Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown–McKelvey’s

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West Federal Street, early 1960s with McKelvey’s on the right (photo source unknown)

McKelvey’s. It was one of the two fine department stores in downtown Youngstown. I know it best because I worked there for several years in high school and college. Actually, by the time I worked there, it was already owned by the now-defunct Higbee Company that owned a chain of department stores in Cleveland. During the time I worked there, Higbee’s replaced the McKelvey name with its own. It was a sad day to see the old vertical McKelvey’s sign (light green with red neon lettering) come down.

I got the job through my father, who worked for the store until it closed in  1982. He started out working in men’s furnishings, and then became the cosmetics buyer. I went on one of his buying trips with him to Washington, DC. One of the people he bought from sent my mom a perfume gift every year, even after both he and my dad were retired. Later dad moved up from the first floor to the fifth floor where he managed the TV and appliance department as well as the once fabled Hall of Music, where children from all over the city could take music lessons. They also sold pianos.

His last position was as the manager of the McKelvey’s Grille on the first floor. It always impressed me that with no restaurant experience, he was able to come in and turn around a struggling operation into one that provided good service and good food, especially for the downtown lunch crowd. One of the side benefits was that he picked up a recipe for Reuben sandwiches which he used to love to make for the family. I wish he had passed it along, because it is rare that I have had Reubens so good!


I think I got to see the store in the last years of its glory. The men’s department on the first floor still had tailors on site where you could be measured for a custom suit. A good friend of mine worked in the camera department on the first floor for awhile. Second floor was women’s fashions, including furs, “foundations” (what a quaint euphemism!), and millinery, back when women wore hats more than most do today. There was also a hair salon. Third floor included a bridal registry located right by the china department, as well as a department for cloth and clothing patterns. I worked at the back of the third floor in layaway and customer service, where you dealt with complaints, opened credit accounts, and took payments, all of which I did at one time or another. Fourth floor was furniture as well as Abbey Studios, where I had my graduation pictures from high school taken. Fifth floor included toys, sporting goods, records (where I spent a good part of my pay!), and TVs and appliances as well as the Hall of Music. The sixth floor was executive offices, the employee cafeteria, and employee lounges for men and women. I occasionally had to go up to one of the executive offices and always hoped I wouldn’t run into Mr. McKelvey!

What most people didn’t see was the rabbit warren of stock rooms from the receiving department in the basement to a variety of rooms off the sales floors of most floors. There was one set of stock rooms where we kept some layaway items that had to be reached via this old hand-activated elevator. You released a lever, and pulled up or down on the cable to make the elevator ascend or descend and then flipped the lever again in time to catch a “stop” on the cable at the floor you wanted.

Christmas was a wonderful time when the display department unleashed all its talents to turn the store into a Christmas wonderland from the display windows on Federal Street to Santa Land on the fifth floor. I liked it because I could get lots of extra hours working just in time to pay for all those Christmas presents.

G. M. McKelvey

G. M. McKelvey (from History of Youngstown and Mahoning Valley, Ohio by Joseph Green Butler), 1921, American Historical Society)

Just a little history. George M. McKelvey first opened a general mercantile business at the corner of Oak Hill and Mahoning Avenue in 1869. Later on he operated the Red Hot Cash Store on West Federal and for awhile the Hubbard Store Company in Hubbard before moving back to Youngstown in 1882 and purchasing in partnership the E.M. McGillen Company, which became G. M. McKelvey & Co. and was later incorporated as The G. M. McKelvey Company in 1901. G. M. McKelvey died in 1905 and his son Lucius took over the presidency of the company in 1917.

The William McKelvey I knew was his son and was president of the company until Higbee’s purchased it, after which he continued to hold an executive position. Unlike Strouss’, McKelvey’s did not expand to the suburban shopping centers and malls, except for several Loft stores operated for a period of time from the late 60’s to the late 70’s. These were clothing stores appealing to young men and women. There was a Loft within the downtown store, and at least at Southern Park and Eastwood Malls. As mentioned above, Higbee’s closed the downtown store in 1982 after which the buildings were razed to make way for government offices.

What are your memories of McKelvey’s?


54 thoughts on “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown–McKelvey’s

  1. The downtown stores are a great remembrance for me. We shopped there before Boardman became the shopping Mecca. McKelvey’s was a fine store. I enjoyed taking a break from my undergrad classes at YSU and browsed the store. Like you Bob I had my high school pics done at Abey’s in the store.
    Thanks for the memories!

