia for $10.3 million in 1987. National Property was forced to turn it over to a creditor, MLH Income Realty V of New York City, in 1989 when NPA couldn’t pay its debts. After not renewing leases of many of the remaining tenants, MLH announced plans for the new center, to be completed by this fall.
Lowe’s home improvement center will move there from nearby Industrial Highway. A grocery store will go where Sears used to be. The bowling alley will stay. So will the Ben Franklin craft shop, Red Lobster restaurant and Western Auto.
All the rest will go. Even the sign that towers over East Market Street.
When it does, Schaefer hopes someone will be there to take pictures and record its dimensions.
It might be above ground, he said, but it’s an archaeological relic.