Keyser Stores of Yesteryear: G.C. Murphy's
By David Shapiro
For the News Tribune
Part 3: G.C. Murphy's Five and Ten Store
Keyser's downtown business section thrived around Murphy's five and dime variety store, more commonly known as the Five and Ten. The G.C. Murphy company was founded in 1906 in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, by George Clinton Murphy. In the 1930s, cash-strapped Americans found that shopping at Murphy's was a good way for them to save money, and the company thrived despite the Great Depression. From 1929 to 1934, sales increased from $15.7 million to $28 million and there were soon 181 Murphy stores in 11 states. The company also owned the Murphy Marts, a discount chain. Eventually, the company grew to include more than 500 stores spanning 25 states.
Before there were fast food chains, Murphy's lunch counters in cities large and small united rich and poor men and women who needed a quick, cheap, and filling “bite to eat” before returning to the office or factory.
Another big draw for the stores were their candy counters and plentiful popcorn machines. Successful business owners would be wise to remember G. C. Murphy company's fundamentals of doing business: Have what the people want and let them know you have it, and organize to serve them quickly, courteously, and satisfactorily.
The G. C. Murphy company had local stores in Keyser, Piedmont, Frostburg, and Cumberland. The original Keyser store was located on the east side of Main Street in the building that later became Shears Ladies Store. In 1925, G.C. Murphy co-signed a lease for the newly erected masonic lodge building, where the store remained until it closed.
The Keyser store had three floors, but the third floor was rented out as a photo studio by Mike Winner. About 30 people worked at the Keyser store. ne of the most popular managers in the Keyser store was Jim Shay. His assistant, Don Seibel, who still lives in Keyser, was also popular with the local clientele. Manager Jim Shea's daughter, Julia, was the stock room manager at the Keyser store. Other people who worked at the Keyser store were Dorwina Ryan, who took care of the first floor, and Juanita Kauffman, who was second floor manager. Other employees of the Keyser store were Joann Keplinger, Elsie Turner Norman, Charles Blamer, Joann Beavers, Woodrow Beavers, and Bill Manns, who was the last manager before the Keyser store closed. Interestingly, Mr. Manns held the record of selling the most Hula hoops in one day, over 1,000 of them.
The Cumberland store had a shoe repair shop in the back of their store; it was owned by Julio Calemine (brother to Reno Calemine, who owned a shoe repair shop in Keyser).
Murphy's sold the variety division to former competitor McCrory's Stores. The company was acquired by Ames Department Stores in 1985. Although G.C. Murphy ceased business operations some time ago, the chain's foundation is still in existence. Retired and former employees of the store have a volunteer organization that allows them to keep in touch.
Because my business was located downtown, someone in my family was probably in the Murphy’s Store every day – buying candy, popcorn, toys, or household goods. I have many fond memories of this business and formed friendships with many of the people working there.
Nothing today compares to the nostalgia of a store like the “Five and Dime.”