Throughout the years, the streets of Lebanon have had their fair share of storefronts.
Most of those stores have been long lost to history; yet in their heyday, a few of these firms put Lebanon prominently on the map.
In our “window shopping” series, LebTown showcases these historical business successes.
What started as a small dry goods store soon grew into Lebanon’s largest department store, The Bon Ton. Throughout its 67 years in business, The Bon Ton proudly touted itself as “Lebanon’s Greatest Store” in daily advertisements and undoubtedly lived up to its proclamation.
Louis Samler, of Samler Building notoriety, opened the Bon Ton at 836 Cumberland Street on March 25, 1896. Louis’s grandfather, Isaac Samler, had been a garment manufacturer in Philadelphia, perhaps lending some sage advice to Louis in this undertaking.
The Bon Ton was first introduced to the Lebanon public as a “Dry Goods, Millinery and Trimming Store.” It was located on the south side of Cumberland Street between Eighth and Ninth Streets, now the municipal parking lot. The original store had three small departments in a 20 by 60-foot space, employed eight people, and had $2,000 worth of merchandise.
In September of the same year the Bon Ton opened, Louis married Sophie Grumbacher, whose father, Samuel, and brother, Max, had operated a millinery store of their own in 1893 in Trenton, New Jersey, called S. Grumbacher and Son.
In 1898, the Grumbachers moved to York and opened a Bon Ton on Market Street, which came to be recognized as the company headquarters. It was at this time, the Lebanon Bon Ton became part of an allied group of stores that combined to increase their buying power, and by the early 1900s, there were other Bon Ton branch locations in Carlisle, Lancaster, and Altoona. The name, Bon Ton, referred to a British slang term for “the elite” or “high society.”
The postcards pictured below, courtesy of the Lebanon County Historical Society, display five of the departments as they were in 1910. There was an almost overwhelming array of items for sale on the multiple floors at the Bon Ton.
Pictured below are two photographs taken around the same time as the post cards, dated 1910, of the main floor’s display and some employees at the candy counter.
The employees at the Bon Ton were often long-term, many staying over well over a decade, a sure sign of an enjoyable work environment.
The store’s popularity grew rapidly and first expansion of the store was in 1916, when it was enlarged to 12 times the floor space of the original store. It was by this time, the store now had 30 separate departments and over 200 active employees.
In 1922, Samler purchased the Hahn Department Stores in Pennsylvania, the beginning of Allied Stores Corporation, which at the time was the world’s largest department store corporation. In the years following, the building expanded drastically, expanding in 1924 and again in 1936 to 45,000 square feet.
“Honest dealings, honest merchandise, and honest value, have brought The Bon Ton to the prominent position in which it finds itself today.”The Daily News, May 5, 1926
While the Bon Ton was known primarily for it’s shopping, there was one special event that was a favorite for all generations.
Each year, after Thanksgiving, Santa Claus would announce his arrival in the newspaper, and much of Lebanon’s younger generation would flock to see him come. After the initial arrival, first by train and in later years, by airplane, he would make his way down Cumberland in a big parade and then ascend a ladder provided by the local Hook and Ladder Fire Company and enter the building through an upper story window. He would then set up residence in the Bon Ton for the holiday season. This yearly tradition began around 1900 and continued through the 1970s. It continues in some form to this day with a summit to the top of the Lebanon Farmers Market.
The Bon Ton’s business continued steadily through to the summer of 1963, when the entire store underwent a million-dollar renovation. It was completely renovated and refitted, and the exterior of the building was remodeled with a new facade. At this time the store became known as Pomeroy’s, a new branch of the Allied Stores Corporation, based in Baltimore.
The Daily News reported that at the grand opening of Pomeroy’s, “crowds lining both sides of Cumberland Street thronged to the doors to see the new interior and exterior modernization.” An estimated 3,500 shoppers attended that evening, September 13, 1963, and the first 1,000 women who entered the store received a rose, “which lasted only 35 minutes.”
In attendance at this re-opening and ribbon cutting were Lawrence Samler, Louis’s son, who still owned the property, and Mrs. Albert Coons, wife of the Bon Ton’s first manager.
Pomeroy’s was “hailed as a head-to-toe store, offering everything from hair styling to shoe repair” and all advertisements in the newspaper began to read “Pomeroy’s, formerly The Bon Ton.”
Pomeroy’s continued to operate from it’s original home at 834 Cumberland Street through the 1970s, but by 1981, rumors began to circulate regarding the closing the downtown location. In January of 1984, Pomeroy’s officially announced it would close its doors in April, ending an 88 year run for the Cumberland street department store.
After the closing of Pomeroy’s in April of 1984, Edward Hostetter, a Palmyra clothing store owner, purchased the building for $60,000, but the building sat vacant until 1988 when Hostetter sold it to FEI Enterprises, a wallpaper and paint wholesaler, for $140,000.
In 1990, Lebanon’s Furniture World opened up on the first floor and remained in business until 2003. Two years later, after rumors of a possible renovation that would have been part of a larger downtown restoration project, the building was instead demolished to create the Market Square parking lot.
The Bon-Ton name re-emerged in Lebanon in 1994 at the Plaza Mall when Hess’s was sold to the York-based company. It remained open for business at the Plaza mall until its official closing in January of 2006.
It may be that Lebanon’s “greatest store” has been reduced to a parking lot, but many fond memories of Santa climbing the ladder after the Thanksgiving Parade still remain strong for many long-time residents of Lebanon.
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