A/N: The following was originally published in the Sept. 19 edition of the Ephrata Review. For more information, visit http://ephratareview.com/2012/09/it-was-quite-a-run-for-the-hometown-galens/
As rows of clocks chimed in unison to mark the beginning of the hour, Don Schwarz walked out of Galen’s of Ephrata for what would be one of his final times.
For shoppers who didn’t receive a postcard in the mail several weeks ago announcing Galen’s “Going Out of Business/Retirement” sale, they sure have gotten the memo now as yellow signs clutter the storefront indicating that after 63 years of retail service, everything must go.
Owners Mike and Edith Amico have received many notes from their longtime customers sadly thanking them for their superior customer service over the years.
“They’ve been very good, very supportive, very sad. A lot of them are quite sad because we’re closing. They’ve said, ‘Now where can I possibly go to buy appliances if you’re not here anymore?’” said Mike. “I know why they say that because we always had pride in how we handled our customers. We took good care of them, had the proper service, quality delivery.”
Barbara Keffer, of Lititz, who has shopped at Galen’s since its days at the Lincoln Mall on West Main Street, agrees.
“(The employees) were very pleasant and friendly. They don’t try to push you to buy something,” she said. “It’s a nice experience.”
The decision to close was not an easy one for the Amicos as they kept their customers and 45 employees in mind. Their lease will expire at the end of November. Renewing their lease for another 10 years at its 389 North Reading Road location was out of the question and selling the business would be difficult so it was ruled out.
“We thought that now was the time for us to retire,” said Mike.
Many of its employees have worked at the store for many years, and most of them understood the reason behind the decision. Advertising manager Ruth Daniels plans to retire as well, after working at Galen’s for 30 years. She said the Amicos’ foremost concern was for her fellow co-workers.
“They’ve provided a good place for a lot of the employees over the years,” she said. “It’s been a good place to work.”
Ephrata Mayor Ralph Mowen said the Amicos have made a positive impact in the business community.
“The Amicos have been very friendly with Ephrata Borough and happy to be part of the Ephrata store,” he said. “I wish them good health in their retirement.”
There’s no final day of sale at this point, and no rush to sell its products from the store.
“It’s like a family leaving,” said Larry Herrold, of Lititz.
In addition to having longtime customers coming through the doors, the final sale is also attracting some first-time shoppers. Carl Schenskie, of Denver, moved to the area from Philadelphia six years ago. Last Thursday, he stepped foot into Galen’s for the first time after finding out about the sale in the newspaper. He was looking to buy a new dehumidifier.
“I have seen small stores close in Philly,” he said. “With small stores, the salespeople know what you want.”
Secrets to Success
Over the years, Galen’s has gained long-standing traditions that have helped the business soar to success. First, according to Daniels, the Amicos have developed a reputation of being hands-on in the store.
“It didn’t matter how good the ad looked or how great the prices were. Edith did as much good for our sale when she’d be down on the sales floor to talk with all the customers,” said Daniels.
“We’ve enjoyed it, and we both didn’t mind to work,” said Edith.
Second, the retail business created generations of customers. One longtime customer wrote a note saying that he remembered shopping with his dad as a little boy and got his first Silly Putty for 99 cents.
“It’s such a tribute to Galen’s. I think that a lot of our customers are kids of customers,” said Daniels.
Many years ago, Galen’s had done a survey on what brought people into the store. The options included The Shopping News ads, television and radio ads, newspapers, and other.
“Other would always win because ‘other’ was ‘my family always shopped at Galens,” said Daniels.
Lastly, the salespeople have maintained a dexterous ability to stay ahead of the game with its furniture and appliances. The employees have seen how the Internet has changed the ways customers buy merchandise.
“It’s so much easier for them to get so much information from the Internet before they come into the store …the customers come in much more educated, so you can’t be somebody off the street and be successful as a salesperson or in a store like this,” Daniels said. “You have to really be on top of your market.”
“We had a bunch of super employees,” said Mike. “They contributed to building the business over the years.”
The Face Behind the Name
James E. Galen was an established community activist when he founded his eponymous store in the fall of 1949.
Born in Lancaster, Galen was instrumental in setting up Ephrata Borough’s Christmas celebration, which included putting up decorations and having Santa Claus come to town. He was the president of the Ephrata Farmer’s Day Fair Association from 1945 to 1947 and of the Ephrata Kiwanis Club, and started the Key Club at Ephrata High School in the early 1950s.
But it was his business sense that truly shined.
“He was a visionary type businessman,” said Ephrata Borough Council President Dale Hertzog.
In the late 1940s, Galen had 16 years of retail experience under his belt and was the manager of the former Sears department store in downtown Ephrata.
Deed records showed that he and his wife Romaine Tracy bought the former Hunt’s Hardware, which was located at 1438 W. Main St., from the late Oram and Sara Hunt, and renamed the store. In addition to hardware products, the store sold housewares, sporting goods, and some appliances. In the early years, Galen’s also had a big floor covering department.
In 1966, a devastating fire completely demolished the original site, which was then replaced with a one-story building. According to Mike Amico, the fire was started in an oil furnace in the basement.
