Tales of Philly Sales

During this last week I had a great conversation with someone I met on Facebook who lives in the Charlotte area but grew up, as I did, in Binghamton, New York. We got to reminiscing about some things that are no longer in the area, such as the signs at Walter’s Shoe Store and Elgin Rugs, and stuff every good Binghamtonian should know, such as where to get the best spiedie.

Asking yourself, what’s a spiedie? The native food of Binghamton. The nectar of the gods. That which I must eat every few months or so or I start to twitch. More here…

So in amongst the conversation was a mention of Philadelphia Sales Company. Alas, I have no pictures of this place, since it closed before I ever owned a camera, but it’s an important component of why I do what I do. While I tell you all about it, I’ll scatter in some pictures of other Binghamton landmark signs I did manage to get in time.

Greyhound Station, Binghamton, NYGreyhound Station (restored), Binghamton, NY

Philadelphia Sales Company, or Philly Sales as they were more commonly known, was the Wal-Mart before there was Wal-Mart. They had everything for less and you didn’t question its origins. Four floors of random stuff from ball gloves to fabrics. The building it was housed in was not in the best neighborhood, and when you entered from the parking lot, you were greeted by the view of the back side of some ancient tenements which had somehow managed to stay upright despite seventy or more brutal winters.

The original entrance was essentially through a narrow shed at the front and right of the building. During the winter this became a dirty, sloshy, claustrophobic mess, but once inside, you were rewarded with the smell of popcorn. Philly Sales had an old popcorn popper and they kept it in the entrance, and if you grew up in the are in the 60s and 70s, this is a grand memory. To tell the truth, I can only recall getting the popcorn once or twice, but the aroma was overwhelming, cheering, warming on a chilly day.

Red Oak Diner Sign, Binghamton, NYRed Oak Diner, Binghamton, NY

The building itself was a marvel. What it housed prior to Philly Sales is unknown to me, but it certainly never looked like it was meant to be a department store. There were steps in odd places. Some sections were cavernous, others were laughingly small. The first floor, past the popcorn machine and all the candy a child could ever want, was a section of glassware. Midway along this area of glassware was a sign telling you to “Watch Your Head.” And they meant it. At this point, the builders, tired of high ceilings, decided to lower the ceiling to child level. I’m guessing it was five and a half feet from the ground, because my mother could enter without bending, but at a certain age, I could not. It was a proud day the moment my hair touched that ceiling. A right of passage. Some people have bar mitzvahs, I had this.

Competition KItchens and Baths neon sign, BInghamton, NYCompetition Kitchens, Binghamton, NY

To get upstairs, you had several options. Staircases seemed to appear out of nowhere. I swear there was one that went from the fourth floor to the third that had been a secret passageway. But each staircase had something special: an indoor neon sign with an arrow, lighting the way. “THIS WAY TO THE THIRD FLOOR.” These signs were relics even in the seventies. I’d like to think somebody has them somewhere.

There was neon sign outdoors as well, on Clinton Street, which was technically its address, although hardly anyone ever entered from that side.

Ellis Brothers Furniture neon sign, Binghamton, NYEllis Brothers Furniture, Binghamton, NY

My family has a friend who worked there for a period of time. She said that there was definitely a sitcom that could have been based on that place, and that her boss could have been played by Don Knotts. The crazy tales she told only added to the place’s slapstick allure. We went frequently.

And then Wal-Mart burst forth from the South, rendering it irrelevant. At the time, we welcomed the colossus in, somehow never dreaming that this old wacky place had created such fond memories. For instance, Phily Sales had a bin of white tube socks. Fifteen feet by nine. You could jump in it if you needed to hide from danger. No one ever needed that many white tube socks, but they had them in case you did.

It’s odd to think of a place I know so well no longer exists. The whole building is gone now, and a new one in its place. It makes me sad that I don’t have a picture of it, but maybe that makes the memory stronger.

Anybody else have tales of Philly Sales? I’d love to hear them.

Addendum: Recently I found this picture from the Clinton Street entrance. I’m not sure who took it or when it was taken, but it looks like it was taken after it closed.

Philadelphia Sales

25 thoughts on “Tales of Philly Sales”

    1. The Wall O’ Jeans was another good highlight of that store. I have a vivid memory of the back wall of the second floor being a maddening series of stacked, stiff, dark blue denim. I also forgot to mention the hand drawn signs…they had someone on-staff who hand-lettered all of their pricing signs in a terrific sign-painter style. Another fantastic part of that grand old store.

  1. So happy to find this post. I just found a big box of Care Bear books in folk’s house from early 80s that were all purchased at Philly Sales – I reviewed these with joy tonight with my 92 year old Grandma, who lived in Maine (I grew up in Apalachin) and would take me to Philly Sales to wander (trying to figure out the exact location, Endicott for sure) and buy me one of these special books for a treat. I was young, but I remember the experience very fondly, and remember that sign Watch your head too and going down to the basement! So much fun and exploration.

    1. That’s terrific! So glad I could stir up some memories…

      So, wow! I didn’t even know there was an Endicott location until I looked it up. It was on Harrison Avenue. I was only familiar with the Clinton Street Binghamton location and the one in Johnson City. What was the one in Endicott like?

