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April 23, 2010
Vol. 51 No. 21

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Lecturer remembers 'five and ten'

The Institute for Lifelong Learning (ILL) hosted a guest speaker on Wednesday, April 21 at 11 a.m. in Degenstein Theater.

Jason Togyer, a freelance journalist and editor, is the author of "For the Love of Murphy's: The Behind-the-Counter Story of a Great American Retailer."

After he was introduced by Joe Herb, director of the ILL, Togyer presented a slideshow on the history of the G.C. Murphy Company.

The company was founded in 1906 by George Clinton Murphy. It started out as a small store in McKeesport where factory or office workers could get something quick to eat while on a lunch break, according to the program. The company later evolved into a "five-and-ten" variety store with over 500 locations.

He said that while other chain businesses in the early 1900s were faceless, the G.C. Murphy Company had a familiar image. They were represented by female clerks that became known as "Murphy's girls."

Togyer compared Murphy's to Sam Drucker's general store on the TV show "Green Acres."

"Murphy's never forgot its roots and never let its executives forget either," Togyer said.
In the early 1900s, variety stores such as the Woolworth and McCrory stores were established mainly in the Monongahela Valley.

Togyer said after Pennsyl-vania became the "cradle of the variety store industry," Murphy's focused less on food service and opened the first Murphy's variety store in Pittsburgh in 1899.

He added, "George Murphy, like everyone else, heard of the steel mills in Pittsburgh, and he figured it was fertile ground for a five-and-ten store."

After Murphy's death, the company was left to the bank. John Mack and Walter Shaw, two executives from McCrory, left their company and purchased Murphy's in 1911, according to the program.

Mack and Shaw avoided cities and concentrated on towns where they would have a more focused customer base. They had fewer stores than competitors Wool-worth and McCrory, but made a larger profit. Murphy's didn't need to borrow money from the bank and was not in debt when the stock market crashed in 1929.

Togyer said it was during this time that The Wall Street Journal recommended Murphy's as a "safe, sound investment." Murphy's cut employee hours but never laid off employees during the crash.

Togyer said that Murphy's was involved with the lives of its employees and, as a result, the employees were loyal to the company. Employees were educated in the store and were required to get involved with the community. Female employees were not allowed to get married, and male employees had to ask permission before marrying. Even though there were over 20,000 employees, one employee might know as many as 100 others.

According to Togyer, Mur-phy's was the first company to have a commercial on TV and the first store to own a computer. It also established a veteran's club for employees with over 15 years of experience and the G.C. Murphy Foundation to support Pittsburgh charities and a scholarship fund for Penn State students.

After World War II, discount stores became popular in suburbs and Murphy's was bought by Ames Department Stores.

"The best way to honor the legacy of the [Murphy's] stores is to honor its principles. We need to respect the people we do business with. We need to value small towns like Selinsgrove and institutions like Susquehanna University," Togyer said to conclude his lecture.

The ILL was created for older members of the Selinsgrove and surrounding area to continue learning through lectures and seminars, according to the university website.

"I grew up in Selinsgrove and always went to the Ebert's five and dime store," said Don Ulrich of Mifflinburg. "The Institute for Lifelong Learning is a good thing to get involved in."

He added: "I've been to lectures about Yuengling and other Pennsylvania companies."

"When I was 16, I got my first real job at a Woolworth store in Williamsport. I made 65 cents an hour," Selinsgrove resident Ricki Stringfellow said. "The best part of this program is the opportunity to expand my horizons and relive events in my own life as well as the socialization."

"It is important for retired people to remain active physically and mentally," Herb said.

"The program isn't limited to Selinsgrove. We've had people attend from Bloomsburg, Millersburg and North-umberland. The challenge is letting people outside of Selinsgrove know about the program."




The Crusader/Beth Tropp
For the love of murphy's-- On Wednesday, April 21, Institute for Lifelong Learning guest speaker Jason Togyer gave a lecture about the history of variety stores in Pennsylvania.

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