HISTORY G. C. MURPHY COMPANY
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The G. C. Murphy's Store Parkersburg, under construction you can see Union Trust Building to the left & Wilmar Cafeteria far right this would be early to mid 1950s Picture Courtesy Gary Traugh
G. C. Murphy Market Street Parkersburg WV
1951 Old Fashioned Bargain days G. C. Murphy co department store Parkersburg WV
Old Fashioned Bargain days G. C. Murphy co Parkersburg wv 7th street 1950s
History G. C. Murphy Co
than 80 years, G. C. Murphy Co. connected people from all walks of life
throughout the eastern and Midwestern United States. In small mining towns in
Appalachia, Murphy's low-priced, quality merchandise liberated residents from
the tyranny of coal company-owned stores. In beach and resort towns from
Delaware to Florida, Murphy's stores offered vacationers a place to find
inexpensive souvenirs and staple items like cosmetics.
Before there were "fast-food" chains, Murphy's lunch counters in cities large and small united rich and poor, men and women, who needed a quick, cheap and filling "bite to eat" before returning to the office or factory.
Many middle-class Americans found shares of G.C. Murphy Co. first listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 1931 under the ticker symbol MPH to be a safe investment. And Murphy's provided hundreds of thousands of boys and girls with their first real job; thanks to the Murphy's executive training program, many stayed with the company for their entire careers, rising to top-level positions with the discount chains, or starting their own businesses.
1906 in McKeesport, Pa., by George Clinton Murphy, the G. C. Murphy Co. grew to
include more than 500 stores including the big suburban "Murphy's Marts" before
its acquisition by Ames Department Stores Inc. in 1985. The G. C. Murphy variety
stores, or "five-and-tens," survived a little while longer before being absorbed
by longtime competitor McCrory Stores.
Dime stores revolutionized American retailing in the late 19th century. Until their creation, shoppers had to ask clerks to get merchandise for them, and often the prices "varied" depending on the store owner's whims. When Frank W. Woolworth opened his first "Great 5-Cent Store" in Utica, N.Y., in 1879, all of the items were on display where consumers could inspect and handle them prior to purchase. And as the name implied, everything in the Great 5-Cent Store was priced at just a nickel though later, Woolworth added 10-cent items to improve the mix of merchandise he could offer.
Pennsylvania, with its mix of dense urban centers and rural country towns, proved to be a fertile place for five-and-dime stores. Woolworth found the Utica location unsuccessful, and after a few months, closed the store and opened one in Lancaster, Pa., where he found a ready market among the area's Amish farmers, businessmen and factory and railroad workers. By 1881, Woolworth had stores throughout central Pennsylvania and parts of New York.
McCrory saw Woolworth's success and brought the dime-store concept to the
coal-mining town of Scottdale, Pa., south of Pittsburgh, in 1882. The McCrory
chain spread to several cities, including Jamestown, N.Y., where George Murphy
became manager of a McCrory store in 1896. When McCrory and Sebastian S. Kresge
opened a new dime store in Detroit, Mich., Murphy was tapped to manage it only
to leave the chain a short time later to open his own dime stores in Pittsburgh.
George Murphy sold his first chain of Murphy stores to F. W. Woolworth Co. in the early 1900s, then started another chain by opening a new dime store on Fifth Avenue and Sheridan Street in McKeesport, near the busy Baltimore & Ohio Railroad station and the entrance to the National Tube Co. works, then the largest pipe-making plant in the U.S.
Murphy's death, two McCrory executives, John S. Mack and Walter C. Shaw, left
that established company and purchased the fledgling G. C. Murphy Co. in 1911.
They quickly turned the money-losing chain of about a dozen stores into a
thriving enterprise, and soon more Murphy stores appeared, as Shaw and Mack
spotted new markets or bought out smaller competitors.
By 1926, G. C. Murphy Co. had opened a New York City buying office so that its sales forces would be closer to national fashion and manufacturing companies, though until the very end, Murphy's would proudly headquartered in McKeesport. A new store in Pittsburgh's "Golden Triangle" was constructed at a cost of $250,000, and would long serve as one of Murphy's flagships, along with the large, landmark store in Washington, D. C. not far from Capitol Hill.
