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Landmark store closing

  • LINDA KOEHLER/TIMES NEWS Bill Spillane has decided to close the doors of Spillane's Variety Store in Palmerton after 37 years and marks the end of a 64-year family-run business. The store's going-out-of-business sale starts tomorrow.
    LINDA KOEHLER/TIMES NEWS Bill Spillane has decided to close the doors of Spillane's Variety Store in Palmerton after 37 years and marks the end of a 64-year family-run business. The store's going-out-of-business sale starts tomorrow.
Published September 24. 2013 05:00PM

A visit to Spillane's is like a visit to the local general store of years gone by. It has all those everyday items needed, and some you just didn't know you needed.

You invariably meet a neighbor or two. The staff is friendly, warm and always helpful. All that's missing is the old pot belly stove.

Palmerton and the surrounding community, will soon be bidding Spillane's Variety Store, located at 260 Delaware Ave., a fond farewell.

An era will come to an end beginning tomorrow, when Bill Spillane will hold the first day of his store closing sale.

The store has a 64-year old legacy which began with the founder of a chain of Spillane stores, Bill's father, George Spillane Sr.

For 14 years, George managed F.W. Woolworth stores in Maryland, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania. He met his wife, Ellen in one of the stores. They were married 70 years before she passed away last year. They have five children, 14 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

"We moved a lot when my dad managed the Woolworth stores. Then my dad opened his own store, G.J. Spillane 5 & 10 Cent Store at Ridge and Tilghman Streets in Allentown in 1949," says Spillane.

Two more G.J. Spillane stores opened, one on Eighth Street in Allentown in 1950 and on Sixth Street in the city in 1954. Another opened in Emmaus in 1964. Then in 1976, the family purchased the old W.T. Grant Store in Palmerton at 260 Delaware Ave. and it became the fifth store, known as Spillane's Variety Store.

Over the years, one by one, the other stores were closed. Only the Palmerton store has remained open. It was from this store that George retired in 2001 at the age of 85. At 97, he's living today in Allentown.

Spillane grew up working in his dad's stores. When he graduated from Allentown Central Catholic High School in 1959, he saw working in the store as a great opportunity.

"It's been good to me all these years," he says. "I have no regrets."

Like his dad, Bill met his wife, Marie, in the store. They were married 48 years until she passed away last year. They have two sons, Bill Jr. and Jim, and two grandchildren.

Bill has mixed feelings about closing the store. He wants to retire. He tried finding a buyer, but that hasn't happened. Neither of his sons followed in their dad's or grandfather's footsteps, carving out careers of their own. So he made the difficult decision to close the store.

"Your time comes. I'm 71. I'm ready," he says.

He talks about having worked six days a week with rarely taking any time off over the years.

"Basically, the store has been my life. But I'm looking forward to doing a little fishing. I like being in the outdoors. Spending more time with family. It will be a change. But I'm ready," he says.

When asked what he'll miss the most, he says, "The customers. My staff. Attending the trade shows. The suppliers. They become your friends. It's the people that make your day."

Even driving to and from the store has been a pleasure.

"It's my 'down time.' I always take the back country roads. I listen to good music and watch the changing of the seasons. I always enjoyed the ride."

As customers hear about the store's impending closing, almost the first reaction is "Oh no!" They just can't imagine the town without Spillane's.

Spillane believes the store has been successful because, "We looked for things you didn't find in the big stores. We were always looking for something new for our customers."

Some of what makes Spillane's such a unique store is its sections for crafting, cake decorating and candy making supplies; fabric and floral departments; Red Hat items; and primitive and country decor pieces.

Now everything in the store is on sale from clothing, toys, bed and bath, housewares, health and beauty, stationery, hardware, candy, greeting cards, crafts. floral, county decor and seasonal items.

All sales are final with no refunds or exchanges. The store is open Mondays-Thursdays from 9 a.m. until 5:30 p.m.; Fridays from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m.; and Saturdays from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.

Spillane wants his customers to know that he's very grateful and appreciative of their support all these years.

"It's been a good 37 years here. I'll miss a lot of things. I've been very fortunate. I enjoyed my job. But it's time. Even my dad says so."

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