Daley's Furnished Chester With Spirit The Business Sold Furniture. And Its Owner Was Sold On The City.

Posted: July 21, 1996

CHESTER — These days, Harriet Himmler and Diane Moss don't like to drive past the three-story Daley's Furniture Store building that for decades was the hub of their family's activities.

They would rather remember it as it was, not as it is.

The building on the Avenue of the States is now just an empty shell, its windows broken or boarded up. Pigeons and perhaps an occasional squatter are the only tenants. Daley's closed its doors in 1990; its longtime owner, Phil Daley, Himmler's and Moss' father, died last year at 92.

Earlier this year, the Chester Economic Development Authority began legal proceedings to acquire the property from Daley Furniture Inc. as part of an effort to reinvigorate the city's downtown business area.

Though it's been only six years since the store shut down, it seems longer than that to many, because both Daley's and Phil Daley symbolize an earlier, more prosperous era in Chester.

Last week, Moss, Himmler and several old friends of Phil Daley's paused to remember the man who was one of Chester's biggest boosters from the time he moved there in 1936 until his death nearly 60 years later.

Daley was born in New York City in 1902; he graduated from Fordham Law School, then moved to California.

During the Depression, he moved back East to be closer to his family, settling first in Philadelphia, then in Chester.

He started out as a bill collector for several Chester jewelers, his daughters said. He ended up in the jewelry business himself, and owned or was a partner in several stores.

By the mid-1950s, Himmler said, the business wasn't what it used to be, with jewelry departments in mall stores already starting to cut into his sales. Himmler's then-husband bought furniture lots for auctions; Phil Daley used his son-in-law's connections to set up a furniture store on Chester's West End.

Joseph F. Battle Jr., who later became Chester's mayor and is now a Delaware County judge, first met Daley in the early 1960s. They both ate lunch at Honeysuckle Farms, a well-known Chester ice cream parlor.

``Since I was a law student at that time, I once asked him why he no longer practiced law,'' Battle said last week. ``He said, `I just love to sell furniture.' ''

Around 1960, Daley's store was destroyed by fire. He moved to the 800 block of Edgmont Avenue, now the Avenue of the States. Not long after that, he bought the former Montgomery Ward department store across the street; that's the building that stands empty today. Himmler and Moss both worked there at one time or another. At its high point, the store employed more than a dozen people.

The year 1961 is often thought of as the start of Chester's decline, with the closing of a Ford assembly plant and the loss of 1,500 jobs. But Daley, whom Moss called ``an old-fashioned, cigar-chomping go-getter,'' managed to do quite well for decades after that.

Daley's philosophy, Moss said, was: ``Make any deal to sell something. . . . He would follow someone out to the parking lot to make a sale.'' Daley, she said, ``would always tell customers, `Do you know that piece won first prize at the Chicago show?' Of course, there was no such thing as the Chicago show.''

Himmler laughingly recalled that household fixtures at the Daley home sometimes turned up missing. ``If some item was selling well and he ran out at the store, he would come home, get the one we had there, take it to the store, and sell it.''

Battle said he referred scores of people with a hard-luck story and a sudden need for home furnishings to Daley's. ``I would send people down there because he would give them deals you couldn't get anywhere else in Delaware County,'' Battle said. ``He really performed a social service for many of his customers.''

Daley never gave up on Chester, Himmler and Moss said. After Battle became mayor in 1979, Daley met with him regularly, suggesting ways to promote business, urging more police foot patrols and more downtown beautification efforts.

In the mid-1980s, Daley got too old to run the business himself, and Himmler, who had kept the books at Daley's for years, took over. But the loyal customer base that for decades had flocked to Daley's from all over the Philadelphia area began to fade away, and the store closed a few years later. Moss became a furniture buyer in Philadelphia, and Himmler, a beautician at a Masonic retirement home in Wilmington.

Phil Daley eventually moved to Florida, where he continued to dream of going back into business.

``He even wanted to sell watches and jewelry at the retirement home he was living in,'' Moss said.

After it closed, Daley's went up for sale, and various uses, from a mini-mall to a mosque, were proposed before the Economic Development Authority decided to take over the building. David Sciochetti, the authority's acting executive director, said last week that ``we'd like to create a new commercial gateway to the downtown; that's the most likely use of the property. But we have not reached a decision about exactly what will go there.''

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