Baldinger's Market will relocate to downtown Zelienople
Doug Oster/Post-Gazette Betty Sabo, manager of Baldinger's Market, stands outside the store, just south of Zelienople. The store is being re-created in downtown Zelienople by local business man Pat Boylan.
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It's the Friday before Easter and the parking lot at Baldinger's Market just south of Zelienople is packed. Not a space is left, and customers have resorted to parking along Route 19.
Inside, the line leading to the hand-crank register stretches past the old black-and-white cooler, which has been here as long as anyone can remember, filled with oddities such as Limburger cheese and bottled sarsaparilla.
In the candy section, a father implores his son to stop filling his paper bag with treats, but the child can't resist in a room filled with colorful penny candy. The line to pay for candy reaches to the back of the store, but the customers look content and willing to wait.
The scene has been played out over and over again since the store opened in 1933, but now the old white building along Route 19 with its "Foods From All Nations" sign no longer will be filled with customers.
The market is leaving its Jackson site to move to downtown Zelienople.
For years, rumors have swirled about the fate of the landmark store, prompting petitions signed by people from all over the region begging for the market to remain open.
Local businessman Pat Boylan heard the rumors over the years and wanted to make sure Baldinger's was saved for posterity.
So, he bought the market and plans to re-create an exact replica of the old store -- inside and out -- in a building at 519 Perry Way, near the Exxon station in Zelienople.
"That's a monument to this community and I think it should be continued," he said.
He hopes to open the new store in June, but the old store will stay open until its new location is ready.
All of the old cases, coolers, butcher block furniture and shelving will be moved to the new site along with the heralded cash register that rings with each turn of the crank.
"That's some history there, and Zelienople is a good town. Baldinger's has a heck of a reputation, and you just don't want to see something like that get passed over," said Mr. Boylan, who owns funeral homes in Zelienople and Evans City.
Marlene Syfert, of Zelienople, has been coming to Baldinger's for more than a decade. She brought her grandchildren, and it was the first visit for the youngest one.
"I just wanted him to see the old register and see how it's run. It's a piece of history," she said.
She loves the cookie cutters the market sells and owns at least 20 of them. Like other customers, she's relieved that the store will be moved rather than closed but disappointed the old building probably won't remain.
"It's kind of sad. I think that's really why I'm here today. This might be the last time I'll be here before they're gone. I'm sorry to see the building go," she said.
Chris Rodenbaugh, of Pittsburgh, visited the market as a child with her parents, who made it a tradition to stop at Baldinger's as they drove north.
"They had penny candy. We could walk around with a bag, pick all the candy we wanted and we'd eat it all the way up to Erie," she said with a smile.
Her husband, Frank, also has been a customer since childhood and remains amazed at the diversity of items for sale, which range from nesting dolls to wasabi peas.
"Where do you go to get candy like this? It's a family name. Baldinger's is something that everyone knows in Pittsburgh. Where else can you get Necco wafers? And you never see SkyBars anymore," he said.
Mrs. Rodenbaugh laughed and continued reminiscing.
"There aren't too many places you walk in and they have pigs' feet on the counter," she added.
Manager Betty Sabo, who has worked at the store for nearly 50 years, is thrilled that Baldinger's will continue.
"I couldn't believe it at first. We really thought we were done working and I'm not ready to quit. I'll be 80. It's just so wonderful," she said.
Allan and Dorothy Baldinger started the store.
"Mr. Baldinger sold his stamp collection to start this place. It was just a fruit stand they kept adding on to over the years," Mrs. Sabo said.
She looked to the top shelves, where a multitude of hats are displayed just below ceiling level.
"All those hats were given to Mrs. Baldinger from various people. They will also be moved downtown to the new store," she said.
Mrs. Sabo visited the market as a child with her sister, Thelma LeFebvre, who also works at the store.
"We would get a piece of maple sugar candy if we were good," she recalled with a smile.
Even though she's thrilled the store isn't closing, she's sentimental about a building where she has worked for nearly half a century.
"It will be hard to take, not so much when the store's cleared out but when they tear it down. And that's coming. We know that. One day it won't be here," she said.
Mrs. Sabo believes the family who founded the store would be overjoyed that the business will live on.
"Mr. and Mrs. Baldinger would be happy to know that this is continuing, even though it will be in a different place. They would be glad to know the name has kept on."
When asked how long she could keep managing the store, Mrs. Sabo just laughed.
"Until I fall over," she said.
First Published March 30, 2008 12:00 am