      1. It was great! Very similar to what you describe. It’s really crazy to think of it being gone 🙁 So many happy childhood memories in that area in general. I’ve been gone for 20 years now and so much has happened… the floods being the biggest thing. Breaks my heart and having had a idyllic childhood, I can’t even imagine going through that!

  2. I was trying to tell some folks at work about this store but couldn’t remember the name. Had to ask my mom. I knew she would remember it. Such fond memories.

  3. wow i remember that place well it was definitly a childs wonderland, toys , candy and of course the popcorn in those long tube like bags. its a shame family places like that don’t survive in todays market, if anybody missed the opportunity to go and shop or just look around you wouldnt have believed all the cool stuff. its sadly missed.

    1. I at least wish the building was still standing. It might be foolish to think that place would survive now, but I would love to be able to go in there once again, even if everything were cleared out of it. I also want to know if anyone saved any of the neon signs…so far no one has come forward to mention it to me…

  4. As a young boy we use to go there to the Clinton St location to buy matchbox cars, planet of the apes figures. The smell of popcorn as soon as you walk in was great and to the right they had glassware and knick knacks was were we bought all the things for moms birthday and all holidays. It really was an odd building w uneven floors and stairs. I remember during winter they would have a bin full of gloves. They were all mixed up but if you find the matching glove you got them for a dollar.lol funny stuff there.

    1. Oh, that’s awesome about the gloves! The Clinton Street one was the one I was most familiar with, and I must admit I bought a few matchbox cars there. I remember they were in a little nook by the Clinton Street entrance, and to get a good look at their selection, you had to walk back there sideways to fit yourself in there.

  5. It was the best place to get Chuck Taylors! Back when they were still made in the USA.

    I think the building was actually two buildings put together. Remember where the floor changed and went up, like a ramp? That place was a hugely dangerous wonderland.

    1. It seemed like more than three buildings smashed together! OSHA nightmare, to be sure. It seemed like every section was on a different level…I think that ramp was on the second floor?

  6. Deja Vu!

    I totally forgot about the popcorn – thanks for the memory!

    Seems like there was a Philly Sales closer to JC (can’t recall what street it was on).

    Loved that place – prehistoric Walmart to be sure.

    1. The JC Philly Sales…are you thinking the one just off the traffic circle? I only went in there a handful of times. That was a totally weird building, too. One big open space, and then there were odd tendrils and hallways in the back, almost more like a flea market than a department store…

  7. When my sister and I visited our Grandmother from Brooklyn, the only time she let us out of her sight was when we went to Philly Sales! We loved that place! We would go from the first floor to the second, gathering our goodies.

    1. Ah, Philly Sales was a wonderland for a kid. So many places to play hide and seek. I remember on many occasions going there and an impromptu game would start up.

  8. Thank you for posting this! I still have friends in the First Ward. When they tore down the Philly Sales building, one of them gathered up some of the broken glass that made up the border around the second floor facade. I always thought the glass was black but it’s actually a dark cobalt blue. I keep it in a jar as a memento and I’ve been looking for a photo to use as a label. I’m glad I finally found one! I loved shopping at this store because they never seemed to throw out old holiday stock. They just kept putting it out year after year until it sold. I bought many vintage items there, new and in perfect condition. Whenever I smell popcorn I think of shopping with my grandmother, who could usually be persuaded to buy me some little thing from the wonderful toy department. I could go on and on but I’ll spare you. 😉

  9. Worked at Binghamton Phillies during high school and all through college. They always gave us work hours whether it be summer or school breaks. “Buy out” sales were a main stay in addition to first quality goods. Many of us, who worked there, formed life long bonds and are still friends and in touch with one another today. Phillies was a family. Stories too numerous to tell but, those of us who worked “the back door” loved the popcorn, and somedays it was hard to keep up with customer demand. Our least favorite activity…..cleaning the machine at the end of every day!! 😁

  10. My father-in law Joseph Stein, and his partner Sam Jablon started Phillys in 1933, when they bought a silk hosiery outlet. My husband and I came here in 1960. There were several stores already here. Clinton Street, Johnson City, where Mains used to be on Grand Ave., and a small store in Waverly, NY. Alan Jablon, Sam Jablon’s nephew managed the JC Store. My husband Steve was in the Clinton Street store. Steve worked 5 nights and 7days a week, and was the best employer. He kept 200 people working when things got rough with Walmart store opening up. He employed a lot of workers from the first ward. All my children worked there since they were 15
    Just a little insight to a historical business
    Francine Stein

    1. Thank you so much, Francine! It breaks my heart that the store is no longer there. It provided so many memories and touched so many people in ways that a Wal-Mart or any other national chain store could never do. I only wish I could have met your husband to thank him.

  11. Francine, so nice to see your post. I worked there on an off over several years thanks to Steve. He started out as a friend of my cousin, ended up as my part time employer thru the early 70’s while in college. Worked the ladies department when the snakes took up residence, worked a few weeks making those old printed block price tags, and a few other spots around the store. Wonderful store, wonderful man to work for.

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