South Side: 50’s & 60’s

Oil City’s South Side business district encompassed a four-square-block area that was filled with a wide variety of shops, services and more in the booming 1950s and 1960s.

In those decades, people could buy almost anything they needed – from a black-and-white television set to an insurance policy, a 12-cent comic book, a refrigerator, a box of homemade chocolates, furniture, a bag of nails, vanilla Coke, a diamond ring, a beef roast, a Madras shirtwaist dress, a fresh pastry, a fishing pole, caviar, model trains, a beer, homemade peanut butter, a house, cocktail dresses, a cream puff prescriptive medicines, a pot of spaghetti sauce, pizza, fur coats and much more – all in the South Side business district.

As to available services on the South Side during the 1950s and 1960s, you could get a crew cut or a permanent wave, cash a check, eat breakfast/lunch/dinner, have your car repaired, get an electric motor fixed, recap your tires, have your suit tailored, mail a package, go to the movies, bowl, check out a book, sign up a caterer, board a Greyhound bus, drop off your laundry, even have a saddle re-sewn. You could also get married in any of the neighborhood’s half-dozen churches. And two businesses could arrange your burial.

ATLANTIC STATION - The gas station lot on Wilson Avenue previously was the site of the city’s No. 2 hose house and Creed’s gift shop.

All of it meant that the South Side business district was a jam-packed small neighborhood that offered everything.

WESTERN AUTO - The one block of State Street boasted a number of businesses in the 1950s and 1960s. They included Western Auto, Oil City Cable TV Co., Brustle’s Gifts, Gardinier Jewelers, State Street Market, Top Value Stamp redemption center and Oil City National Bank. The cable company, housed in what was called the “Television Building”, featured a black-and-white television in the front window. It was turned on for 24 hours a day with a circular test pattern shown during the post-midnight hours.
1ST SENECA BANK - A 1st Seneca Bank branch office anchored the street corner. Up the street were Hafer’s Electric shop, owned by Melvin “Red” Hafer, and Powell’s Hobby Shop, owned by Gene and Ruth Powell. Also on the South Side were Lalonde’s Electric that featured Lionel Model Trains and Kern’s Model Railroad Shop.
NAOMI ZAND - Naomi Zand’s ladies apparel shop on State Street was among the very first stores in the U.S. to feature Madras dresses, jackets and blouses. Just down the street from the South Side Junior High School, her shop was frequently crowded with teenage girls at the close of a school day. A colorful and energetic businesswoman, Naomi came by retail quite naturally. Her father established a suspender and garter factory in Oil City in 1899. Early newspaper accounts point to his willingness to hire the physically handicapped, something not done very often back then. In 1922 he changed his stock to include women’s dresses and began to make regular buying trips to New York City. Naomi eventually took over the shop.
JACKSON'S BOWLING ALLEY - Jackson’s Bowling Alley was located upstairs over the Western Auto Store, later Williams Decorating.
GATES AND BURNS - The Gates and Burns realty office was founded in 1889. It is one of the oldest real estate companies in the region in terms of continuous operation.
THE SPORTSMEN'S DEN - The Sportsmen’s Den shared ground floor space with Kohl and Tucker Furniture in the Masonic Building. The sporting goods store drew huge crowds with the advent of fishing and hunting seasons each year.
SOUTH SIDE PHARMACY - Located on this section of East First Street were South Side Pharmacy, Famoore’s, Friedhaber Appliances and South Side Market. Friedhaber’s, a family-owned operation, has been in business for more than 50 years. Located there earlier were Kraft Brothers meat market and the Cribbs store.
KG'S - The Kathryn-Genevieve Shop, an exclusive women’s apparel store, opened as KG’s in July 1940. Barbara McKinley, a leading Oil City citizen, owned and operated the business. The Oil City Tire Recapping shop, later owned by Stub Young, was located next door.
LEWIS HARDWARE - A former horse stable was bought in 1915 by Ernest Lewis who converted it into a hardware store. Two generations of the Lewis family operated it until it closed in 1994. Nails were sold by weight, sales tallied up in pencil on the back of a paper sack and garden seeds sold by the quarter pound. There were no plastic card charges and monthly paper bills were sent out. The store motto was “Try Us First. If We Can’t Find It For You, Then You Just Plain Can’t Get It.” The store annually advertised: “Look what’s happened to Lewis Hardware.…nothing. Nothing that you can notice, that is. Yet Lewis Hardware is the oldest full-time and full-line hardware store in Oil City. And we’ve done it without slicking up our front or changing our name or anything like that. We’ve done it by being a complete hardware store.”
FOODLINER - The IGA Foodliner grocery store was built across from the former South Side Junior High School. The lot had been a favorite site for regular farmers’ markets over the years.
ITALIAN VILLAGE - The Central Avenue Plaza was filled with small businesses in the 1950s and 1960s. While the Oil City Library and the Christ Episcopal Church filled one side of the plaza, the opposite side included Oil City Electric and Magneto shop and gas station, the Italian Village and Central Plaza restaurants and a tailor’s shop. The Italian Village was owned by the Butiste and Emanuele families while the Central Plaza restaurant was owned by Jerry Angros.
THE FLAMINGO GRILL AND BAR - The Flamingo Grill and Bar was one of several restaurants and taverns in the city’s South Side business district.
KOHL & TUCKER - Shown behind the parade watchers are the I.R. Grimm Jewelry Store and Kohl & Tucker Furniture store on East First Street.
WELKER & MAXWELL - East First Street featured the Welker and Maxwell department store, Cribbs Market, Gates and Burns, Kraft Brothers, Isaly’s, Famoore’s, and South Side Drug. Across the street was the Latonia Theater, built in 1929 for a half a million dollars. Welker’s had the distinction of being the oldest store in the U.S. to continuously give out S&H Green Stamps, stopping only in 1971.
CRIBBS - The Cribbs grocery store on East First Street featured an exquisite deli at the back. The family-owned business was a national marketer of homemade French dressing, mayonnaise and peanut butter. The store stocked everything from custom-cut meats to fresh caviar.
THE OLIVER BROTHERS - The Oliver Brothers store began as an appliance business in 1940. It grew over the years to include an extensive line of appliances with a later expanded emphasis on stereo and television units. Sales and service were offered.
CLARK'S DONUT SHOP - Clark’s Donut Shop and City Optical were located adjacent to the Lewis Hardware Store on East First Street. The hardware store featured floor-to-ceiling shelves reached by ladders, a punched tin ceiling and more. Clark’s Donut Shop, now in Cranberry Township, has remained a favorite of both current and former city residents over the years.
GRIMM'S JEWELRY - The I.R. Grimm Jewelers began in 1898. Five generations of the family were involved in the business until it closed in 2004. It was well known for its eclectic gifts, decorative objects, original artwork, jewelry and more. Adjacent on State Street were Mook’s Harness Shop and Loren Guth Jeweler.

Written by Judy Etzel with research by Kay Dawson and design by Natalie Cubbon.


Jack Eckert & Susan Hahn

In Memory of Kay Ensle

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