AFRO-AMERICAN MUSIC INSTITUTE CELEBRATES 36 YEARS
Pain Relief Beyond Belief
Those of you of a certain age who are natives of the Mon Valley will remember when we didn't have GetGo or Sheetz, or even 7-Eleven in most of the area. (I can think of only a handful until recently, when 7-Eleven took over a bunch of locations from other companies.) We had "Stop-N-Go," "Open Pantry," "Spee-D Mart," "Clover Farm Stores" and even a few "Li'l General" stores. The Clover Farms were little full-service supermarkets. I can remember two --- one on Scene Ridge Road in Liberty Borough, now a machine shop; the other in Port Vue just off Washington Boulevard, adjacent to the Spotlight Lounge. The Clover Farm Stores were out of Cleveland, and I don't know why they closed, except that operating a small supermarket probably wasn't much more cost effective in the '70s than it is today. I assume the A&Ps, Krogers and Giant Eagles drove the Clover Farms out, just as Wal-Mart is now squeezing the Foodlands, Shop 'n Saves and Giant Eagles. The other stores were convenience stores. If I remember correctly, most of the Stop-N-Gos in the Pittsburgh area disappeared in the mid-1980s in a corporate ownership dispute with the owners of the Colteryahn Dairy, who took most of the Stop-N-Go stores and turned them into "CoGo's" stores. (There are still Stop-N-Go stores in other parts of the country, but I have no idea if they're related to the stores we had around here.) Li'l General (because it was a "little general store," get it?) was a New England based company, I think, and even had a Paul Revere-type colonial soldier as its mascot. Google seems to indicate there are still a few around north of Boston. I remember two in the Mon-Yough area ... one on Romine Avenue in Port Vue and another on Monongahela Avenue in Glassport. I have no idea how many Spee-D Marts there were. I remember five --- on Lysle Boulevard in the Midtown Plaza Mall, Center Highway in North Huntingdon, Richland Avenue in Dravosburg, Greensburg near Westmoreland Hospital and Ardmore Boulevard in Forest Hills. They were originally operated by McKeesport's Potter-McCune Co. (which also operated Super Dollar Markets), and two are still around. so far as I know: Forest Hills and Dravosburg. I have no idea who owns them now. And then there was "Open Pantry," which I know almost nothing about, and I don't even remember ever being inside one of them. It seems to me that most of them disappeared from our area in the late 1970s, though at least two survived until fairly recently. I'm told there was one in Norvelt, Westmoreland County, and it may still be there. I got a phone number and tried calling it today; it's been disconnected. Apparently there was also one in the Lincoln-Lemington part of Picksberg until 2003, when it burned to the ground. There's an "Open Pantry Food Marts" chain north of Chicago, but it doesn't appear to be the one that operated in Western Pennsylvania. Anyway, we seemed to have a bunch of these in the Mon-Yough area in the '70s --- Patterson Avenue aka 30th Avenue, and Versailles Avenue in Our Fair City (both torn down now), Route 30 in East McKeesport (I think in the old motel --- can't remember the name --- at the intersection of Lincoln Highway and Broadway), and a couple of others. (Click here to view a map of locations that was included in the album.)
In 1967, the redoubtable Harold "Mr. Trombone" Betters of South Connellsville, Pennsylvania, then riding high on the jazz club circuit in the Pittsburgh area, cut a Christmas album that was sold through Open Pantry. Others on the session included John Thomas on piano, Russ Lewellen on drums, Chuck Ramsey on bass and Charles Head on organ. It was recorded at the old Gateway Recording Studio on Forbes Avenue, which was a spinoff from National Record Mart, I think. You can still find the LP floating around at flea markets, if you hunt for it. I dig Betters anyway, so I find it to be a real treat. Betters' group really swings hard, and by Dec. 24, when I'm burned out on the whole sappy parade of Christmas dross, listening to Harold Betters blow his horn on a song like "Go Tell It On The Mountain" is like getting a breath of fresh, clean air after walking through a garbage dump. (MP3 clip.) I find the album art (credited to "Patrick Trusio," about whom the Internet knows nothing) interesting. It has the look of the Open Pantry stores down pat ... ... but it's clear that like many people, the artist has an easier time painting buildings than people:
Either he's trying to avoid painting Betters' face, or his model for the art was Claude Rains.