The first two installments of this series were things that were already gone by the time I was born. Actually, there are still some Isaly’s stores around (one in West View and one in Washington, PA, at least). But at one time, Isaly’s were omnipresent. While I was chronologically alive when they were still in their heyday (late 70’s/early 80’s), I wasn’t cognizant enough at that young age to have lasting memories. It makes me wonder what institution my own kids are experiencing right now that will no longer be around when they’re adults — the closest comparison I could make today would be Eat ‘N Park, I suppose.
Isaly’s holds a special place in the hearts and memories of Pittsburghers. The chip-chopped ham lives on and may do so until the end of days for Pittsburgh arrives. Klondikes are available in any freezer section of any reputable Pittsburgh-area grocery store. But for many, it’s not the same. Going to Isaly’s was the experience; the foods were just the rewards. Kids in every city neighborhood, suburban main street and every other point in between of the over 400 delis and dairies owned by the Isaly empire at one point, were given money to run down to the corner shop and get some ham and cheese. Maybe they kept the change for themselves and bought a Klondike.
Or maybe they splurged and got a Skyscraper cone. The scoop was specially made just for Islay’s:
A Skyscraper cone was one single scoop of ice cream that towered high above the cone. The love of Isaly’s was so great that a man named Brian Butko penned a book chronicling the history of Isaly’s called Klondikes, Chipped Ham & Skyscraper Cones: The History of Isaly’s back in 2001.
Using the appendix in the book, I found where two old Isaly’s delis were located: one in Etna and one in Sharpsburg. The one in Etna was located at the corner of Butler Street and Freeport Street. The removed signage from another deli, Mitchell’s Deli, is still present in the depressive, shadowy remains. In its own right, Mitchell’s was a fine deli, but is now consigned to the dusty memories of history. The store stands empty, hoping that someone will make it useful again.
The Isaly’s in Sharpsburg on Main Street is now a thrift store, so at least it is serving a worthy purpose. Sharpsburg, much like Etna, has seen better days. The parallels between the towns and Isaly’s can be drawn, but 1+1 does not equal 3.
Isaly’s is still operational and doing quite well today, but it is mostly with its products in various supermarkets. Maybe it’s not the same measure of success as the peak of their heyday, but they’re surviving. I just hope that my kids one day aren’t buying Smiley Cookies or a box of frozen Superburgers and having faint memories of eating at Eat ‘N Park in their youth.