Mike first gained appreciation for Galen when he traveled with him to a Chicago business show in October 1969, and he witnessed first-hand how Galen bought various products.
“He was a True Value store, and I never experienced anything like that. I was very much impressed,” he said.
Galen retired from the business in 1972 and died from a long illness on Jan. 18, 2002.
“He was a great guy. We were friends for years,” said Edith Amico. “We went on vacation with them. He and his wife were very, very good people.”
The Amico Purchase
By the time 1970 rolled around, Mike was a merchandising manager for the former Hess’s Department Store and had worked for many years in department stores in Lancaster. Yet he and his wife wanted to have their own business.
He had heard about the news of Galen retiring and decided to give him a call.
“I made an appointment one evening and wanted to see him. We sat down in his office, and the first thing he said was, ‘Mike, I gotta tell you I just got an offer today. Somebody in New Jersey that I was really thinking I was going to take (the offer). So I’d like to interview you,’” he said. “So we talked awhile. He asked me some merchandising questions. Then he said, ‘Mike, I am going to tell you something. I’m going to call this guy back in New Jersey and tell him no.’ He said, ‘I really like you, and I’d like you to have the business.’”
After the acquisition, the Amicos kept the Galen name and remained at the original site.
“That’s why they call me Mrs. Galen,” joked Edith.
They expanded their business five times between 1974 and 1980, adding lines such as clothing, linens, domestics, greeting cards, school supplies, health and beauty aids and carpeting. In 1974, Galen’s added a complete line of General Electric appliances and televisions.
“As the months went on, we had a lot of opportunity, and we took advantage of it,” said Mike. “Baby clothes were the first clothes we added on.”
In 1975, the Amicos added a U.S. Post Office sub-station in the store, and it has remained a Galen’s tradition to this day.
“Michael saw that downtown had no parking, and we had all that parking, so people loved it. Lots of people come here now for the parking,” said Edith. “We hear it a lot now, ‘What are we going to do for postal?’ because customers don’t like to go downtown that much because of parking.”
Pat Shober, of Ephrata, has been shopping at Galen’s for three years and enjoys going to the postal sub-station.
“It’s convenient, and the parking is good,” she said.
Though it’s unclear how much mail gets processed in the store, Mike said the number most likely is high.
“I was told years ago that as a sub-station, we were in the top numbers. In fact, it was larger than some post offices in the county,” he said.
Ephrata Chamber Board President Michele McHenry, whose business Laser Labs is located at the same address of Galen’s inception, said the store was well-represented and respected in the community.
“For me, it’s bittersweet. They’ve been a longtime supporter of the community. They’ve brought value to customers. It’s a great place to go get a deal,” she said. “It’s always nice supporting local business rather than big box stores.”
Move to the Lincoln Mall
By 1983, the Amicos couldn’t expand anymore because they outgrew their store in both space and parking.
“He told me what he was going to do to the (Lincoln Mall). A small complex down there and asked if I would be interested. I said, ‘Yeah, I would be. I’d like to hear more about it,’” he said.
The Amicos moved Galen’s down the road to the Lincoln Mall location and into the 42,500 square foot space, where they stayed for 19 years.
Sally Holmes, of Reinholds, has been shopping at Galen’s since she moved here from England in 1986. She remembers shopping for clothes and shoes at the Lincoln Mall.
“I used to buy women’s clothes, towels, linens, and gifts. Their baby department was adorable,” she said. “When they moved (to its current location), it was a bummer because they didn’t have the clothes anymore.”
Relocating to North Reading Road
By 2002, clothing and linens were two lines that didn’t make the cut when Galen’s relocated again to the 32,600 square foot, former Pharmhouse site on North Reading Road. According to the Amicos, the buyers’ market had changed at that point, and they had no room to place the clothing department at its current location.
“Some were really shocked that we didn’t have the clothing department,” said Mike.
The move marked the start of a $5 million renovation project, which currently houses a purple and gold painted circular sales counter that serves as a focal point and six terminals to process customer transactions. The current store continues to sell electronics, appliances, furniture and bedding.
In addition to the post office, Galen’s has also kept the tradition of selling dog licenses.
“If you were new to the Ephrata area, and you were trying to think what store in the area would sell dog license, you really wouldn’t think of Galen’s,” said Daniels. “At this point with the mix of merchandise that we have, it’s a carryover from what Galen’s was.”
Mowen names Galen’s as part of a trifecta of important local businesses, alongside Doneckers and Sprecher’s Hardware, leaving a mark in the community.
“It’s a sad time for us all. Galen’s has been a part of Ephrata for most of my life. I put the closing up there with losing Sprecher’s Hardware. Both businesses were part of Ephrata for a long time,” he said. “Depending on the merchandise, we always looked to Galen’s first.”
Edith said she hopes to keep in touch with her customers after the store closes.
“When we go retired and we have a lot of time, we will visit them all,” she said. “That’s what I say all the time. I’m going to visit everybody.”
In the meantime, the Amicos would like to thank their many local customers for shopping at Galen’s over the years.
“We are sorry to say good-bye,” said Mike.