When the Posten Taxi Co. of Wilkes-Barre carried its last fare recently, the community lost one of its few remaining businesses that date to the 1800s.
In the 19th century the company operated a for-hire livery stable on North Main Street. Through the eras of drays, flivvers, big gas hogs and “green” cars it proudly carried local people on their many errands.
Yet some other businesses from those days remain.
Here’s my unscientific list. I’ve avoided businesses such as legal firms with ever-changing partners and banks that have been repeatedly bought, sold and merged. I’ve left out the family-owned farms, some of which date from colonial days. This will be an urban “bricks-and-mortar” tour only. If I’ve missed any, please let me know.
OK, let’s show a time-traveling guest around.
If our Victorian visitor grows nervous about all the cars in the streets and decides to buy some insurance, he’ll probably find the Biddle & Eno and J.W. Hoban names familiar. They both go way back into the 1800s.
The name “Times Leader” on a downtown building might provide some comfort as well, because the paper’s ancestors – The Times and The Leader – could have found their way to his doorstep.
While there’s been a name change and quite a lot of growth, our visitor would surely remember that a fellow named Redington was operating a small hotel on the site of his later one, now known as the Genetti Banquet and Convention Center.
Hopefully he wouldn’t need the services of an undertaker, but he ought to recognize the Kniffen and McLaughlin funeral parlors, among the earliest in the area.
A trip down to Hanover Township would show him that the Rifkin company, maker of security bags and supplies, is still a fixture of the community. A few more miles and he’d see the Bertels metalware company.
A ride across the river to Kingston would enable him to see that Wyoming Seminary is still operating.
If our gent gets thirsty after all this traveling around, he can sashay into any tavern and order up a nice, frosty Stegmaier, though someone would likely tell him that a different brewery now makes it.
Finally, inspired by Steg’s logo, he’d probably want to pin gold medals on our next two businesses. They both go way, way back and have continued to provide their original services over incredible periods of time. My great-great-grandparents could have shopped at the downtown’s biggest store – Boscov’s (formerly The Boston Store). It’s stood in the same place, in the same building (though expanded), since Rutherford B. Hayes was in the White House.
But even that store must give place to a company that started in downtown Wilkes-Barre when there were just 29 states in the union and Abe Lincoln was a confused freshman in Congress. It’s a company that has done the same work all that time, changing its location but not its name.
In 1847 a young fellow named Oscar Smith opened a cleaning emporium on South Fell Street (later known as South State Street). One level of his four-floor operation was devoted entirely to cleaning carpets that people would roll up and bring in. By the early 20th century he had a wagon-mounted carpet cleaning machine that could be driven to people’s homes. Today the company is based in Swoyersville.
Well, there you have it. Maybe you didn’t find any cents-off coupons to redeem or any sale prices to take advantage of, but one thing is still clear: Shopping for history is fun.