“I liked what I saw,” Turns said, when, two years ago, she purchased a bedroom set for her daughter. “You can’t find that kind of furniture—so put together—anymore. It was probably from the ‘30s. What’s more, at $275, for hardwood furniture, it was a real steal.”
The furniture wasn’t the only thing about A. Lane that dated from the time of art deco and jazz. Established in 1926, A. Lane long has been a Harrisburg institution, offering furniture and other goods at affordable prices, said fourth-generation owner Eric Epstein.
Located on Market Street just off Cameron, A. Lane is a treasure hunt. In addition to sturdy furniture, you might find expensive china, a blender, a 1926 high-school yearbook or old Life magazines.
“We’re the one-stop shop if you need a new wardrobe, dining room suite, kitchen table or any basic furniture,” said Epstein.
A. Lane has always been a family affair. lt was founded by Abe Lane and then run by his daughter Rebecca.
Nephew Eugene Fievish, known as Gene, took over in 1964 and continued to run it until his death last fall.
“My uncle was also the last vestige of the East European Jewish merchants who once populated Market Street,” Epstein said.
Never married, Fievish was devoted to his business, getting up at 5 a.m., coming home late and attending auctions or estate sales five nights a week.
But he had two other passions: his family, with whom he lived his entire life, and his synagogue, Kesher Israel, said Epstein. It wasn’t unusual for Rabbi David Silver to show up at the store asking for help.
“But Uncle Gene was very shy and never wanted to be acknowledged for his philanthropy,” Epstein said. “He was eccentric but kind and gave people money if they needed it.”
Though Fievish also co-founded Lemoyne Sleeper, he became inseparable in the public’s mind from A. Lane. He was also known for never negotiating a price but always delivering free—within a 10-mile radius.
A determined Fievish steered the store through troubled times—natural disasters like Hurricane Agnes and Tropical Storm Lee, and man-made challenges, including a 1974 arson and relocation.
Toward the end of his life, he suffered from dementia and an infected leg, a by-product of undiagnosed cancer, according to Epstein.
“But though he was clearly in decline mentally, he went to work every day,” he said. “He was very stubborn and regimented.”
Personally, I was charmed by the store and fascinated with Fievish, who sold us a breakfront and bookcase when we moved to Harrisburg and then bought a dining room set from us when we moved away.
Until taking over A. Lane, Epstein was better known as the founder of a nuclear energy watchdog group. But it’s really Clyde Ferguson, a 20-year veteran at A. Lane, who manages the store and is “the force behind it,” Epstein said.
“I took care of most of everything when Mr. Fievish was alive,” Ferguson said. “But there was no one like him. He was a very nice man, generous. He did a lot for people other people didn’t realize.”
Admittedly, the two clashed in one way. Fievish liked the store messy.
“When he was away, we’d try to straighten it out, but when he came back he’d put it back the way it was,” laughed Ferguson.
Epstein was “little more than a child” when he began to help out at A. Lane, making deliveries and cleaning up, to the degree permitted. By the time he was a teenager, though, he had made up his mind not to be involved in the business.
Now, after his uncle’s passing, Epstein’s commitment to the store has come back strong.
“I will try and run it as long as it’s financially practical,” he said. “The last five years were rough.”
But he and Ferguson have already made improvements. Formerly, the store had no website or fax machine; now, it has both. Epstein replaced the old rotary phone. A. Lane did no advertising before, but that too has changed.
Missing is the “bunch of old guys out front,” he said. The staff is leaner than it was, but the inventory is robust, and there’s an adjacent warehouse.
“The customers appreciate the changes,” Epstein said. “The store is less cluttered and more navigable. Items are organized by function.”
Challenges remain: being in a flood plain and having limited parking, among them.
On the other hand, there is family nearby. Stevie Pearlman, Epstein’s cousin, runs Atomic Warehouse, an antique and vintage store, next door.
And people’s sentimental connection with A. Lane is “overwhelming,” Epstein said. “So I’m pretty optimistic.”
It could be said that the furniture store is “selling memories.”
“People would come in and say they had bought an item at A. Lane 10 or 15 years ago, and when it’s time to downsize, they’ll sell it back to the store,” said Ferguson.
Thus, the legacy continues.
A. Lane Furniture is located at 1025 Market St., Harrisburg. For more information, call 717-232-8612 or visit www.alanestore.com.