  2. My first job out of college was to write and produce the broadcast advertising for McKelvey’s. I worked for a local advertising agency (then called Thomas Farragher and Associates), and Vera Friedman was my client at Mckelvey’s. We did the promotions for the opening at the RAM stores (young men’s fashions) in both the Southern Park Mall and the Eastwood Mall. The stores opened on the same day with a live remote from WHOT at Southern Park and a live remote from WNIO at Eastwood. It was a huge success, giving away RAM albums (Paul McCartney) with each $20 purchase. Loved working for McKelvey’s and Vera Friedman. She was an amazing talent, too. Her performances at the Youngstown Playhouse were award-winning.

  3. Wonder who did the illustrations for McKelvey’s, livingstons and Strouss’? Was it the same person? They were fabulous! Aside from that, my memory is being on the Junior “In” Board in ’67-68. It was made up of girls representing every high school in the area. It was my pleasure to represent Campbell Memorial. What a GREAT experience!

    • I remember a small group of artists working in each store, of which my Mother, Sally Hogarth, was one. She worked for both Strouss’s and Mckelvey’s back in that time period. I always regret not having saved any of those drawings that appeared in the newspaper. It didn’t seem important at the time, though I was proud of her talent.

    • Connie, I’m glad you like these. My name’s Bob Trube, I grew up in Youngstown, live elsewhere in Ohio now, and write these to capture what was, and perhaps could again be, great about Youngstown.

      • I don’t think we’ll ever have the glory of those days back. Women wore dresses, hats and pearls when shopping downtown. We will never be able to get that dignity back. Times have changed drastically. Our Camelot is gone.

  4. Hi Bob – I have a 28″ x 11″ cardboard advertising sign of McKelvey’s – specifically in relation to women’s hats on the second floor millinery. I thought you might get a kick out of “seeing” the sign & would love to send a photo to you via email if you’d like to receive a blast from the past.

      • Sorry – traveling a lot this week & not on internet much. Not all that computer literate – how would you message me – by email? (Not sure what “messaging” entails…)

  5. My first Christmas job during college was gift wrapping in the China Dept. I was amazed at the fragile items customers wanted shipped across the country. We packed with shredded paper; also handmade the bows by the boxfuls with every color ribbon so they were ready. After college, moving away, then returning to Youngstown, I applied for a job at McKelvey’s again. This time I was interviewed by a few men and sent to the 6th floor to be Executive Secretary to (Pres.) Mr. McKelvey, and the General Merchandise Manager, and the Assistant Merchandise Manager, 3 men. Far different from gift wrapping! I enjoyed this position and all men were considerate and helpful. The credit office, billing, and financial offices were on this floor and all of the ladies included me in parties and dinners – we became a ‘big family’. Also on this floor was the Tube Room, the little room where all those pneumatic pipes in every department ended up. The little carrier was put in the pipe in a department, and it ended in the Tube Room where the clerk finished the transaction and sent the carrier back in the correct tube to get to the department. Also, in those days (the 60’s) we were paid in cash, but left a lot of it there to pay our credit bill. Since we got an employee discount, it was easy to run up a balance. Wonderful memories, thank you for the opportunity to reminisce. Gail

  6. My parents met at McKelvey’s. My mom worked in the record department, and my father was a DJ at WBBW, which was located just down the street in the Warner Theater in the late 1950s. The story I was told was that they met when my dad went looking for a record he needed for his show that night.

  7. What a great experience I as a cousin didn’t know.
    My first experience was riding the bus from Steele to downtown with my grandma Karako. I was maybe 5 yrs.old.
    Later I have my poor children visiting Santa and surviving. What a fun and wonderful time in downtown.

  8. Bob,
    Thank you for that memory. I have wonderful memories of McKelvey’s myself. During the late 50s and 60s my grandmother took me a couple times a year to update my wardrobe in McKelveys. She always preferred McKelvey’s to Strouss’s. It always began with lunch in the Grille. Her favorite was the club sandwich. Next stop perfume and cosmetics we are there was always something we needed. Then on to the shopping where she knew all the ladies by name. It was a wonderful experience and McKelvey’s was a big part of my life. I’m so happy to hear that you have such great memories of it. Thank you for sharing them and making my day.

    • In reading responses to this post, I am amazed how many had experiences like yours, whether they shopped or worked at McKelvey’s. It has helped me realize what a special Youngstown place it was.

  9. My Grandmother worked in the Boy’s Dept in the basement. My Grandmother also introduced my parents to each other while working there also. I think the one thing I miss the most is the Christmas Windows.

