One sign that the virtues of small town life are alive and well is the presence of a good old fashioned "five and dime," a family-owned variety store where you can be sure to find a greeting card, the latest newspaper or comic book, candy, gifts, souvenirs, toys and sundry more, topped off with a nice place to stop and say hello.
Such is and has been a tradition on Main Avenue, Hawley for generations, known as the Trading Post. Today run by Lou and Bev Beck, a lot hasn't changed that much over the decades, from the overall types of merchandise, the original wooden floor boards with that friendly creak, and even the little Matchbox cars in their wooden case in the window. The Becks added their own homemade candy.
Known today as Trading Post What Knots and located at 216 Main Avenue, the building was constructed following an inferno in July 1897 that took out much of the block. Ludolph "Louis" Hensel, the celebrated photographer, set up shop at this location in 1882. His original studio had a wooden mock camera built on the roof. In his new store, built after the fire, he is known to have also sold framed pictures, statuary, vases and novelties, and a good collection of books from popular authors, in addition to posing subjects in his photography studio. The family lived upstairs.
After Hensel died in 1927, his widow Theresa still kept it as a news stand during the 1930's.
The 1953 Hawley directory lists 216 Main as a stationary store, run by William Fred Merz, who also lived upstairs.
Meanwhile, the same directory lists a jeweler, Emeric (or "Em" as he was known) Hirsch, plying his trade a block down, at 315 Main Avenue. He and his wife Lillian lived at 795 Hudson, and had three sons, Herb, Frank and Stu. Em also repaired watches. At the same address, Arthur J. Jebson - who became the Pike County Sheriff- fixed radios and TVs.
Two years after the directory was printed, the third devastating flood to hit Hawley in a span of 19 years took out the Route 6 bridge over the Middle Creek. That was on August 18, 1955. While the floods did not ruin the business section, Mr. Merz, who ran the stationary store, was killed when he was trying to snap a picture. The embankment gave way, and Merz, age 50, was swept to his death.
*** Bought store in 1956
On October 26, 1956, the Hirsches bought the business and building from Mr. and Mrs. Frank Kelly, where Mr. Hirsch moved his jewelry business ("Em's Jewelry") and joined it with the variety store. He renamed it, "the Trading Post."
Their sons each reminisced about their late parents and what it was like growing up as children of a small town merchant.
Emeric Hirsch was born in Romania and Lillian in Austria- Hungary, from where they emigrated to America in the 1920's. They came through Ellis Island.
Page 2 of 4 - Their son Frank, who was born in 1948, said that as Jewish people in Soviet Eastern Europe, he was sure his parents faced a struggle. Stu, who is three years younger, recalled hearing that their father was not allowed to attend public school because he was a Jew; he attended Catholic school instead.
*** Sylvan Farm
Lillian's parents, Gero and Helen Salamon, operated Sylvan Farm, a resort on Long Ridge Road near the present Lukan's Farm Resort. Emeric first visited the Hawley area in 1928, and met Lillian at Sylvan Farm.
They were married in 1941 and in 1946 Em rented a store from the late Louis Krawitz next to the latter's department store, what is today the Dime Bank. The building housing Em's watch repair and jewelry shop was since removed and is today the alleyway to the bank's parking area.
Em had apprenticed in New York City, learning the jewelry and watchmaking craft. In the Navy in World War II, his skills were put to use repairing radar and other instruments in the South Pacific.
Frank fondly recalled as a child, seeing his father at work on a high stool, wearing his magnifying monocle, bent over his work bench. He was surrounded by all sorts of wonderful instruments and pieces that go into watches and clocks.
Both Herb and Stu shared how their father was encouraged by other local businessmen to buy the store at 216 Main. Frank Kelly and Joe Pulici were among them. They helped Em find financing. Deals were made between local businessmen in those days to help each other. Favors were done in exchange for free services or products. Em and others later helped Ferdy D'Angelo get started with Ferdy's Restaurant.
When they bought the Trading Post, the family moved upstairs. Herb turned 14 that year; Stu was six and Frank was nine. There were a lot of renovations to be made.
Their mother had the front decorated with hand painted tiles, which bore pictures of an Indian chief, totem poles and the like. She was Em's business partner and did the accounting.
*** Kitchen visitors
Stu said their Mom was a very gregarious person, always giving. Their kitchen was in the back- where the Becks have since made into a retail area. She would make lunch for Em, and when Em went back in, sure to join him were other men of the town, friends, who would stop in to shoot the breeze as well as have a bite.
