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‘Checking Out’ One Last Time

By Staff | Apr 2, 2013

Gail and Harold Lowe, second generation owners of Lowe's Great Valu grocery, will soon be 'checking out' of their Clarkstown business and into retirement.

CLARKSTOWN Retirement is in the near future for Gail and Harold Lowe, owners of Lowe’s Great Value grocery store located on Route 442 in Clarkstown. Closure brings to an end a two-generation business totaling 73 years.

When asked what their retirement plans include, Gail said, “We’re going to go home,” an understandable reply with the store open nearly seventy hours, seven days a week.

Recently, Ben Franklin store owner Gary Peck purchased his part of the store, “Something he’s wanted to do for a long time,” Gail said. As of now the owners haven’t had an offer on the grocery section. Until new owners are found, employees will be furloughed. Plans are to remain open until at least April 16 with customers advised to watch newspaper ads for updates.

Upon hearing the news, remarks from the public are much the same, “Lowe’s is not just a store; it’s an institution.” The grocer’s have served an expansive area where most can’t recall Clarkstown without a Lowe’s store.

The business began shortly after Harold’s parents married; Raymond and Laura (Ryder) Lowe opened an appliance, electrical and plumbing store in Millville in 1939. Later they constructed a new store building at a location between Jerseytown and White Hall. During those years Raymond’s associates were Clifton Fenstamacher and J. Allen DeWald.

The late Laura and Raymond Lowe, founders of Lowe's grocery market in Clarkstown 73 years ago.

In 1946, the Lowe’s came to Clarkstown after purchasing a garage and luncheonette from Warren Foust. In addition to electrical and plumbing supplies, pumps were installed to sell Tydol Flying “A” gasoline with Montour Auto of Montoursville delivering fuel. Groceries were stocked; Grit newspapers were available as were shoes, goulashes, clothing and paint. Dairy farmers could even buy rubber cups to fit milking machines. If you didn’t see it, shoppers would ask Raymond and he’d hurry off and return with the item.

Popular after four o’clock on Sunday afternoons were hand dipped cones of Pennsupreme ice cream. At a nickel a dip, one worker was constantly kept busy. In a yellow and orange step van, Ray App delivered Stroehman breads, cakes and rolls. Images of “Little Miss Sunbeam, the company’s logo, appeared on each side of the truck.

Beneath a glass dome on the store counter, chunks from a cheese wheel were cut to customer’s specifications, wrapped in waxed paper and tied with a string.

From Baker’s Locker Plant in Millville, Raymond picked up the week’s supply of bologna when he went to do his banking. Usually Harold rode along with his dad.

In those days, Lowe’s stocked Royal Swan brand goods from the company’s wholesale outlet in Berwick. The wholesaler’s representative was Dick Frymire who accompanied Laura weekly through the store going shelf to shelf listing items needed for delivery the following week. Laura had said the arrival of automation brought the most amazing change; one could tabulate then phone item numbers to the warehouse and receive shipment the following day.

At first, the only workers were family members Raymond, Laura and sons Jesse, Gary and Harold. As the business grew new hires included Marian Applegate, Alma Jean Snyder and Stanley Magargle.

Raymond continued selling General Electrical Appliances and kept abreast of advances by attending training schools. He took the first television in the Clarkstown area to the Lester Wagner residence near Opp. As there was no reception the set went to the home of Wagner’s brother Sylvanis, who lived at a higher elevation nearby off Exchange Road. Lowe also installed the first cable television hook-up in the Clarkstown area.

During the 1950’s Raymond was substitute mail carrier for Muncy Rural Route #1.

To the store’s second floor, apartments were added, the first of the two occupied by Clifford “Jake” Kocher.

With no room to expand the store, open space across the highway appealed to Raymond. It took much persuasion to convince the owner to sell. Millville lumberman and Christmas tree grower Harvey Sones had purchased the land from Ralph “Corky” Rager and were physically planting trees when the two struck a deal. Several times Laura tried to talk her husband out of the idea as they owed no debts.

Raymond’s dream of a modern store came to fruition in July 1971 when they relocated across the road. On the building’s east end the Ben Franklin Variety Store and Pharmacy was added and on the west end, a branch office of Muncy Bank and Trust Co.

As for the former store building, a part currently houses the shop of barber Barry Magargle with an adjoining portion that has a second hand store.

Stores where owners are present to personally greet customers are nearly extinct. With both the Lowe’s past the midway point of age sixty, “It’s time to go,” Gail said.