Nearly 80 years ago, a young man arrived in Harrisburg from Rochester, N.Y. He soon opened a hat shop on Market Street in a storefront now occupied by the downtown Rite Aid.
Moe Mishkin started The Astor Millinery in an effort to make a living selling women’s hats, which he did for the next quarter-century. Little did he know that he’d begun something much greater, founding a Harrisburg retail dynasty.
“He only came to Harrisburg because his store in Rochester burned down,” said his son Isaac. “He felt there was opportunity here.”
When Moe died in 1957, Isaac took over the store, which he ran with his mother, Pauline. Then the hat business petered out, so Isaac smartly moved on, opening The Plum, a clothes shop catering to professional women that thrives to this day. Decades later, his son, Shawn, began Plum Sport, a store that specializes in fashionable, more casual clothing.
“We’ve tried to change with the times,” said Shawn.
Indeed, the family’s history parallels the city’s to a remarkable degree.
When Moe Mishkin came to town, Harrisburg was the retail center of the entire region. Sales were so hot in Moe’s store that he took partial ownership in two other hat shops–all three located on the same block.
Starting in the early 1960s, not only did the hat business fade, so did downtown commerce in general.
Isaac adapted, selling the family’s hat business before the market completely tanked, while eying an opportunity to cater to an emerging class of working women who wanted more modern styles. The first Plum store opened in 1968 in the old State Theatre building, moving across Locust Street when the theater was razed a decade later.
Today, the spacious Plum shop occupies the entire stretch of N. Court Street from Locust to Walnut streets. It offers a full array of women’s apparel, including accessories and footwear.
Isaac, now 74, describes his shop as a “bridge store,” as it bridges the gap between exclusive, haute couture fashion and run-of-the-mill styles that can be found in almost any department store.
“We appeal to people who want the high-end look, but don’t want to overpay for it,” he said.
The Plum also prides itself on customer service and a deep knowledge of its stock, both of which can be in short supply at big box stores and in suburban shopping malls. Isaac and his daughter, Kirsten, can be found in the store nearly every day, except perhaps when one of them is in New York meeting with buyers.
Up the block at the corner of N. 3rd and Market streets, Shawn Mishkin, 41, represents another phase of Harrisburg history–its revival. He actually started Plum Sport in the suburbs, in a location on the Carlisle Pike, but returned to the family’s downtown roots a few years later in 2001 as the city was renewing itself as a place to live, work and visit.
“I didn’t like the spread-out, ever-expanding suburban rings where you have to drive everywhere–it’s not convenient,” he said. “I wanted to possibility of walk-in traffic. I like the thought of all the people who were downtown coming in to see us.”
Like his father’s shop, Shawn’s boutique is unique. It’s a long-time survivor in a difficult urban retail environment, as well as a place that refuses to dilute its stock–that is proud to deliver the latest fashions and styles to central Pennsylvania.
“I’m the only store in this area that is like this,” he said. “Within a 50-mile radius, the only similar store is in Lancaster.”
In a perfect coincidence, Shawn has located his store right across the street from his grandfather’s flagship hat shop. In addition, the store’s 3rd Street side and its basement ate where his grandfather ran his two other shops, bringing the story of the Mishkin family in Harrisburg full circle.
The Plum, 210 Walnut St., Harrisburg; 717-232-9251. Hours: Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Plum Sport, 300 Market St., Harrisburg; 717-737-4505. Hours: Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.