In the days of the coal mines, H.C. Frick had a brilliant marketing idea which spawned the question "Why not build and run stores in these little mining towns and bump up the retail prices by a few percent so that it was convenient for the local shopper and profitable for...me?" And out of the ground came the Union Supply Company Store, a place made famous by Tennessee Ernie Ford and perpetuated by this very blog.
As a kid, I remembered my Grandmother's sister, Katie, who worked at the Smock Company Store. She would allow me to ride on the running board of her 1948 Dodge so that I could cheat death. Aunt Katie worked in the office surrounded by a forest of vacuum tubes that would periodically vomit up a container with a bill for lumbar or gas or peanut butter accompanied by money. She'd put the change and receipt in an envelope and the tube would take the canister back to the sales counter totally by magic.
You could buy a coat, chipped ham, a saw, some candy and the oil you used in your miner's "sunshine lamp" all in one place. It was a poor man's Macy's. It flourished until someone invented antitrust lawsuits and then one day, it became a skating rink that doubled on Saturday nights as the Smock Recreation Center, a place where a young man could meet exotic women from Royal and Keisterville. Today, it doesn't have the grand storefront windows and mannequins that displayed the fall lineup for the modern man and woman from Smock. That's it right there at the top of this chapter. I miss the windows.
And then there were the "Mom & Pop" stores. On the "new side" of Smock, Charlie Peskie ran such a store and was in direct competition with Florek's, a converted living room that Andy Florek's parents ran on Smock Hill. In either store, you were able to buy necessities such as bread, candy, milk, pop, candy, ice cream and candy, (Its a wonder I still have teeth.) Charlie was a very mild-mannered guy who rarely said much. The Florek's didn't say much since they spoke "broken" English.
Those in Smock that said Uniontown was a much better place to shop never really appreciated Charlie's and Florek's stores until ten or twelve inches of snow fell and blocked the roads.
And some of the older people appreciated Morris and Alvie Bortz who built a bar just up from the company store where people with other needs found shelter and an escape from the hell that was called the Colonial Mine. Right down from the bar was the Bortz Beer Distributor, where a simple phone call would spring Franke Blanda into action who would deliver that much needed case of Iron City right to your door.
Across from the old company store was a brick building which could be considered by today's standards as the Smock Shopping Mall. On the left side was the U.S. Post Office and on the other was Nick DiNardo, our stereotyped Italian barber who literally gave me my first proper haircut.
I also remember that if you were a member of the Smock Rod & Gun Club, which arose from the halls of the old coal mine bath house, you can grab a beer on Sunday. And if you could keep a secret, you could also play a little poker or drink a cold one behind what used to be the St. Hedwig's church hall. My Grandfather knew both of these places very well.
You got gas at Ed Sparrow's Pennzoil gas station (see elsewhere in this blog) or got your clothes cleaned at Colonial Cleaners who, like Frankie Blanda, delivered your pants right to your DOOR.
Money changed hands in several different ways in the Smock that I remember. And most of that is gone today thanks to what some call progress. But on that rare occasion, and if your timing is right, you could still enter through the Company Store's back door and find the occasional bake sale or dinner put on by the Christian Mothers. The sounds and the smells are the same and they still call a sixty year old man Bobby Joe. And for a few God-ordained holy minutes, I'm back again.
The only other wish I had at that moment was to walk outside and hear my Aunt Katie yell "OK Bobishka, hold on tight" as I cheated death once more on that running board.