The Kready General Store collection finds a new home

By on February 13, 2019

Story by Art Petrosemolo

Lancaster native Paul Brown has been nosing around antiques most of his adult life. An entrepreneur, he purchased the contents of the historic Kready’s Store in Manheim a quarter century ago and displayed the inventory for years in a museum at the 55 N. Water St., Lititz, complex he developed before selling it three years ago.

Brown is back in Lancaster County and back in the antique business with Kready’s store merchandise as the focal point of his new Mad Man Antique Gallery, at 928 N. Prince St. in Lancaster.

After selling the Lititz complex to ESCO Security of Ephrata, (it is now the site of the Appalachian Brewing Company), Brown returned to his roots as a carpenter in Florida, where he grew up, doing home renovations. He is back acquiring antiques and collectibles and exhibiting the Kready collection.

“I have tons of antiques stored in my garage and warehouses,” Brown says. “I have had many calls from Kready General Store fans; it was time to put the collection on display again for viewing and sale.”

Paul Brown with some of the original Kready General Store sign and Kready merchandise at his Lancaster home. (Photos by Art Petrosemolo)

The Kready general store was a tiny, mid-19th century business that operated for nearly 100 years. Like many stores in rural Lancaster County, it sold a little of everything including housewares, dry goods, paint, shoes, thread, sewing supplies and cleaning materials, as well as hundreds of other necessities for area customers.

What sounded the death knell for small, family stores was the growth of self-service groceries in the 1950s, Brown explains, where you didn’t wait for the proprietor to serve you but browsed and picked what you wanted from a large selection of items including fresh produce, meats, dairy and poultry.

The closed Kready store, like other similar sites across the country, caught the eye of historians and collectors. What made Kready unique was that it remained shuttered and basically untouched for 40 years when E. E. Kready Jr. — according to Brown, an eccentric and reclusive man — shut the doors and left everything to gather dust. Kready Jr. died in 2001.

A Milton-Bradley children’s game from the Kready General Store merchandise.

The decades old merchandise, much of it new, unused and in original packaging, will find its way (over time) to the Mad Man Gallery. Brown says the name “Mad Man” came from his friends always describing some of his over the top ideas saying, “You’re mad, Paul!” The Gallery opened in January and Brown is just getting settled, exhibiting his collections as well as providing space for a few antique dealers to show and sell their finds.

The Kready merchandise is the Gallery’s calling card. The collection, in itself, is quite a story and one Paul shared with me recently sitting in the midst of some of the Gallery’s antiques.

The Kready story

The Kready store dates back to 1865 when the Egyptian Revival style building (60 North Main St., Manheim) was erected by C.J. Reif. The building had four floors and included a residence. John Swarr ran the initial store in the last half of the 19th century until it was purchased by E. E. Kready Sr. in 1904 and run as a general store by Kready Sr. and his son, E.E. Jr. Kready Sr. died in 1957.

The son said he ran the store into the 1960s but Brown feels it was pretty much shuttered in 1957 (and thought to be haunted by many) sitting like a time capsule for 40 years.

Brown was in his mid-20s when he met E.E. Jr. in the early-1990s.

“I had worked in a grocery store when I was younger,” he says, “and had an eye on the Kready store soon after hearing about it for the first time when I moved back to Lititz to work at TAIT Towers in 1989.”

Paul Brown holds an antique pretzel tin from the Lititz Springs Pretzel bakery that came from Kready’s General Store. Photos by Art Petrosemolo

Brown describes Kready as very old school.

“I had to visit him three times to gain his confidence just to get a look inside the store,” he says. “I was amazed at what I saw. It appeared the Kreadys never threw anything away, and there were tons of uninventoried merchandise.”

After making several visits, Brown was asked by Kready to help him move items around in the store. Kready was an avid gardener and he only allowed Brown to visit on rainy days, and exactly at 2:30 p.m., when he was not gardening. Brown did not miss his opportunities and was knocking on the Kready residence on as many rainy days as he could right at the appointed time. The reward was time in the store and a chance to purchase items — sold to him by Kready one at a time — over the next three years.

Brown was one of a number of interested parties who wanted to purchase the store and its contents, including Landis Valley Museum and the Smithsonian Institution. Kready, however, sold the building and its contents to Brown in 1996 and he ran it as a museum at the original location (where he sold some items from the huge inventory of “new-old stock”) until 1999.

Brown says “he was the son Kready never wanted,” and that Kready was “the grandfather I never had.” He remained one of Kready’s closest friends for the last years of his life.

Brown purchased 55 N. Water St., the old Clair Brothers building where he had worked building stages for TAIT Towers in 1999 and developed it with a restaurant and retail stores. He moved the entire Kready collection to the building, actually recreating the store as a museum on the second level. Brown’s North Water Street development came as Lititz was being revitalized and discovered as a tourist destination. Besides a restaurant and the Kready museum, Brown set up the North Water Street location basement with a hardware, candy, and antique store, as well as a pinball gallery.

Paul Brown with some of the Kready General Store merchandise at Man Man Antiques Gallery on Prince Street in Lancaster.

Brown had lived in Florida since an early age and was working at the Lakeland Civic Center in 1988, when he met Michael Tait at the Miss USA Pageant. Tait recruited Brown to come to Lititz to work for TAIT Towers building event stages in the old Clair building — the building he later bought and developed.

The desire to exhibit the Kready’s store merchandise and his love for the antique business brought Brown back to Lancaster County a few years ago where he began to add to his antique collection, much of it through salvage. Brown has developed a relationship with Philadelphia area companies who demolish 19th century homes and churches for city redevelopment projects.

“I make trips to Philadelphia two or three times a week with my tools and come home with treasures: doors, mantles, glass door knobs and porcelain bathroom faucets,” he said. “Designers look for all this stuff when updating and remodeling older homes.”

Brown says, He calls himself the American Picker of old Philadelphia buildings.

Recently, Brown has reached out to the developers of the Star Barn Village project in Elizabethtown about working together to exhibit some of the Kready collection there to accommodate the collectors and historians who want to see a piece of Lancaster County’s past.

But for today, Brown is getting the 2,000-square-foot Mad Man Gallery (right next to the popular Neptune Diner) ready for the Lancaster County tourist season.

Mad Man Antique Gallery is open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 928 N. Prince St., Lancaster. The company has a Facebook presence and a website under construction. To learn more, call them at 717-951-3436.

Art Petrosemolo is a freelance feature writer and photographer who recently retired to this area from New Jersey. He welcomes reader feedback at artpetrosemolo@comcast.net.

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