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Shimer's puts business up for sale

February 25, 2002|BY RICHARD F. BELISLE

McCONNELLSBURG, Pa. - Customers say that if Shimer's Racket Store, a downtown landmark at 207 Lincoln Way West for the last 100 years, doesn't have what they want then they probably don't need it anyway.

A sign on the front window says the store is going out of business.

"We're tired of the long hours," said Mahlon Shimer, 50, who owns the store with his wife, Jody.

The store has been in the Shimer family since 1927, the year that Levi Morton, Mahlon Shimer's maternal grandfather, bought into the business.

In late 1896, the time of Grover Cleveland's second administration, a wholesale merchandiser from New York City named Rouss Racket came to McConnellsburg to open a general store on the corner of Second Street and Lincoln Way East. It opened early in 1897.

Racket owned a small chain of general merchandise stores under his name along the Eastern Seaboard.

Racket hired a New York man to run his new McConnellsburg store. He didn't last much more than a month, Shimer said. A second manager lasted less than two months.

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Soon after, Racket hired two local men, Bill Hull and Harvey Bender, to run the store. They ended up buying the store from Racket.

Hull and Bender moved the store to its current address in 1900. They sold it to Morton and Lou Harris in 1927.

Harris' son, Ernest Harris, succeeded his father in the store. Mahlon Shimer's father, Hiley Shimer, bought into it and became Ernest Harris' partner.

Merle Stenger returned from military duty in World War II and took a job in the store. He became partners with Hiley Shimer and the two ran the store until 1976 when Shimer's share passed on to Mahlon.

Mahlon Shimer and Stenger were partners until 1989 when Stenger retired and Shimer took over the store on his own.

"The hours are long, 60 hours a week," Shimer said. "During peak times, it's 70 hours a week."

Busy times are the spring, when customers come in for seeds, and October through December, when they buy hunting equipment and winter clothes and shoes, he said.

"Jody and I want to do things, go places, but it's hard to get out of here."

He said sometimes, they ask friends in Baltimore to come up and run the store.

"That's a lot to ask of friends," he said.

The Shimers have three grown children, but none is interested in taking over the store, he said.

Shimer said he's had three or four potential buyers plus three more who have expressed interest.

Only the business is for sale. The Shimers live in the building.

"We have a nice Victorian home here and we don't want to move," Shimer said.

He said he hopes the new owner will keep the store as it is.

"Otherwise, a lot of people will have to drive to Hagerstown, Chambersburg or Bedford to get what they want," he said.

The store is having a 20 percent off, going-out-of-business sale. There is no deadline for selling the business, Shimer said.

The couple said they would miss their customers. Local families have been coming to the Racket Store for generations.

The Shimers still use the store's 1911 brass, hand-cranked National cash register.

"It's never needed any repairs," Mahlon Shimer said.

The bell rings when it registers a sale.

Over the years, the bell has and still rings up sales for meat grinders, skillets, coffeemakers, crock pots, baking and cooking stuff, fishing and hunting gear, knives, flashlights, birdseed, propane cylinders, wallets, Timex watches, gloves, work clothes, shaving brushes, boots, custom-mixed paints, storm windows, rope, and just about anything that can be found in a well-stocked general store.

"You can come in here, buy what you need, get instructions on how to use it, even borrow the tools you need from Mahlon," said customer Brett Cornelius of McConnellsburg.

"I'm going to more than miss this place. There aren't any stores like this around anymore," he said.

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