Up in Smoke: Ex-Snack Shops

mural of soft-serve ice cream cones in colorful silhouette, former Tastee Queen, Ambridge, PA

Tastee Queen, Ambridge

Scene: The freezer aisle at the Lawrenceville Shop’n’Save, 9:30 on a recent Sunday evening. An enormous man is paused, his buggy half-full with potato chips, Cheez Doodles, canned chili, two-liter pop bottles, the makings for deli sandwiches–there’s not a fruit or vegetable in sight. He’s dressed in the kind of long short pants that big men often wear and a t-shirt in the Rastafarian red/green/black/gold color scheme featuring a prominent marijuana leaf and the single word STONED. The man is engaged in a cell phone conversation communicating ice cream flavors to an associate: “They got rocky road, they got butter pecan, they got moose tracks, they got strawberry, they got double chocolate…”

former Coney Island Convenience store, McKeesport, PA

Coney Island Convenience, McKeesport

As fascinating as this was (would this guy keep naming flavors all the way down to the Ben & Jerry’s section? would the team consider sherbet, ice milk, and/or frozen yogurt? how about the add-ons: chocolate sauce, nuts, whipped-cream? what would the final decision be?) this eves-dropper can only pretend to peruse the Stouffer’s frozen dinners for so long–we needed to move along.

former Howze Corner Store, Wilkinsburg, PA

Howze Corner Store, Wilkinsburg

What’s a doobie smoker to do? Gone (for the most part) are the mom & pop corner convenience stores, replaced almost entirely by the one-two punch of supermarkets and gas & sips. Good luck finding a retailer with only one brand of potato chips or a single freezer for the ice cream. It’s a wonder we’re not all standing confused and on the help line right now trying to make an informed, intelligent decision on Funyuns vs. Fritos, Cheetos vs. Cheese Puffs, ridges vs. kettle-cooked. Somehow, we must all dig deep and make these most difficult of life’s decisions.

snack trailer with cartoon images and sign "Temporarily closed for remodeling"

unknown (snack trailer), Hill District

In central Lawrenceville, we lost our independent snack shop three or four years ago. Mrs. The Orbit always cites Star Discount* as the place where ladies of the evening could purchase undergarments and bingo freaks could stock up on daubers. Lottery tickets and cigarettes were likely paying the bills, but “Star’s” also carried Herr’s and Snyder’s chips and pretzels as well as Cotton Club pop. Everyone behind the counter was always smoking.

Star Discount was replaced by the trifecta of Row House Cinema, Smoke BBQ, and Bierport (née Atlas Beer)–all of which we’ve patronized and enjoyed–but even if they let you in the door, try getting a $1.99 bag of cheese puffs from Smoke!

former Haley's Market, Pittsburgh, PA

Haley’s Market, Lincoln

Growing up in southwest Virginia, the peaceful, gentle climb to Cascade Falls in the nearby national forest, followed by a celebratory post-hike soft-serve at Dairy Princess made for a fine afternoon. In collecting images for this story, it was nice to see the tradition of knock-off ice cream shops perpetuated in both Tastee Queen (Ambridge) and Tasty Queen (Bruceton Mills, West Virginia). Unfortunately, all three businesses seem to have met a similar fate**. At least we still have Tastee Queen’s glorious technicolor soft-serve silhouettes.

former Tasty Queen ice cream shop, Bruceton Mills, WV

Tasty Queen, Bruceton Mills, WV


* Star Discount would make a great Orbit obit, but we sadly never took the photographic record to do it justice.
** This blogger almost met an even more violent version of the same fate taking this photo of Tasty Queen.

Un-Graffiti

"No Dogs!" painted on side of small factory in Millvale

“No Dogs!”, Millvale

If there’s anything that watching television has taught us, it’s that serial killers are everywhere. The Pacific Northwest, the beaches of Miami, Belfast, 1950’s London, you name it.  Hell, Chloe Sevigny turned up scads of them right here in Pittsburgh–imagine if she could have finished the season!

We street bloggers can learn a lot from the fictional hunting of these seemingly very normal monsters: trust no one, collect as much material evidence as possible, we all need to take a long look at our own mothers, and mainly that we’re always looking for patterns.

When The Orbit photography staff started going through their deep back-catalog of photos, one such interesting pattern emerged.  Photos of places that had all the hallmarks of graffiti: the crude, quickly-executed messaging, raw emotion, paint applied directly to wall surfaces.  But these weren’t graffiti in the typical sense; they all appeared to be committed by the owners of the buildings, too in-a-hurry or just too cheap to have a sign created, instead scrawling the messages directly on their own property.  We’re calling these “un-graffiti“.

"No Parking Open-Pantry Customer Only" painted on wall in Lincoln

“No Parking Open-Pantry Customer Only”, Lincoln

Not only were there no non-customers parking at the Open-Pantry, there were no customers, there was no open business, and there were no human beings anywhere to be seen for blocks around this former convenience store in Lincoln.

"PAULs" letters on side of building in New Kensington, PA

“PAULs”, New Kensington

PAULs is a little different in that the medium isn’t paint, but rather recycled letters from (likely) commercial signage, fixed to plywood.  So maybe this is more like “un-street art”, but I think it counts.

"Wrap Your Garbage" painted on side of building in Lawrenceville

“Wrap Your Garbage”, Lawrenceville

This message obviously predates some heavy-duty rewiring of a commercial building on Butler Street.  On this day there was no problem with unwrapped garbage.

"Quit Paintin...... Dumb Shit on Garage" painted on garage door in Bloomfield

“Quit Paintin…… Dumb Shit on Garage”, Bloomfield

This one is the mother of all un-graffitis: a homeowner’s desperate plea/demand for the scofflaws of his or her Bloomfield neighborhood to cease and desist their assault on this small cinderblock garage.  The request seems to have gone unheeded.

Update: since this photo was taken the entire garage was repainted a deep blue and I don’t recollect any new tags on it (yet).