After 44 years, J&W Variety Store in Aspinwall closing its doors
After 44 years, one of Aspinwall's most notable businesses is closing.
J&W Variety Store on Brilliant Avenue will close Nov. 30. John and Wanda Zourelias first opened on May 26, 1969. John died in 2009; Wanda still works at the business with her sons John and Harry.
A daughter, Renee, also previously worked with them.
John Zourelias said business has declined for several years with the growth of Internet sales and increased competition.
“It's just different buying habits,” Zourelias said.
When the family first arrived in Aspinwall, they had no experience running a store. Variety stores also were starting to decline, Zourelias said.
“I would have thought anyone would have looked at us and thought you'll be lucky if you're here three, four, five years,” he said.
However, the business evolved to meet the needs of the community. Besides small items such as candy, the store also repaired household items such as lamps, vacuum cleaners and VCRs. It also sold office and art supplies, sponsored art shows for WQED and WQEX and served as the borough's post office — living up to its slogan of “biggest little store around.”
“We were a powerhouse,” Zourelias said.
Zourelias credits the store's longevity to knowing its customers and developing personal relationships, regardless of their background.
“Whether you were a plumber or a surgeon, we treated everyone the same,” Zourelias said.
In its heyday, the store had about 15 employees. The Zourelias family looked at them as more than workers.
“They were more than just employees; they were friends,” Zourelias said.
Looking back on their decision to enter the Aspinwall community, Wanda Zourelias said the family made the right choice. She said there were too many people to thank for their success in the borough.
“We did pick a good town to be in business in,” Wanda Zourelias said.
John Zourelias said he expects the family, who live in Fawn Township, to stay busy after they finish closing the store. The site was sold to Matthew Kieffer of Kieffer Optical, the business next to the variety store.
Future plans for the site have not been revealed.
“We have a lot of loose ends,” John Zourelias said. “A lot of things that need to be tended to that have been neglected for a long time.”
He said the closing of the store signals the start of the next phase of the family members' lives.
“This isn't the end of the book. It's just the end of the chapter,” John Zourelias said.
Tom McGee is an associate editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 1513, or firstname.lastname@example.org.