Remembering merchants and advertisements of old
By Ron Paglia
Published: Thursday, February 7, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Updated: Thursday, February 7, 2013
Do you remember a man named Robert Hall who had a clothing store in the Mon Valley?
That question came from a group of obviously fashion-minded nostalgia buffs in Rostraver Township. Chances are they are thinking about the retail chain formally known as Robert Hall Clothes Inc., but more popular and successful simply as Robert Hall.
There is no record of Robert Hall venues in this mid-Monongahela Valley, but bargain-minded shoppers may recall the firm's outlets on Route 51 in the South Hills and in McKeesport.
The company was founded in Connecticut in 1938 by Jacob Schwab, a longtime garment merchant, who claimed in a Time magazine story in 1949 that he “plucked the name (Robert Hall) out of the air.” The stores were far from fancy in comparison to today's businesses. But the one-story concrete block or brick structures housed bargains galore for all members of the family.
A newspaper ad from the late 1950s, for instance, touted these specials at reduced prices from 20 percent to 75 percent at a Robert Hall Jamboree: Ladies' Coats and Pantscoats, $20; Girls' sizes 4-7 Knit Dresses, $2.99; Men's Polyester-Worsted Suits, $30; Men's Sportscoats, $12; Girls' Flare-Leg Slacks, $2.99; Ladies' Pants and Skirts, $2, $3, $4; Boys's flare-Leg Slacks, $2; Men's Short Sleeve Shirts, 2 for $4; Boys' Shirts, 4 for $5; Girls' Summer Sportswear, 50 percent off; Ladies' Pants and Skirts, $2, $3, $4.
As emphasized on Wikipedia.com, Robert Hall “was a pioneer of the low-overhead, large-facility (‘big-box') merchandising technique.” It called attention to its myriad bargains with radio and television advertising that featured this unforgettable jingle with music by Leon Mitchell and words by Charles Gaston: “When the values go up, up, up, And the prices go down, down, down, Robert Hall this season, Will show you the reason, Low overhead, low overhead.”
But even the low overhead and reduced prices couldn't prevent Robert Hall from falling victim to the surge of malls evolving across the country in the 1970s. The firm's parent company, United Merchants and Manufacturers, filed for bankruptcy in July 1977, citing losses from the entire chain. All Robert Hall stores were closed and inventory was auctioned off.
The demise of Robert Hall ended a nearly 40-year run of success in the retail clothing business. And it left shoppers like that group in Rostraver Township with a lot of pleasant memories.
In other business(es):
Newspaper advertising has always been a big part of the marketing strategy of merchants and entrepreneurs. Those ads also have provided newspapers with a lifeline of revenue.
Here's a random – and completely unscientific – sampling of some that caught the attention of readers in years gone by:
Feb. 7, 1913 – Greer Brothers, Monessen, Quality Groceries at Right Prices – Fresh Eggs, Direct from the Farm, The Twenty-four Hour Kind, 35 cents a dozen.
Economical Bakery, 629 Fallowfield Avenue, Charleroi, Leon DePasse, Proprietor – We wish to inform the general public that seeing the marked success of our genuine home-made bread, cakes and pies, we have added to these articles the fine pastry goods at prices within reach of everyone's pocketbook.
Every family should have a jar of Musterole in the house. This clean white ointment takes the place of the old-fashioned mustard plaster and does not blister. It offers the quickest relief for sore throats, bronchitis, tonsillitis, congestion, lumbago, frosted feet, pleurisy, sprains, sore muscles, croupy children and much more. Available at your druggist's in 25-cent and 50-cent jars and a large hospital size jar for $2.50.
Dec. 8, 1936 – Eckert's Brothers annual Big Time will be held at the Vorwart's Hall in Roscoe on Saturday, Dec. 19. Free Eats, Dancing, Entertainment, King's Orchestra, Talking Pictures. Everybody Welcome. No Admission Fee.
World's Great Toyland, Better Toys For Less Money! Montgomery Ward, 634 McKean Avenue, Donora, and Fifth and Fallowfield, Charleroi. Toy Biplane, 50 cents; Shirley Temple doll, $4.98; Toy Dump Truck, 25 cents; Record Breaker wagon, $2.98; 16” Zephyr three-wheeler bicycle, $8.98; Doll Buggies, $1.
“Quality Goods For Low Cost” at Rivkee's Army Store, 541 Donner Ave., Monessen. Men's broadcloth pajamas, $1.95; Turtle neck sweaters, 100 percent real wool, $2.98; Sox for men, 25 cents a pair; ties for men, all styles, 49 cents.
Dec. 4, 1947 – Kossol's People's Store, 525 McKean Avenue, Charleroi. Clothing for the Entire Family. Only 1/3 down, balance on easy payments.
Lost! Lots of Vitamin D every day the Sun doesn't shine. Get it back by drinking Hagen's Homogenized milk with extra sunshine. Vitamin D Milk.
Jessica Speidel, Corset Stylist from the William Penn Hotel, is in town with her garments. All-in-one girdles-brassieres for all type figures. Fine French Elastic Girdles. Lace, Net, Nylon, Satin, Brocade. 510 Fallowfield Avenue, Charleroi, over Easton's Drug Store. Phone 146.
Belle Tavern in Belle Vernon presents this week Pittsburgh's own singing star Cornell Cooper, MC, plus Dolly Delaine, character dancer, and Lea Fisher, acrobat and contortionist. Delaine and Fisher duo in tap dance. Music by Al Williams. 2 Floor Shows Nightly.
Dean Phipps Stores. Great Christmas Gifts. Gibraltor electric clocks, $4.44; Sandwich grille, $9.45; Electric toaster, $2.43; Bicycles, $15.95; All tires, $10.95 plus tax.
Al Cohen and Jay Kostolansky (Miss Jay) Announce The Grand Opening of Al-Jay's Ladies Apparel Center, 530 McKean Avenue, Charleroi, Saturday, Dec. 6, 1947. A Pleasant Surprise To All Shoppers.
Nov. 6, 1956 – We Would Be Pleased To Have You Call Us For A Test Drive In The New 1957 Ford! Bill McCune, Monongahela Ford Co.. Phone BL 8-8800 or BL 8-8801.
Coming Nov. 9 – The 1957 Oldsmobile Golden Rocket. Tri-County Mobile, Inc., Route 40, East Brownsville. Phone 250. Notice To All Christmas Candy Committees. For the best in chocolate holiday treats that money can buy see Gene and Boots for prices and samples. Special discounts if ordered before Nov. 25.
Shure's Clothing Store for Men and Boys, 413 McKean Ave., Charleroi. Andy Hardy suburbans and Shuster woolens in sizes 6 to 12, now $11.88, and nylon reversible jackets, latest styles in beautiful colors, $15.88.
Again, those are just a few of the thousands of advertisements that have appeared in area newspapers over the years – well, at least through the mid-1950s.
If you recall others please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org or c/o The Valley Independent, Eastgate 19, Monessen, PA 15062.
Correction: In a recent story about the original Teen Age Canteen dances on the third floor of the Charleroi Municipal Building, the name of one of the roller skaters taking part in the grand opening on Saturday, Feb. 12, 1944, was incorrect. She was Janet Wickerham Gregory, who presented a well-received skating performance with Leah Collins. We apologize for the mistake and thank the gentleman who called it to our attention.
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