  10. Hi Bob,
    My name is Laura McKelvey( maiden name). I am one of many grandchildren of the late William B. McKelvey. I was thrilled to read your blog. Although I was too young to remember the store, I collect items from the store to this day. I was given boxes from my grandmothers attic and found treasures, McKelvey’s memorabilia, down to clothing sample pieces. I sometimes find furs at second hand stores as far as Cleveland with the McKelvey’s patch sewn inside. I lived in Yoto until I was three, then we moved to Shaker. I call on physicians in the Youngstown area, and always here how much people loved McKelveys! If only the family had held onto it and branched out!
    Maybe we could chat via email sometime. I would love to know more about your memories and here more great stories about McKelveys.

  11. About 35 years ago, I purchased a pair of mahogany bookends at an antique shop. I have loved them all these years and while doing some cleaning, decided to see if I could find any info on the gift shop from where they were originally purchased. Thank you for the most enjoyable read and history.

  12. Bob, I have just begun to put together information about McKelveys as a surprise for my cousin (Nancy Wick) to mark her 99th birthday, I would love to include your history and some of the comments people have sent. Please let me know if that would be possible.

    • For any comments I may have left, I want you to include them. I loved doing the advertising for McKelvey’s and also loved working with Vera Friedman, who was a remarkable talent and lady of the first order.

    • Mary, this sounds like a wonderful gift. As I note in my copyright paragraph, I simply ask for proper attribution, and that you include the link to the article. Please add my birthday and best wishes to your cousin!

  13. My memories of McKelvey’s were of the Loft store. It was very exciting to go to this department. I was still quite young but I remember my Mother taking mevand my older sister who was a teenager to purchase clothes. My twin brother and I had our visits with Santa here!
    I remember being enthralled with the first floor and how beautiful it was. And my sister taking me and my brother to the grill. Very exciting to sit at the counter! My sister once lost my brother here. She was with my cousin and he scared the life out of them, when he disappeared on them. They found him in a cupboard in one of the departments!!
    I have great memories of Livingston’s also and
    after college worked for Livingston’s as a supervisor and then Training Director. Tons of fun and I worked with very nice people. Irene Bodnar was a lovely person and a true professional.
    I was there to help close out the store which was sad, I think particularly for all of the ladies who had worked there for so long. They were very proud to be employed by Livingstowns But I was young with so much ahead of me.

  14. I purchased baby clothes and a car seat for my oldest son at a huge savings when Higbees was closing in 1982, he was born in Feb. 1983. Most of what I bought were “conventional layette sets” in pastel yellow or green or just white

    It was sad to see the store closed.

  15. I worked across the street during high school at livingstons . Later, I worked behind Mckelveys at Pigeon Hole Parking. I spend many days in McKelveys, picking out my china , buying cook books, loved that store. Ate many great lunches there. That was when you took a bus to work and home. My Dad was a mail carrier downtown. Many great memories.

  16. Born in 1969, I only remember that the shopping bags were really distinctive and very pretty. My grandmother’s favorite store to visit by far was Mckelvey ‘s though I am sure I was taken as s small child, I don’t have any actual memory of it except hearing of it closing in 1982 and thinking how sad grandma would have been, if she’d lived to see it.

  17. My mom worked at McKelveys in bookkeeping in 1949-1951. After she got married and had kids we would always go downtown to shop. I have a beautiful picture of McKelveys decorated inside for Christmas! I always put it out at Christmas time. When they tore McKelveys down my mom and I sat across the street and cried. I ran up to one of the demolitionists and he gave me a piece of the outside black marble. I still have it. Downtown was the best. So was Youngstown in the heyday. We were lucky!!!♥️

  18. My memory is of a McKelvy’s sponsored table tennis exhibition match between No 3 World Ranked Sander Glantz Of Hungary, and No1 U.S. ranked Pauline Betz of the U.S. during which she leaped up on the ping-pong table to retrieve a drop shot from Sander at the conclusion of a 21 shot rally of smash-drop shot-smash- drop shot.

  19. Thank you for this trip down memory lane. I was looking for a photo of McKelvey’s for a poem I wrote. I was thrilled to find this photo of Federal Street, with the old cars and old Christmas street decorations. Warms my heart! I used this photo, and linked back to your blog post.

    Again, thank you!

    Marie Elena

  20. Pingback: McKelvey’s | pictured words

  21. McKelvey’s was the first job I had after graduating from high school in 1969. It’s the place where I met my best friends.
    We usually ate at the Grille. Tuna noodle casserole or a sandwich.
    Occasionally we went to eat at Lums in the McKelvey’s Arcade and had coffee and donuts at
    Plaza 🍩 Donuts. It was a great time in my life.

