The More Things Change, the More They Stay the MainMar 01, 2023 09:00AM ● By Linda Roller
Main Street, Montoursville, is Broad, both in name and size. Michael Callahan, Sr., hanging out in his son’s shop, Callahan’s Antiquities, at 381 Broad, says that early in the nineteenth century, the name of the street was Main, but was changed long ago. So long ago that John Franklin Meginness, in his 1892 History of Lycoming County, only used the name “Broadway” in referring to the principal business street in the county’s largest borough, geographically speaking. And it’s a good thing that General John Burrows, considered to be the borough’s founder, laid out a wide street, one that a century later could be U.S. Route 220. When the bypass was built decades ago, the big trucks and bumper to bumper traffic disappeared, making Broad Street charming. It’s a long business district, over a mile and a half, interspersed with houses and churches.
Someone new to the area could drive down the street and think (with the exception of the western end, which looks more like a small town’s business district) that it is simply a disjointed group of businesses. Looks are deceiving. When a person with deep roots in the area talks about the street, the family connections in these businesses becomes obvious. Michael Callahan, owner of Callahan’s Antiquities, describes the street’s current shops by referring to the former owners and the relationships between what is now there and what was. For example, the American Rescue Workers Thrift Store, at 361 Broad, is where Boyle’s Department Store used to be, and the former Rainbow Market is now The Tattoo Shoppe, at 1220 Broad. The Christmas tree, now on the Hutchinson Realty property and lighted by donations, is a tradition from 1947, when the property was owned by Sylvania. For many locals, it’s still called the Sylvania tree, though both Carol Cable, the company that purchased the Sylvania property, and Hutchinson have maintained the tradition with the borough.
Sprinkled throughout are the places that have not moved or changed, but have simply been passed down through families. These include Johnson’s Café, which opened in 1963 at 334 Broad, and Rosencrans’ Bakery, founded in 1956, with all baking on the premises and now open Thursday through Saturday at 345 Broad. The Blaise Alexander dealership has changed from selling Chevys to Subarus, but still sits proudly at 933 Broad.
One of the anchors on the east side of the borough is Elery W. Nau Hardware, which has been at the same location, 917 Broad, since 1948. This is a business that boasts two generations of the Nau family. It was founded by Elery and his wife, Betty, and passed down to son Tom, daughter Patricia, and son-in-law Gary Oechler. Originally focused on electrical appliances and electrical service, it has become the kind of hardware store that every town wishes it had. Whether it’s hardware, electrical, plumbing, lawn and garden, or paint, the quality of both the products and the service provided makes it easier to do the chores around the house. This year brought a big change to Nau’s, as Tom and Gary have decided to sell. Normally, that would mean an upheaval in a business, but, in this case, the family sold the business to the store’s employees. As Paul Early, one of the new owners, says, “We didn’t want to lose this icon in Montoursville.” Together with Carrie Bennett and Jeff Allegrucci, they are the “new” management, but have been serving the town for years. The plan for the future? “It stays the way it is,” Paul says.
That might be the slogan for this Main Street. It weathered the rise of the malls in the 1970s east of town. The empty storefronts and family businesses that went out in other places didn’t happen here. The recent pandemic, another business killer, mostly passed Montoursville by. “I don’t think we lost anyone during the pandemic,” Michael Callahan notes.
There are changes, but often the change is from one family business to another. The Callahans took over a barber/beauty shop for their antique store decades ago, making that location the home for another successful family business. Cellini’s Subs was a mainstay in the borough for decades, with an iconic blue and yellow sign. Last November, the sign changed to aqua and gold as Riss’s Place moved in to 378 Broad. The business came with its own family tradition, as Lori and Evan Mumma, owners of a sub shop in Muncy and a restaurant in Loyalsockville, open a second location in their hometown. Earlier this year, a sub shop with a long tradition in Williamsport’s Newberry section, Mileto’s, moved into the old Sunshine 6-Packs & Subs spot at 1244 Broad. Kristi Ardrey, great-granddaughter of Mileto’s sub shop founder, had been looking for a new location for a couple of years.
“I love Montoursville—it’s the perfect place!” she says. By the second day of business at the new location, Kristi announced that one of the most loved subs of the old Sunshine, a seafood sub, is now on Mileto’s menu. Great-grandmother Mary Mileto would be proud.
But new people and new businesses can thrive, as well. Lee Ash, owner of Sonic Ascension on the west end of the street, 128 Broad, hails from Benton. With thousands of CDs, vinyl, and even cassettes, he also offers a “$1 Room” with thousands of albums and 45s. Hobo the dog is the official greeter. The emphasis is on vinyl, and he is always buying.
“I was looking for a storefront and this is the best spot,” Lee says. “It’s a nice town.”
With a bedrock of family businesses and steeped in tradition, Montoursville’s Main Street has room for old and new. Michael Callahan sums it up: “Shops here are not owned by companies from somewhere else. That means that no one outside of here can close you down.”