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History in the Hills: The Hub, gone but not forgotten

As we all know, this area has changed through the years. As someone who grew up at the very end of a very prosperous time in our valley’s history, I was reminded growing up of what once was, what was here and what we have lost.

Not all of it, though, is based on local industry, although that plays a part, but national trends as well. One trend that prevailed nationally in the 1970s and 1980s was the death of the smaller mom-and-pop store for the malls, with new stores and better parking. And that made anchor stores in downtown areas, such as ours in Steubenville, decline.

One of the places folks miss the most was the Hub. I have heard folks from all over the region remember the store that was so unique. Lucky for me, my colleagues at Historic Fort Steuben remember fondly Steubenville’s anchor store and supplied most of their memories for this article.

The Hub opened in 1904, owned by brothers Mone and Simon Anathan, on the corner of Fifth and Market streets as an exclusive men’s clothing shop. By 1909 it expanded to another building and began offering women’s, children’s and housewares. Business boomed, and plans were drawn up for an expansion in 1916. The First World War put new construction projects on hold, and it wasn’t until 1922 that the Hub we remember was completed.

The new building, featuring, five floors of merchandise, was a store unlike others in the region. Top-quality, higher-end merchandise filled the various departments, and they were all connected by a pneumatic tube system for orders and communication among departments.

Going shopping in those days was an event. Men wore hats and suits, while women dressed up wearing hats, dresses and gloves. One never went shopping without gloves. The front door to the Hub was located on Market Street, but most shoppers used the door located around the corner on Fifth Street, the one closest to the parking lot. Employees used this door, too, as it was nearest to the time clock.

The Hub was truly a department store in every modern sense. The first floor featured men’s shoes and casualwear, sporting goods and ladies sporting wear, candy, cosmetics, intimates, jewelry, linens, cards, giftwrap, books and records, run by National Record Mart, as well as the credit department. Notions also were on the first floor where you could purchase thread, ribbon and the like.

The second floor hosted ladies dresses and coats, bridal, ladies sportswear, ladies shoes, hats and intimates in addition to junior girls and Girl Scout and school uniforms.

The third floor featured toys, appliances, housewares and china, men’s suits with an exceptional tailoring department, TVs and boy’s clothes and Boy Scout and school uniforms. On four, you would find the furniture, carpet, some high-end brands and fabric. The beauty shop was located there as well.

In the basement, markdowns and sale items were sold in addition to work clothes and luggage. Briefly, the basement level served as a grocery store. The shoe repair shop was located there, too, as well as ladies markdowns.

From the first floor one could climb the stairs or take the elevator, one of four in the building, to the mezzanine level where you could break for lunch at the Tea Room. Lunch items were on the menu, and a favorite was roast beef with coleslaw. The great part about the mezzanine level was that it was a balcony where you could watch eager shoppers move about the store.

The Hub decorated for the seasons, and the windows were a destination, especially to see how designer Betty Richie decorated them for Christmas. Santa would arrive on the third floor, and after you gave him your list of Christmas presents, you were awarded with a little pink or blue gift of your own featuring a little toy to hold you over.

After the big day, Dec. 26 was usually very busy with returns and sale giftwrap and cards. It was busy as long as it wasn’t a Sunday. The Hub was never open on a Sunday.

By the mid-1960s, the possibility of another retail establishment was gaining momentum in the name of the Fort Steuben Mall, with bigger stores, better hours and plenty of parking. The Hub was only open two nights a week, and parking often was a concern. By the late 1960s, the Hub purchased lots on Fifth Street, including the old Paramount Theater, and demolished them to make room for parking. In 1974, the Fort Steuben Mall opened featuring Sears, Kaufmann’s and, in 1975, Carlisle’s. Eventually 65 stores would occupy that space.

The Hub was on the decline and merged in 1969 with L.S. Good, and the name was changed in 1978. In 1980 the store closed and that marked the end of an era. The building sat empty and neglected and was eventually torn down in 1993.

A common item in antiques shops is a commemorative glass block from one of the many windows of the old building.

Today, Dollar Tree occupies the spot at Fifth and Market where so many memories were made. It’s hard to imagine that it was the location of the stately Hub Department store, at one time the largest department store in the United States in a town of fewer than 40,000 residents.

It’s gone but very much not forgotten.

(Zuros is director of Historic Fort Steuben and the Steubenville Visitor Center.)

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