  22. I found this article after reminiscing about a store I really liked called McKelvey’s Loft, in the long ago and short lived Randall Park Mall, in Warrensville Heights, Ohio. I’m assuming this too was an offspring of the original McKelvey’s, because it too was related to the Higbee Company. I loved that store. The Higbee Company was in downtown Cleveland and holds every bit the same memories for me as you described about McKelvey’s. I worked, shopped, and dined at the Higbee Company and have such fond memories. I’m sure you may already know this but the Higbee Company, is depicted in the movie A Christmas Story. What I wouldn’t do to go back for just a day.

    • Mary Beth, yes the Loft was an effort to expand into the young women’s fashion market without building anchor stores. Didn’t work, and as you note Higbee’s bought McKelvey’s. I worked their during the transition, so we both have been Higbee’s employees! Thanks for writing!

  23. Hi, I recently came up on some beautiful crystal glassware with the tag from McKelveys on them. I’m sure they are dated back very far because they’re absolutely beautiful and the detail work on them is magnificent. I’m wondering if there’s someone I can contact to get an appraisal on them or if it’s something that might even be placed in the museum for the for the store. They’re actually so delicate and beautiful I’m halfway afraid to drink out of them. If you could give me some direction I would greatly appreciate it.

  24. Hello Bob,
    it has been a few years since i jumped on. I saw that Angela Morrow posted in 2020, regarding crystal from McKelvey’s. Did you ever hear back? Was it ever appraised? Angela, if you see this post, please contact me if you are interested in selling the crystal. I have been collecting pieces from my Grandfathers store, and would love a chance to see pictures, or bid on them if they are for sale. Very sentimental to me. My email is
    thank you!
    Laura McKelvey

  25. I’m a little late to this discussion, but I loved McKelvey’s. When I was a young girl in the 1960s, my grandmother worked there and my aunt became a buyer for jewelry. And she was an assistant buyer before that in children’s wear (which my mother loved because it meant my sister and I had some very nice clothes). My aunt talks about her trips to New York City to order items for the store. She saw so many Broadway shows during that time. I remember seeing Santa there many times and when the Loft opened. My family still talks about the many excursions to the store. Later when I worked downtown in the early 1980s for an optical lab, I would deliver glasses to Dr. Huttner, who was an optometrist and had his office in the arcade. It was Higbee’s by then, but I really enjoyed walking through the store. The architecture was wonderful.

  26. Just found this article while searching for info on Livingston’s. My Dad was Ken Turney, display manager at Livingston’s for many years (~1949 – 1969). He designed the stores for the Boardman and Liberty Plazas. I have many fond childhood memories of helping him change the window displays, dress the mannequins, and choose accessories. He later worked briefly for McKelvey’s. Dad also did occasional display work for Brenner’s and the record store. I had summer jobs after high school and college in the Children’s department at Livingston’s (Boardman Plaza). Have lots of photos of window displays, and a few of the old gold and white striped Livingston’s boxes. Great memories!

    • Livingston’s was a great store! The display windows in the old stores was an art form. For some reason, the name is familiar, perhaps from his time at McKelvey’s. Thanks for writing!


    • Those are wonderful memories, and as an employee, I remember those lounges, the cafeteria, and redeeming GEM books for people. During the last years there, my father managed the Grille. Thanks for writing.

      • When McKelvey’s was razed I sat in my car and cried as my mother and I watched the wrecking ball demolish that beautiful store. My mom worked there from 1949-1951 in bookkeeping. One of the crew saw me and handed me a piece of black marble from the front of the store. I still have that marble. Great memories. So grateful for what once was.

  28. I worked for McKelvey’s in 1961-62 during my senior year at Chaney. I started in the fabric, patterns and notions dept. on the 3rd floor and remember riding the employee freight elevator. During inventory you were required to unroll and measure every bolt of fabric, spool of ribbon, bolt of lace and trim in the department. If you remember, there was a giant wooden wall which contained every pattern from every pattern book in every size! Those had to be counted as well. Proving myself adaptable, I was put on the “Flying Squad “ which meant that I could be called to any dept. at any time. I was fascinated by the storeroom which held replacement crystal baubles for almost any chandelier you could imagine, which, by the way, each had to be counted for inventory as well. I also enjoyed working in the toy dept. during Christmas. Wonderful memories.

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