The header pic is of Wotring’s Store located at the corner of Church and Crane. Harry S Wotring purchased 316-318 Church in 1907 and added on to the building in 1910, more than doubling the size of the building. He carried dry goods, notions, shoes, groceries, cured meats, etc. His brother Clinton took over the business in 1947. The store operated for 46 years. During the 60’s, Clarence Keiser sold frozen chocolate covered bananas out of this location that kids would buy on their way home from the Catty Pool during the summer. This was one of many stores located in Catasauqua that allowed residents to purchase life’s necessities without having to leave their neighborhoods.
The Catasauqua Dispatch of Feb 15, 1934 ran a story on corner stores in Catasauqua written by Wilson W. Edgar. “Wils” grew up here, received his early journalism training at the Dispatch, and later became asst sports editor for the Detroit Free Press and writer of featured articles. This article was titled “MY OLD HOME TOWN, The Old Fashioned Grocery Stores – They Were the Pulse of the Town – “Coal Oil” Johnny’s Favored Place“. It was shared with HCPA by David Heiney and reproduced here in part.
“Often as I sit alone in silent communication with the memory of boyhood days in Catasauqua, I pay a friendly visit to the corner grocery stores. Recollections sometimes lead to exaggerations, but the mellowness that comes with the passing years can add nothing to the important place these noble institutions once held in the life of the community. They were the pulse off the borough, inside their doors, in the friendly gathering ‘round the old fashioned big bellied coal stoves’, many an important battle was refought, world topics discussed, gossip exchanged, politics debated, yes, even the destiny of the town was shaped. The old fashioned corner grocery store! It has passed into legend along with the family album tintypes. But the memory of those temples of knowledge still lingers on.
“Way back in the days before the chain store systems spread-eagled the country, Catasauqua boasted several of these romantic institutions. There was Willie Weisley’s store at the corner of Front and Pine Sts, where Heckenberger’s prescription emporium now stands; old Joe Taylor’s place at the corner of Second and Wood Streets; Applegate’s at the corner of Second and Bridge Streets; Wotring’s on Church Street; Heilman’s Grocery at Front and Chapel next to the Bryden Horse Shoe Factory, and the most romantic of them all –“Coal Oil” Johnny’s at the corner of Fourth and Walnut Streets. In any of these establishments one could purchase all the necessities of life from edibles to clothing and footwear. As I look back on them now, (they) furnished one of the most romantic pages in the history of my old home town.
“Coal Oil” Johnny’s, as I remember it, was the mecca for all the folks in the northwest end of the town. The chief commodity, as one might gather from the name given the proprietor, was kerosene, more commonly known as “coal oil”. It was the fuel burned to light the majority of homes before gas and electricity became household fixtures. There one could find “Coal Oil” Johnny at the kerosene pump almost any hour of the day, filling the old fashioned glass jugs and cans. As each was filled, he stuck a potato in the spout to keep the fuel from spilling. Ah! Those days! I can still picture in my mind’s eye those rows of “coal oil” cans, each crowned with a potato. But the coal oil was only one of the oddities of the store. “Coal Oil” Johnny was one of the first to install a meat counter in opposition to the butcher shop. His store was a picture that would look well on any canvas. It’s two long counters and myriad of shelves that contained anything from canned fruit to large, heavy bolts of dry goods, were sights to behold. And in front of them was the conventional pickle barrel. How my mouth waters oftimes for another of those large pickles from the barrels in “Coal Oil” Johnny’s store. When he shook off this mortal coil, the store passed into the hands of Harvey Hoffman, a clerk who had come as a country lad to help conduct the business.
“Well I remember Harvey Hoffman, his short hurried steps scurrying him about from one room of the store to the other. The first job I ever held was the high ranking position of delivery boy at Harvey Hoffman’s store. There I assisted Charley Kosman and made my first actual contact with the grocery business. And what a business it was. Many were the Saturdays that I delivered groceries from early morning until almost dawn of Sunday.
“Willie Weisley’s store was a bit different. There was none of the hustle and bustle that marked every minute of the day at “Coal Oil” Johnny’s. He built up an ample business to assure a living and let it go at that. In the quiet of the mornings we would fill orders and place the boxes for delivery in the center of the floor. Then midway in the afternoon, he would hire a wagon and deliver the “groceries”.
“Old Joe Taylor’s was a store along the same line, except for the fact that “Young Joe” was a hustler. He spent his days soliciting orders and, twice a week. would deliver. I used to marvel at his ability to remember the price of the smallest article when he came to our house for the weekly order. He’d tell Mother just what groceries were to be had and the price of each with the easy grace of one reciting the names of the family.
“Old Dan Applegate’s also was a romantic spot. This was more than a grocery store; this was the village market. There one could purchase almost anything. The part of the store right on the corner was the actual grocery, with its row upon row of canned commodities, the coffee grinder, pickle barrel and all the usual things that combined to make a real grocery store. One could always find “Old Dan”, slender fellow with dark gray side burns, fixing up his shelves. He always reminded me of the “Lincoln Days” pictured in history. He was a picturesque figure. His son George was the major domo in the other section of the store. There one found dress goods, gent’s clothing , footwear, and the largest assortment of needles and thread in town. Because of that, Applegate’s was the popular place for the housewives who spent their evenings mending the family wearing apparel.
“Aside from these old fashioned stores, another comes to mind that was more high-toned than the others. It was Walters Bros. store, midway in the block between Pine and Bridge Streets. Walters Store lacked the old time big bellied coal stoves. On its shelves were the higher class preserves, and multi-colored jars of jams and jellies. There was an air of royal dignity always prevalent in Walters’ Store. But it was the exception rather than the rule.”
The remainder of the article touches on the demise of these stores, as they were replaced by “chain stores”, including Bowen’s, a branch of the main firm in Allentown, at the corner of Bridge and Railroad; Child’s Store on the Eagle Hotel property; the Acme; and the A&P.
These pages on Catasauqua history are provided and maintained by the Historic Catasauqua Preservation Association