In the 1930s, cash-strapped Americans found that shopping at Murphy's was a good way for them to save money, and the company thrived despite the Great Depression. From 1929 until 1934, sales increased from $15.7 million to $28 million, and there were soon 181 Murphy stores in 11 states.
World War II
material and manpower shortages prevented the company from expanding, but by
1950, Murphy's was up to full strength again. A philanthropic arm, the G. C.
Murphy Co. Foundation, was formed in 1952 and survives to this day. Murphy's was
the first variety store chain to use television commercials, and was an early
adopter of computers to speed bookkeeping and accounting work. The number of
Murphy's stores jumped with the purchase of Morris Stores in the Midwest, and
Murphy's soon followed its customers to the suburbs with the opening of its
first shopping-center locations in Erie, Pa. and Brentwood, Pa., near
Pittsburgh in 1955. Murphy Co. greatly expanded its presence south of the
Mason-Dixon line with the acquisition of the 112-store Morgan & Lindsey chain,
and moved into the department store business with the purchase of Cobb's,
Bruner's and Terry Farris stores in Texas.
In 1967, Murphy's launched what the company called its "A-A," or "double-A," program in larger store location. The "A-A" program stressed more trendy merchandise, better advertising, longer hours and sold items grouped by "themes" rather than departments. Though the "A-A" program was not as successful as the company had hoped, the experience did prove valuable as Murphy's moved into the operation of its large discount stores "Murphy's Marts" in 1970.
The first Mart opened in Bethel Park, Pa., a suburb of Pittsburgh, and was an immediate success. By 1976, the nation's bicentennial and Murphy's 70th anniversary, the company operated 529 stores, many of them Marts, which featured large aisles, free parking, and improved mixes of men's and women's clothing and wearables. Many Marts also had additional services like Garden Centers or auto repair, and were usually located in shopping malls or paired with supermarkets.
Murphy's Marts were soon generating a large share of the company's profits, though the variety stores remained an important part of its business, and were continually updated to keep with the times.
despite an economic downturn in many of the northeastern markets where Murphy's
stores were located, G. C. Murphy Co. remained profitable and relatively
debt-free, and presented an attractive target for so-called "corporate raiders."
Two investors soon cornered the market on Murphy stock, which eventually jumped
from $9 to $47 per share.
Attempts by Murphy's executives to keep the company independent were not successful, and Ames Department Stores Inc. of Rocky Hill, Conn., purchased the G.C. Murphy Co. in 1985 for $198 million. The Murphy's Marts were converted to Ames stores, while the variety stores were spun off into a separate Ames division, still based in McKeesport.
Freed to focus their efforts on the variety stores again, Murphy executives rose to the challenge and the old "dime stores" had a brief renaissance, though many smaller locations were closed.
The good times were not to last, unfortunately. In 1988, Ames purchased the failing Zayre Department Stores for $800 million, and a year later, in need of cash, spun off its Murphy division to the parent company of McCrory stores. The McKeesport office was closed, and about 100 remaining G. C. Murphy Co. variety stores were absorbed by McCrory, which also operated other dime stores under the names of several traditional Murphy competitors, including McClellan, H.L. Green's and TG&Y.
Saddled with debt as the result of several complicated stock transactions in the 1980s and 1990s, and overextended on credit, McCrory Corp. filed for bankruptcy in 2001 and liquidated a short time later. Only 200 locations including a handful still operating as "G.C. Murphy" remained. Those last "G.C. Murphy" stores were to longtime Murphy employees a pale imitation of the brightly-lit, well-stocked Murphy's stores that delighted four generations of shoppers looking for sewing notions, candy, toys, clothes, tools and pets.
Murphy's retirees remain active and in close contact. Some employees moved onto
work for other retailing chains or launched their own businesses, and former
company executives and retirees maintain Murphy's tradition of supporting local
charities through the G.C. Murphy Co. Foundation.
Though his red-and-gold "five-and-tens" no longer anchor downtown streets from New England to Mexico, George C. Murphy would likely be pleased to know that his legacy of service to the community and to consumers is carried on by former Murphy employees across the U.S.
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