New Castle News

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May 28, 2012

Road to the Mall: Some former merchants tell how and why they decided to locate in the facility

NEW CASTLE — They came at various times but for the same reason.

They wanted to be a part of the Towne Mall.

When Sears became the first mall store to open in 1969, others quickly followed. All but one of those original mall merchants — Madeline Rice of the Towne Mall Beauty Salon — are long gone from the facility now called Cascade Galleria. But they all remember how they got there.

Here are some of their stories.

Rich Guadagno,

Mr. Pizza

Guadagno had come to the area from Brooklyn around 1972, looking for malls in which to establish a pizza restaurant. A potential deal with Boardman’s Southern Park Mall fell through, and Guadagno and his partner returned to New Castle’s Holiday Inn to regroup.

While having a drink at the bar, Guadagno shared his story with a stranger who turned out to be John Blackson, whose Arcon Development Corp. owned the Towne Mall.

“He says, ‘I got a mall,’ ” Guadagno recalled. “And I says, ‘I know. And I fell off a turnip truck.’ I thought he was putting me on. What do I know? As it turned out, he did have a mall, and a store that was available.”

That store was an Orange Julius shop that Blackson also owned. Business, though, was poor, and he was looking to get rid of it. Guadagno eventually agreed to take the space, making few changes. Today, although it’s been sold twice and Guadagno has operated his restaurant on East Washington Street since 1988, his original location — now Town Mall Pizza — still bears the classic look of Orange Julius.

“If you look at the chairs, they still got pitchforks on them,” Guadagno said. “That’s the trademark of Orange Julius.”

Mike Caggiano,

Richman Brothers

Caggiano, who now owns Main Street Clothiers, retired as manager of the Richman Brothers Towne Mall store. Both he and the business, though, were downtown before the first spade of dirt was ever turned in the Lower Neshannock Creek urban renewal project.

“The store opened in 1953, and I started there in ’65, up on the corner that used to be the old city building,” he said. “A couple of years later, we moved down next to Isaly’s in the old Woods Building.

“We were there a couple of years when they first proposed the Towne Mall. By that time, I had eight years in with the company, then I spent 20 at the mall.”

The Richman Brothers chain went out of business around the same time that the mall began to empty out, Caggiano recalled, “but it was no fault of the mall, and no fault of the New Castle store because it was always one of the best stores in the chain.”

Tom Weingarter,

Weingartner Florists

“We weren’t there at the start, we were there a couple of years after it opened,” Weingartner said. “There was a ladies apparel store in there, and I think the whole chain went bankrupt, so we moved into their spot, which was right on the corner.

“We bought the fixtures and whatever was there, and we were there until the mid- to late 1990s.”

Weingartner noted that his father had started the business around 1931 with a flower shop in downtown New Castle.

“Around 1954 or ’55, he built the Garden Corner, which was strictly a garden center, at this location on Wilmington Road (at the intersection of Maitland Lane) before anything was out here.

“He still had his store at 22 N. Mill St., but in the early 1970s, when they started tearing down buildings to build Washington Centre — which is about the time my brother and I came into the business — he moved the flower shop up here into the garden center and expanded into giftware and so on.”

But after four decades of being downtown, Weingartner’s yearned to return. “So when the mall opened, we went in because we really wanted to have a downtown presence. And we felt we had one of the best locations in the mall, right on the corner, next to the fountain.”

John Yergan,

New Castle Hobby Center

Having forged a career in the retail business, Yergan was looking to Fisher’s Big Wheel for employment. Following an interview at the now-defunct retailer’s Neshannock Township offices, he was driving through New Castle and stopped for lunch.

At that same time, he decided to look around the mall and spied an empty unit. He asked to speak to someone in charge of the facility, and met with owner John Blackson.

“I talked with him, and he gave me a deal on the place I couldn’t refuse,” Yergan said. “I thought, I worked all these years for somebody else, why not do something for myself?”

Thus began the New Castle Hobby Center, which opened in a kiosk in 1980 and ended up in two different storefronts before closing in 1997.

Yergan is now on the pastoral staff of First Baptist Church.

Richard and Irene Downing,

The Sweet Shoppe

 At the time the Towne Mall opened, the Downings already operated The Sweet Shoppe on North Mill Street. That didn’t stop them from opening a second location in the mall.

“We had two stores so close together, but they were two different things,” Irene Downing said. “When they came in the Mill Street store, they came in for a reason. When they came in that store, they bought something.

“At the mall, that was a browsing place, so we had to have more interesting things at the mall so as they walked along, they would want to stop and come in and browse. We had more stuffed animals, we had ceramics.

“Every once in a while we had talking baby dolls and things like that, something that would draw people. Other than that, we had the same chocolates and everything.”

Tom and Vivian Sansone,

The Gift Gallery

The Sansones’ shop was a sequel of sorts to one that had been run by Mary Bigley on North Street. When Bigley closed her business, she suggested the Sansones start their own gift shop, which they did.

Vivian Sansone kept her day job at the local telephone company, but would join her husband at the mall store during the evenings and on Saturdays.

 Madeline Rice,

Towne Mall Beauty Salon

Rice worked at the salon in Strouss, located at North and North Mill streets, before deciding to open a shop of her own in the mall.

The business remains open in its original location, a long, narrow room not much wider than a walk-in closet.

“I signed up with the manager, then I went on vacation,” Rice recalled. “And while we were gone, next door, there was Investors Security, and they needed two more feet than what they had designed for the room. And the manager decided since I met the state requirements of the width, I probably wouldn’t mind if he gave them two more feet.

“That’s how I ended up with two feet less width than I was supposed to have. It made a difference, but we’ve managed.”

Jack Haims,

The Clothes Post/Ladies Store

The Ladies Store, Haims said, opened downtown in 1928. He launched a second store under a different name, The Clothes Post, in August 1972 in the Towne Mall.

“It just seemed advantageous to be there,” Haims said. "I would walk back and forth between my two stores. Sometimes I’d eat at the Hudson (Lunch), and sometimes at the pizza place in the mall.

“When things got a little rocky downtown, I closed the downtown store and changed the name of The Clothes Post in the mall to The Ladies Store.”

Haims recalled walking into his mall store one winter morning and noticing that sunlight was pouring through the roof.

“Someone had cut a hole in my roof,” he said, “and came down and stolen all my fur coats.”

Still, Haims enjoyed his time in the mall, signing four, five-year leases. After 20 years, he moved back downtown, even though his former location had been destroyed by fire in the interim.

“I just really liked the downtown,” he said. “I always think of the downtown as the heart of a city.”

 

 

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