Editor’s Note: A Harrisburg institution, A. Lane Used Furniture will close next weekend after 90 years in business. In this essay, the last owner reflects on the long-time family business and its place in the history of commerce in Harrisburg.
A. Lane Used Furniture store had been in business since 1926, operated by four generations of family members. I was the last proprietor and, by all objective standards, not very good at selling furniture.
The anchor of the store was Gene Fievish. Known as Lane, Gene was a Harrisburg institution and the last vestige of the Eastern European Jewish merchants that once populated Market Street.
Most people never knew his name was Eugene Allen Fievish. During his adult life, he was referred to as: Gene, Gino, Lane, “Moonie,” Mr. Lane, “Popcorn,” Unc, “that old man” or Uncle Gene.
Mr. Fievish co-founded the Lemoyne Sleeper Company and was beloved by the employees. He remained modest and was never officially acknowledged for developing the concept of factory-direct bedding.
Gene worked six days a week at “the store,” did not vacation, but closed the store for the Jewish high holidays. He was a devout Philadelphia sports fan and a loyal patron of the Colonnade and Nick’s 914, as well as local diners too numerous to name. He was a lifelong Philadelphia sports fan and never got tired of telling the story of when Chuck Bednarik almost killed Frank Gifford.
His main pursuit in life was purchasing furniture, selling furniture and attending auctions and estate sales.
A lot of people have paid tribute, shared memories and asked for a discount since my uncle passed on Oct. 31, 2015. Unlike my uncle, I actually spoke to people, and my responses never ended with Lancaster Brand tobacco juice bouncing off of the cement.
The era of the merchant, peddler and small businessman in the patch of Market Street that stretched from the Patriot News to the Cameron Cut-rate all died with Gene. Sadly, there has been no recent concerted effort—absent the New Baldwin Corridor Coalition—to save what was once one of Harrisburg’s major economic arteries.
There was a time when small businessmen and women populated and built lives for their families on Market Street: five & dimes, clothiers, grocery stores, jewelry stores, locksmiths, record shops, warehouses, used furniture stores and retail shops.
Big box stores, cultural atrophy and the suburbs gave us faceless prefabricated buildings framed with tax breaks, free parking and faceless owners.
The truth of the matter is the store was Uncle Gene’s life. He was the store, but Clyde Ferguson kept A. Lane’s running for the last 15 years.
We withstood the 1936, the 1972 and the 1977 floods as well as a nuclear meltdown. In fact, employees came to work and delivered a kitchenette to Highspire on Saturday, March 31, 1979, during the Three Mile Island core meltdown. And, no, I did not participate in the delivery.
The store then fell prey to arson and was eventually moved to Chestnut Street before moving back home to a “dead zone.”
We were no match for assimilation, the internet, compressed particle board, parking meters six days a week including Saturdays, dim street lighting, unrepaired sinkholes, federal flood insurance, and, most recently, unannounced water and sewage “construction,” which cut off access to the store, but provided decibel-crushing noise and savory sewer vapors.
We contracted and subcontracted with artisans, carpenters, glass-makers, piano men, radio repairers, theater directors, upholsterers, trash haulers and folks on work release or in just need of money for bus fare or a meal.
The 10-mile, free delivery zone was a staple of the store for 90 years. We never accepted credit cards and always used rotary phones. Gene never negotiated. Unc told people, “I ain’t running a charity,” or “The price is the same price I would charge my rabbi.”
On Oct. 29, we will shut the doors for good, and Kerry Pae Auctioneers will conduct an absolute auction. We will bury a culture, bury a store, bury a way of life and bury one of Harrisburg’s true icons. Gene’s passing and the store’s demise mark the end of an era and a 50-year strategy of never negotiating price but always delivering for free.
A. Lane Furniture is located at 1025 Market St., Harrisburg. For more information, call 717-232-8612 and read our story from earlier this year.
Author: Eric Epstein