Wanamakers General Store’s Meet Your Neighbor event was truly an event to meet your neighbors, offering an opportunity to see some familiar faces and meet new people.
The old-fashioned, family-owned general store in Kempton celebrated its new seating area with a ribbon cutting, tastings and live music.
“I think it’s expanding places that people can meet their neighbor. Instead of just grabbing your sandwich and heading home you can now sit and chat with people, be in a place that’s fun and friendly,” said Kyra Hendricks, co-owner, about the new seating area in relation to the Meet Your Neighbor event.
The all day event included live music. Guitarist Steve Heineman performed alternative pop and folk. He was also joined by Lydia Gosner, 14, Schnecksville, for an impromptu performance. Gosner asked Heineman to accompany her while she sang “I can’t help falling in love” by Elvis. Gosner wanted to sing for her mother for Mother’s Day.
Tom and Betty Drunkenmiller also performed Bluegrass. The event also featured tastings by Saucony Creek Brewing Co. in Kutztown, Farmer Don’s Organic Hot Sauce from Connecticut and Pure Wild Tea from Bernville.
Another highlight was a ribbon cutting to celebrate the new space with members of the Northeast Berks Chamber of Commerce. Wanamakers became a chamber member in March. Since January, the Chamber has welcomed 21 new members.
“They have such a quaint, charming store,” said Lori B. Donofrio-Galley, Executive Director, Northeast Berks Chamber. “We’re happy to expand our service area and find some of these really unique retail stores and shops in the country side.”
Angela Corrado, of marketing agency Against the Grain, said they wanted to celebrate the new space and also remind people why the general store is so special.
“It is a step back in time, a step away from the modern day distractions and technology,” said Corrado. “That’s what Wanamakers is all about, a feel good, nostalgic, very charming place.”
The Meet Your Neighbor event encouraged the community to come out and meet new people in the neighborhood, she said. “Bring the community together in a sense.”
Over the winter, the renovation project expanded the seating area by removing a wall and adding windows to what was a storage room. Vintage tables and chairs, from GRQ Used Furniture, offered additional seating for breakfast and lunch made there at the deli.
The store offers groceries, locally produced foods, arts and crafts, USA manufactured toys, and homemade deli items.
“What we’ve been trying to create here at Wanamakers is we live in a world where it’s bigger grocery store, bigger department stores. You’re just getting lost,” said Hendricks. “You’re interacting with people that you don’t know, and when you step in here you can say, ‘I’ll have my usual,’ and we’ll know what that means.”
“We’re trying to bring it back to the community that you can make those connections, be in a neighborhood environment,” continued Hendricks.
In the suburbs, she said people go into their houses and don’t see anybody.
“Here, you’re interacting with people. You’re buying things that were made by people who also live in your neighborhood,” she said.
“Customers are finding each other and they are forming connections with each other because this is a space that you’re willing to take a risk on chatting with a stranger,” said Arian Hungaski, co-owner.
At the grocery store, Hungaski said people keep their heads down and are just trying to get through the experience because they are overwhelmed.
“I know we’re responsible for at least one marriage,” said Hungaski. “We’ve got guys who now hunt together. People who started business ventures together and it’s germinated over their morning coffee.”
“They’re little general store magic moments,” said Hungaski.
The new seating area came about because customers filled up the three little tables located in the front of the general store. Meanwhile, the storage area was storing soda.
“Why are we wasting our time on storing soda?” remembered Hungaski. “We’ve got this space, let’s use it.”
“It’s made a huge difference,” said Hendricks.
“I think we were genuinely surprised at how great the space turned out and what a draw it’s been,” said Hungaski. “We did it on a whim and it’s turned out to be a fabulous idea.”
According to the store website, http://www.wanamakersgeneralstore.com, “In the late 1870s, Elias Hoppes, a civil war veteran (present at Lee’s surrender at the Appamattox Court House) built the store from brick manufactured in the adjoining meadow, and timber milled from the slopes of the Blue Mountains in Northern Lehigh County. Since then the store has remained operational through three Pennsylvania families—the Reinharts for 74 years, David and Deborah Bond for 25 years.”
Arian and Tim Hungaski bought the general store in May 2007. In 2011 Kyra Hendricks joined as manager and took on a part ownership in 2013.