Tube City Almanac

November 20, 2009

Sign of (Old) Times

Category: News || By

Above, Bob Miller, left, and Neil Sims of Precision-Burton Sign Co. of Carnegie begin removing the sign on the former G.C. Murphy Co. store in Wilkinsburg earlier this week.

The sign was donated by Precision-Burton and another company, Alto Signs of Philadelphia, to the G.C. Murphy Co. Foundation* for eventual preservation in McKeesport.

Although the store on Penn Avenue in Wilkinsburg opened in the 1920s, the sign removed this week appeared to have been erected sometime in the 1950s.

It was likely one of the last G.C. Murphy Co. signs to remain intact in its original location.

Located on Penn Avenue, the store was one of two operated in Wilkinsburg between 1906 and 1985 by the McKeesport-based five-and-10 chain.

Like the signs on most variety stores, the sign on the Wilkinsburg Murphy's was originally painted dark red with imitation gold letters. It was repainted white with red letters in the 1970s when Murphy's modernized many of its locations, but when the pressed-steel letters were removed from the backing, the glossy red paint was intact on the wood underneath.

Targeted by corporate raiders in 1985, the G.C. Murphy Co. was taken over by Connecticut-based Ames Department Stores, which closed more than 100 of its variety stores, including the Downtown McKeesport location, but the Wilkinsburg store --- the 39th in the chain --- was spared.

In 1989, the Wilkinsburg store and 130 others were sold by Ames to McCrory Stores Corp., which went into permanent decline in the 1990s and finally closed all of its remaining locations in 2002.

Battered by weather and heavily coated in soot from passing traffic, the sign will require repairs before being reassembled. No display location has yet been identified.

The Wilkinsburg store is now part of Brooklyn, N.Y., based Rainbow Shops Inc., a low-priced clothing chain for women and children.

* Disclaimer: The author is a director of the G.C. Murphy Co. Foundation. However, opinions expressed at Tube City Online are not those of the Murphy Foundation, its board members or affiliates.

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