They may have included the priest, the postmaster, the police... "It was a hub of activity," said Stu.
Frank said the wonderful smells from the kitchen are among his favorite memories.
Baked goods made by their grandmother at Sylvan Farms lined the counter. Fine ethnic pastries were popular near and far. Customers called to reserve them, from as far as Scranton.
Page 3 of 4 - Em was always tinkering with jewelry and watches, keeping the ladies in town in fashion and timepieces of men and women working. He also fixed eyeglasses.
Kodak film, local souvenirs, paper back books and comics, cars, newspapers, tobacco and luggage were sold.
Herb, as well as his brothers, affirmed they had the first crack at the latest comic books. They arrived every Sunday and Thursday. Herb recalled grabbing the latest novel as well, and reading it, later putting it back on the shelf. Stu also recalled waiting for the latest baseball cards.
They also had their share of candy. Frank, who is the tallest, said he probably ate the most.
The boys worked in the store during the summers and at holiday times when they were needed. They got an allowance which went towards Savings Bonds and helping them get to college.
Rarely did they get away. Running a store was seven days a week. Even on Sunday, their father arose at 3 or 4 a.m. to get ready the Sunday papers, which had to be stuffed with the comics and other inserts.
On rare days they were closed, people could still buy their newspaper. The papers were set out front and there was a cigar box where you left your change.
It wasn't always easy. Especially in early years, the Hirsches experienced some discrimination for being Jewish, all three sons reflected. These instances were rare.
Herb recalled that Main Avenue was so much busier in those days. On the right side was the old post office, which became Brown's Pharmacy. On the left, where today there is a bank parking lot, there was a bar. They had lots of noise and music from the bar at night.
Sometimes the boys would fight, Frank shared. Dad would get after them. Sometimes the Hirsch boys even had a fight with the tourist kids.
Although not regular attendants at temple, they would sometimes visit relatives in New York, and there have their Seder meal at Passover.
Treasures abound. Frank recalled the old safe down in the dark and musty cellar. He said they were never able to open it and kept their imagination going. Frank and Stu played with their chemistry set down there.
Up in the attic, while exploring, Stu said they found a great treasure of old glass photographic negatives, taken by Louis Hensel. Containing images of Hawley and the surrounding region as well as people, the plates were donated to the Hawley Public Library for preservation.
Hensel may also have been proud in that Stu Hirsch was interested in photography and had his own darkroom upstairs.
Em also had a large pendulum clock that once hung in the railroad depot in town. He had it in the store, and later gave it to the library.
Page 4 of 4 - *** Legacy
In 1972 the Hirsches sold the Trading Post to Mr. and Mrs. Harold Schechter. Later the store was acquired by Charles and Regina Gillette, who operated it for 10 years. The Gillettes sold the store to Lou and Bev Beck in 1994. Charles died in 2010 at the age of 79. He also worked in the Post Office and had owned the Sandy Beach Motel.
The Hirsches later lived at 408 River Street. They built the log structure at River and Main where Lillian had hoped to start a gift shop there but died in 1975 due to illness. The boys' first cousin, Florence Sanders bought the store and operated it as Country Class. Em Hirsch later remarried to Edith Kays Wallat, and in 1995, Em died due to a car accident.
Herb is professor of Political Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. Frank is a retired public health commissioner living near Columbus, Ohio. Stu lives in Texas, and is employed as a petroleum geologist. None of them pursued the retail life.
At one stage Frank aspired to follow in his father's footsteps and offered to help in the watch repair and jewelry craft. Frank's dad had him filing metal, but it had to be exactly straight and required lots of patience for both of them. Frank said that was as far as he got, learning the trade.
Coming back for a visit last March, Frank Hirsch marveled at the similarities with the Trading Post today and how they left it. He was astounded to find a link even in a small detail- a piece of paper attached to a shelf and marked with a felt pen, "Please do not play with toys!" Frank said his father made that sign.
All three brothers spoke of the hard workers their parents were, with little time for a break. Frank said he reflected in later years that they may never know the sacrifice their parents made for them. Back in Europe, their dad shared a one room cottage with five brothers. Despite the hardships and persecution, their father endured. He could speak almost five languages.
They wanted their kids to have the American Dream, Frank said. "This was a priceless gift that they gave us," he said. "It was inherited. We all passed it down to our children."