Pennsauken Discount Store Is Set To Close Discount Harry's, On Route 130, Has Kept Children In Toys And Their Parents' Wallets Intact Since It Opened In 1950.

Posted: November 17, 1999

PENNSAUKEN — For many South Jersey children, it was probably the closest thing to heaven they could fathom.

For parents, seeing the words "thrift" and "gift" in the same sentence was blissful.

For principal owner John Lancaster, it was 23 years of happiness.

For all, it will soon be a memory.

Come January, Discount Harry's, a warehouse-sized store known throughout the region primarily for its toys, will close - squeezed out by the heavy-duty purchasing power of toy-hawking titans such as Wal-Mart and Toys 'R Us.

"It's going to be an end of an era," Lancaster said.

Considered by many to be a landmark on Route 130 off Admiral Wilson Boulevard, Discount Harry's was the place to go for shoppers looking to make a purchase without breaking the bank.

"I bought my son's first bike here," said Barbara Haigh, 59, a clerk at the store who said she had shopped there for 35 years.

Monday's announcement of the closing sent Haigh strolling down memory lane yesterday.

A mother of three, she remembered spending $6.99 on a red wagon made of wood for her 4-year-old son, Michael, in 1965.

"I asked my husband if he thought that was too much," said Haigh, who remembered loading the gift into the family's 1958 Ford while Elvis Presley crooned on the radio.

"It's so sad, because I thought Harry's was going to be here forever," Haigh said. "It's a real shame."

In 1950, Harry Kaufman, who had spent the years after World War II selling housewares at farmers' markets, opened Discount Harry's.

In its infancy, Discount Harry's was a 4,000-square-foot shop, with Kaufman's brother-in-law operating a TV repair business in the back.

In 1976, Kaufman sold the store to Lancaster, then a 34-year-old salesman from the retail toy chain Kiddie City. Kaufman has since retired to Florida.

Today, under Lancaster's stewardship, Discount Harry's is a 20,000-square-foot white brick complex that resembles a high school gymnasium more than a store.

Inside, pyramids of brown cardboard boxes containing merchandise are scattered throughout the store, marked for customers with handwritten signs.

For many customers, the unpretentious means in which Lancaster displays his wares harks back to a time before marketing terms such as "synergy," "branding" and "eye-level shelf space" became the mantras for retailers.

"I think now you get these glitzy stores with the high rents and the high prices. Some people like that," said Lancaster, who plans to open a pool-supply and outdoor-furniture store in the area in April. "But I think most folks want more bang for their bucks. This store wasn't fancy, but you always got your money's worth."

Denise Grossmick, 34, of Sicklerville, a receptionist at a computer company, took the news of the closing hard.

Grossmick remembered the semiannual trips to Discount Harry's from her family's home in the Cramer Hill section of Camden.

"I'm going to miss this place," Grossmick said as she perused the merchandise at Discount Harry's yesterday. "I mean, it was always here."

Seated in his office, Lancaster pondered the years of enjoyment his tenure of ownership brought him.

He remembered the time in 1981 when he was pulled over by a Cherry Hill police officer while driving home on Route 70.

The reason? The officer was looking for a Cabbage Patch doll.

He remembered the smiling children, the proud owners of their first bicycles, and the former stockboys who returned years later as doctors and lawyers.

He thought of all the memories, and said they were priceless.

"This place has been good to me," said Lancaster, with a twinge of his native Kentucky drawl. "In the end, it's not about how much money you got or how big a house you got, but it's about how many friends you made along the way. And I've made a lot of great friends."

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