Written by Art Petrosemolo
If you’ve lived in Lancaster County for a while—40 years or more—you’ll remember the Kready General Store in Manheim. It opened in 1865, and served Manheim area residents for nearly 100 years.
For its last four decades (through 1999), the store was sealed tight and filled with tons of new/old merchandise. It became a collector/historian’s dream and much of the merchandise was displayed for about 15 years (from 2000-2016) in a small museum at 55 N. Water Street in Lititz until owner Paul Brown, sold the building and closed the Kready Store Museum. Lots of locals and tourists, who enjoyed browsing the 1925 high button shoes, whale bone corsets and other merchandise (much of it still in the original packaging), were disappointed.
Well, a portion of the Kready collection is on display now with more to come at Brown’s recently opened Mad Man Antique Gallery on Prince Street in Lancaster.
So why is there such a fuss over all this old stuff?
It’s quite a story.
For much of the 19th and through the early 20th century, Lancaster County residents bought their stuff at general stores – the WalMart’s of the era. General stores stocked everything from dry goods to sewing and cleaning supplies. The family-owned general stores faded from existence with the growth of the self-serve grocers of the 1950s where patrons did not have to wait for the proprietor to fill your orders from the shelves behind his counter like Mr. Olsen did in Olsen’s Mercantile in the late 20th century “Little House on the Prairie” TV series.
Many of these general stores were liquidated and the buildings demolished for housing or new businesses.
However, not far away in Manheim, the Kready’s General store that was owned for most of its history by E. E. Kready Sr. and his son E. E. Jr., was never purchased and demolished in the last half of the 20th century. E. E. Kready Jr., an eccentric man, closed and shuttered the store filled with its original merchandise about 1960, most of it all new, unopened stock and the store became a time capsule.
In the last decade of the 20th century, the Landis Valley Museum as well as the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC became interested, along with a lot of other history buffs, in gaining access to the store and purchasing the inventory. The brass ring went to Paul Brown, a local entrepreneur, who was working for TAIT Towers in Lititz and had an interest in antiques and collectibles.
Brown befriended E. E. Kready, Jr., and was one of his closest friends in the last years of Kready’s life. Kready died in 2001. Before he passed away, Kready sold the store and the contents to Brown. Brown operated the original building as a museum for a few years before purchasing 55 N. Water Street in Lititz. Brown developed the new site into a go-to complex with a restaurant, stores and a museum to house Kready merchandise.
Brown sold the complex in 2016 and the building is now the site of the Appalachian Brewing Company. The Kready collection of antique merchandise went into storage.
Brown says there is still great interest in things that connect us with a bygone era. He has received lots of calls and inquiries about the collection and decided it was time to bring exhibit it as well as to sell portions of it. Brown recently opened Mad Man Antiques Gallery in Lancaster and is rotating a lot of the inventory through the gallery. He hopes, in the years to come, to work with the Star Barn Complex in Elizabethtown to set up a permanent recreation of the Kready store there.
The collection is eclectic and includes items like women’s button top boots and whale bone corsets as well as cleaning products that have long since gone off the market and candies and packaging from manufacturers like Whitman and Hershey. Unfortunately, some of the products’ packaging reflects a bygone era with graphics and copy that would be considered extremely racist today.
One of the unique displays in the collection is a large sewing cabinet—a work of art—with lots of sliding drawers displaying threads in every imaginable color.
You may see some of the Kready collection at the Mad Man Antiques Gallery at 928 N. Prince St. The gallery (next to the Neptune Diner) is open Wednesday through Saturday from 10am to 5pm. The Gallery has a Facebook presence and a website under construction. I have written a longer story about the store which will appear in the Lititz Record later this winter.