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New Ken Store provides lessons in addition to bargains

| Monday, Feb. 11, 2013, 12:11 a.m.
The New Ken Store owner Leslie McLaughlin and general manager Ray Fannan check on display tags that give readers facts about Black History Month on Thursday February 7, 2013. A 'fact bowl' full of Black History Month trivia questions sits at the register and the customer must search the store for the answer filled out on the display tags. Once the answer is found, the customer receives a 10% discount on their purchases. Erica Hilliard | Valley News Disaptch
The New Ken Store general manager Ray Fannan reads a trivia question from the 'fact bowl' full of Black History Month trivia questions which are available to customers. The customer must then search the store for the answer filled out on the display tags, as seen taped to the wall decoration to the right. Once the answer is found, the customer receives a 10% discount on their purchases. Erica Hilliard | Valley News Disaptch
The New Ken Store owner Leslie McLaughlin flips through a music book at a Black History Month-themed display on Thursday February 7, 2013. Erica Hilliard | Valley News Disaptch
The New Ken Store owner Leslie McLaughlin fixes a Black History Month-themed display on Thursday February 7, 2013. Erica Hilliard | Valley News Disaptch

Not every store offers a chance to learn a little while saving a little money, but the New Ken Store does.

That parlay, which now is focusing on Black History Month, is the brainchild of Leslie McLaughlin, a Murrysville resident and one-time New Kensington resident.

“I guess my original goal was basically to educate,” McLaughlin, 41, said. “If (customers) leave knowing one thing, one fact they didn't know before they came in, then I'm happy.”

Not an usual sentiment for a former teacher who initially set out to establish an antique store in the building she owns at 878 Fifth Ave. Several months ago, she entered into sort of a partnership with someone who wanted to open a second-hand store and was going to use part of it for antiques. That person later had to bow out and in January, McLaughlin took complete ownership of the neatly-kept second-hand store two doors from the old PNC Bank. The store carries everything imaginable from furniture and small appliances to household goods, video games and sports memorabilia.

“I don't take junk and I don't take broken stuff,” McLaughlin said. “If I wouldn't want it in my house, I wouldn't sell it to someone else.”

McLaughlin is using the store to educate by having numbered slips of paper with a fact about people, achievements and events in a bowl on the checkout counter. This month, the facts deal with the African-American experience in honor of Black History Month.

A customer plucks one of those slips from the “Fact Bowl” and then explores the store looking for numbered facts that match, which are on lists located at various displays around the store.

There are categories of facts such as “inventions” and “special awards” and some of the matching facts share the same number which means the customer has to stop and read the facts to find the correct match. When they think they have it, they go to the counter.

“They just tell me where they found their fact and then they get 10 percent off,” McLaughlin said.

She said adult customers, both black and white, have gotten into the fact-search discount, but it appeals to the young people as well.

“Especially when they can get money off a Play Station 3 game,” McLaughlin said with a smile. “You look a little harder for that clue.”

General manager Ray Fannan said he's been learning from the customers' efforts as well. He recalled one young customer telling him about how many records Michael Jackson sold to become the “King of Pop” and equal the number sold by the “King of Rock 'N' Roll,” Elvis Presley.

He said McLaughlin, who has two children of her own and a foster child, has been able to establish a rapport with young people.

“She really does good work with the kids who come in here,” Fannan said. “They'll actually come in and talk to her about their problems which at first I thought was, a little off, but know it's like ‘Well, okay.'”

Capt. Colleen Carter of the New Kensington Salvation Army chapter has known McLaughlin for more than 20 years and can vouch for what Fannan was talking about.

“This is her ministry here, this is not just her store,” Carter said. “She's an educator by heart. The more she can educate, that makes her happy.”

That's evident near the display at the front door as well. It is related to black culture in honor of Black History Month. It includes posters of Motown music groups like the Four Tops, Commodores and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, African sculpture and Colin Powell's autobiography. There also are photos of famous African-Americans such as Jackie Robinson, Count Basie and Nat “King” Cole, some of which were the work of Teeny Harris, a renowned African-American photographer for the black-oriented Pittsburgh Courier newspaper.

She said she would like to do something similar for other occasions like remembering the sacrifice of veterans around Memorial Day but is uncertain.

“I'd like to, but it all depends on how the flow of the business goes,” McLaughlin said. “I would like to do something every month.”

She believes that is the type of thing that keeps people returning to the store.

“Anyone can have a second-hand store and there are plenty of them around here, but if you put in a little more work, it can mean something more to people,” McLaughlin said.

Tom Yerace is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4675 or tyerace@tribweb.com.

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