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Party's over as popular Sewickley store plans to close

Kristina Serafini | Sewickley Herald
From left: Party Ants owners Ding Hays and Robin Hays and employees Marilyn Snyder and Shelley Gerle pose for a photo inside of the store Friday, March 22, 2013. The women announced March 19 they will be closing after 18 years.

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By Bobby Cherry

Published: Wednesday, March 27, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

An iconic Sewickley business will soon close its doors.

After 18 years of vibrant window displays filled with bright balloons and seasonal items, Party Ants, 424 Broad St., will close, store owners announced through banners placed in the window last week.

“It's been a fun ride, but the party's over,” co-owner Ding Hays said, while holding back tears.

She owns the store along with her sister, Robin Hays, 58.

“It wasn't an easy decision, (but) it's been in the making,” Ding said.

The women cited retirement, a desire to volunteer more and a sluggish local economy among reasons for their decision to shut down the business.

“Having worked all of our lives … we've never had a chance to get involved in the community,” said Ding, 64.

“My sister finally has accepted that I will be retiring at the same time as her — even though she's six years older,” Robin Hays said, smiling.

A closing date has not been set.

Party Ants opened in 1995 when it began as primarily a party store with a modest selection of toys and gifts. It later offered more toys, games, Pittsburgh-themed items and balloons.

Ding Hays called the store's Pittsburgh gifts a “mini-Strip District.”

When the women do eventually close the store, Ding Hays said she will miss customers and the sales crew of two.

“It wasn't only fun for them, it was fun for us,” she said.

“We have wonderful salespeople. We're just very lucky because I don't think many places can say that their employees have been here all along.”

Marilyn Snyder of Moon and Shelley Gerle Sewickley have been the store's two employees.

Gerle said she'll most miss going into a store hearing a child say, “‘It's the lady from Party Ants.'”

Over the years, as toys came and went, the sisters said Ty Inc.'s Beanie Baby craze of the mid-'90s was the most memorable item on store shelves.

“That was the biggest thing for us,” Ding Hays said.

Upon hearing of the store's imminent closure, the sisters said a group of children created a sign and wanted to raid their piggy banks in an effort to save Party Ants.

“The kids came in with a poster that said ‘Save Party Ants,'” Robin Hays said. “We just stood there and cried.”

Along with customers, the uniqueness of items made the store special for Robin Hays, she said.

“There isn't anything like this around,” she said. “This is for kids young and old.”

Bobby Cherry is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-324-1408 or rcherry@tribweb.com.

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