“Meet Me Under the Clock”

By: Avera Worrall

Photos Courtesy of:
The Hagen History Center
oldtimeerie.blogspot.com
Mercyhurst Library 

Erie, like most urban areas at this time of year, is bustling with holiday shoppers. But, over a century ago and for decades to follow, the most popular place to shop, which still holds fond memories for many residents, was the Boston Store in downtown Erie. Parents, grandparents, and just about everyone in Erie knew the meaning of “meet me under the clock.” The giant timepiece, located in the center of the main floor, was a familiar meeting place for shoppers rushing up and down the escalators. To understand why this iconic store was so fondly remembered by so many people, let’s first look at the history behind such a well-respected store.

The Boston Store was founded in 1884 on Peach Street in downtown Erie under the original name of Sibly’s. It was owned by a Rochester firm with a group of stores locals referred to as Boston Stores. A year later, the Erie location adopted that familiar name too. By the turn of the century, the store was expanding and eventually filled a complete block from State Street to Peach Street. In 1929 a redesign was planned by local architects, Myers and Krider. This new, modern design began as three stories but quickly grew to six which included plans for a pool on the top floor. However, due to accessibility issues, that idea was scrapped. More upgrades occurred with the installation of escalators and a water sprinkler system, the first commercial operation to do so in Erie, keeping the Boston Store updated and even more popular for its attention to customer service. 

Throughout its history, The Boston Store made a memorable impression on its customers, as one resident describes, “What nice memories I have of the early ’50s, meeting in the downstairs cafeteria or under the clock.” For children, the Boston Store was a magical place as this former customer recalls, “I have wonderful childhood memories of special shopping days with my mother at the Boston Store including Easter dresses, school shoes, and our Christmas visit with Santa in the Fabulous Toyland.” It was also a hot spot for teens according to this former patron, “Next to the escalator you could pick up the Top 40 list from WJET radio. Occasionally they would have special lists such as the Top 500 songs of all time. I still have one copy of that from the 1960s.” 

 

It was a special place for employees too. Mercyhurst graduate, Barbara Chambers fondly recounts her days behind the counter. “Working on the main floor, near the elevators, in the Notions Department, gave me a view of almost every shopper who came to the Boston Store. As a result, I met lots of new people, customers, and passersby, as well as lots of my friends and relatives.” Ms. Chambers proudly explains that she earned 96 cents an hour and was required to follow the Boston Store’s modest dress code of “no sleeveless attire.” This may seem minimal pay and a bit strict for today’s college students, but for the ’60s, when retail options were limited in Erie, a Boston Store clerk position was highly valued by many young adults working their way through school.

By 1971 the Boston Store was quite familiar, and most noted for marketing signs which wrapped around the building that covered a full block. They were also known for their mile marking signs making it clear just how many miles you were from one location to the front of the store. Some people even had similar signs placed in their yards. Due to the Highway Beautification Act, the five-foot, iconic signs were removed from state highways while some customers kept the signs as souvenirs. Erie, Historian Debi Lyon says, “The Boston Store mile marker signs used to be spread-out all-over Erie County, PA. It seems like they were posted along the roadside every few miles on Route 20, Route 8, and Route 5.”

For others, the memories reached far beyond clothing and jewelry. In the basement, the soda fountain was well known for its milkshakes and cafeteria-style lunches while the sixth-floor dining room was reserved for more special occasions.  

By the early ’70s, shoppers were introduced to a new form of retail at local malls which took them out into the suburbs and away from downtown. In 1974, Erie’s new Millcreek Mall proved to be tough competition for the historic 

Boston Store. However, there was still some hope left for the store to be remembered with a place in history. After the store closed its doors to retail business, The Villa Maria Academy decided to preserve the Boston Store as a historic landmark. But the effort failed and on July 7th, 1979, the Boston store closed its doors for good. 

There have been some recent attempts to rebuild or recreate a new Boston Store but it’s nearly impossible to recreate the same experience that Erie residents carry only in their memory now. “I remember that the elevator attendant would announce the type of merchandise one could purchase on any given floor as the elevator doors opened. My fave announcement was Ladies Better Dresses.”

Today, there is a movement to return to downtown shopping and you’ll find Point Foure in the center of it all at its new location, 523 State Street. We don’t have Boston Store escalators, but we do have exceptional customer service, unique vintage clothing and we promise to give you a memorable shopping experience.


Special thanks to:

The Hagen History Center

Old Time Erie

Mercyhurst Library

 

January 04, 2022 — Emily George