Snapshot: A classic general store has served the Penns Valley community for more than a century
From Millheim’s rise as a flourishing industrial town in the mid-1800s, through the decline of the mills that once sustained it, to the town’s current cultural revitalization, one store has been there through it all, serving the needs of residents and farmers in Penns Valley for well over a century. Hosterman and Stover, a family-owned general store, is still thriving today.
The store was first established as Musser and Smith Hardware in 1854. Forty years later, the business changed hands and changed its name when Fred Hosterman and his business partner, Lucius Stover, purchased the store, along with its $3,217.28 worth of inventory.
Located for many years in the three-story building at West Main Street and State Street, the store stayed in the Hosterman and Stover families through several generations, functioning as a true general store offering a broad selection of goods – hardware, coal stoves, products made in the in-house tin shop, housewares, toys, grocery staples – and eventually providing electrical, plumbing, and roofing services.
Sid Allen began working in the store in 1973, and in 1980 Francis Stover and Lester Hosterman offered him a controlling interest in the store. Today, Allen shares ownership with his son, Matt Allen, and his son-in-law, Troy Smith, bringing history full circle, as Troy is a distant relative of the original owner, James Smith.
Smith has worked at the store since 1997, while Matt Allen has been working in the store for 30 years, since the age of 12. Today, the store employs 15 full- and part-time employees, including a third generation of the Allen family.
In 1993, Sid Allen made the decision to change locations, moving the store from its downtown corner spot into the former IGA store just a half-mile up the road on Route 45 (186 West Main Street), citing parking and the one-floor layout as the main selling points for the new site.
“It was a little sticky when we moved. People really thought the downtown was going to go under,” he says. “I kind of vowed that we were going to keep the building and get what we could in there.”
True to his word, Allen has retained ownership of the old building, which now houses the Millheim post office and the Green Drake Art Gallery.
The current Hosterman and Stover building is a sprawling 16,000 square feet, loosely divided into four sections. On one end is a small radio station, WSOV-FM. The service department, which handles electrical, plumbing, heating work, and more, takes up another section. A small section they call the “variety store” functions much as any convenience store, selling lottery tickets, candy, snacks, small toys, cleaning supplies, bird food, and more, as well as handling gasoline sales for the pumps in front of the building.
The largest part of the building houses the hardware store. Ace Hardware is the business’ main supplier, and the store carries wood and coal stoves, lawn and garden supplies, a large selection of paint, electrical supplies, fishing and hunting gear, and, of course, hardware. Long aisles are loaded with a multitude of fasteners: nuts, bolts, screws, and nails, all sold by the pound.
“If you can’t find it here, they don’t make it,” Sid Allen says. “We also sell three kinds of licenses: hunting, fishing, and dog.”
The store seems unaffected by the competition of big box stores such as Walmart and Home Depot, in part because the closest chain store is 25 miles away, Allen says.
“Our pricing is very good, and we have good service. … If someone comes in about a project that he doesn’t know much about, we’ll help him along with it, and when he fixes it, he thinks he’s a big hero – and his wife does, too,” he laughs. “You kind of gain a customer for life that way.”
“People in the valley, if you treat them right, they are very loyal, so we are fortunate that way,” adds Matt Allen. “Our service department has people we’ve been doing work for for generations.”
“We have a lot of good customers: a lot of Amish, a lot of farmers, and contractors,” Sid Allen says.
Over the last century, Hosterman and Stover has earned some significant distinctions. It has had a building on the midway at the Centre County Grange Fair since 1927, making it the oldest vendor at the fair. The building was torn down and replaced last year.
In addition, Hosterman and Stover has earned three “Golden Hammer Awards,” which are presented by Estwing tool company to people who have operated a successful hardware store for more than 50 years. Former owners Lucius Stover, Alvin Stover, and Lester Hosterman each earned the award in the past.
“It’s really unique for a company to have earned that many Golden Hammers. If I can get a couple more years in, maybe we can have four,” Sid Allen says with a grin.
Karen Walker is a freelance writer in State College.