There are some places which almost nobody will remember until Captain Flashback brings them up. Even then, the mention of a short-lived failure will make even some of the more savvy historians scratch their heads. A few weeks ago, we looked at some of the forgotten food court tenants at Northway Mall. Next week, just in time for Black Friday, the subject will be Ross Park’s biggest failures. However, we’re going to hop across the street to Ross Towne Center (Zayre Plaza for true old-timers) to look at a store, which I can guarantee will be remembered, by less than 5% of the population.
When McIntyre Square opened, it took Phar-Mor from Ross Towne Center and K-Mart from its Blazier Drive location as its anchors in the southern parcel. (The northern parcel, of course, had Builder’s Square and Giant Eagle to lead the way). Phar-Mor left a huge hole at Ross Towne Center, which was already recovering from the loss of Zayre’s (its space became Freight Liquidators and was later Roomful Express; I’m still convinced the company went under because nobody wanted to shop at a store with chairs screaming out for a woman named “Stella” whose name was really “Julie” in their advertisements).
After sitting vacant for a short while, the space re-opened as a big-box pet store called Pet-Mor in 1993. I’m not sure if this was a pet project of Mickey Monus (no pun intended), as its name reflected Phar-Mor’s and it took over where a Phar-Mor had been. I’ve searched the web and have found almost nothing on Pet-Mor other than stores by that name in Dunkirk, NY (yes, the same town from which Kathryn Schoch traveled to murder the Dempsey family in Perrysville in 1934) and Bakersfield, CA. A query for “Pet-Mor” and “Monus” turned up no relevant information.
Pet-Mor was a big box pet store, not unlike Petco or PetSmart. Although they did not have a vet clinic or obedience classes, they did offer an extensive array of pet supplies. However, the staff did not seem to be all that knowledgeable about the product (by contrast, I’ve had mostly good experiences at the big box pet stores I’ve been to).
There were no Petcos or PetSmarts along McKnight Road in 1993. Without these giants of the industry, one would think Pet-Mor would have a good chance of success, even with Pet Supplies Plus a few blocks south. Unfortunately, the concept wasn’t executed properly and smaller stores wound up prevailing in the end.
Ross had a ton of locally owned pet stores in the early 1990s. Elmer’s Aquarium was a key tenant at McKnight-Siebert Shopping Center. (Today, the company operates only its Monroeville store). Tiny’s Pet Place in West View was a favorite of plenty of pet owners (and will be the subject of a future Flashback article). Perrytowne Aquarium was a haven for fish lovers from all over the North Hills. Docktor Pet Center, a national chain, also had a store at Ross Park at the time.
Every store not named Pet-Mor had something to make them attractive to shoppers. Pet Supplies Plus prided itself on its “shop with your pet” policy. Tiny’s was perhaps the textbook definition of “great mom-and-pop pet store”. Perrytowne Aquarium offered sound advice for any fish question (believe me, I asked them pretty much everything about my tropical fish when they were in business). Elmer’s, of course, was also home to some knowledgeable people. Docktor may have dug its own grave with its confinement of dogs to crates, but it sure was convenient for those looking to buy a chew toy or fish food while shopping at Ross Park. There was simply nothing to set Pet-Mor apart aside from prices, and most customers had enough loyalty toward other pet stores (or preferred to get dog or cat food while shopping at a grocery store or big box retailer) to skip the trip altogether.
Pet-Mor was in business for less than a year. I made exactly one purchase there--a can of Tetra Min fish food. The price was right, but the store wasn’t impressive enough for me to return. Evidently, this was the mindset of everyone who shopped there. The store was deserted on my visit (my dad and I were the only customers in the store) and, based on the parking lot, typically was. Goodwill later set up shop in the former Phar-Mor (which had previously been a non-union Giant Eagle).
The big box pet store works today thanks in part to better presentation, knowledgeable employees, more services (vet clinics, obedience classes, cat adoption), and a lack of smaller pet stores. (Tiny’s, Elmer’s of Ross, and Perrytowne Aquarium are all distant memories now). Whoever ran Pet-Mor definitely had a solid idea--to sell pet supplies at low prices--but needed to do more. Perhaps the successful big-box retailers learned from the short-lived experiment at Ross Towne Center to become the powerhouses they are and will continue to be along the McKnight Corridor.
NEXT TIME: As we make our Black Friday plans and Captain Flashback gets ready for his first visit to Ross Park Mall in over three months, we will look at Ross Park’s biggest blunders over the years. Get ready for a rough ride down memory lane!