Carlisle History

A living history of Carlisle, PA

Carlisle History header image 3

The emergence of the “Strip Mall” and its effects on Greek business

Where did all the Greeks Go?| The Emergence of the “Strip Mall”
The Hamilton Restaurants | The Back Door Cafe
Interview with Bill Seras | Interview with Athen Mazias

“… Roads got better, cars got faster, people traveled more and then your strip malls started to happen. Like the Carlisle Plaza, which had stores such as Montgomery Wards, and Woolworths, Sears etc. And on the other side of town where Loews is, it is the Carlisle Point. I think people just became more mobile. And the downtown just sort of lost it. And then the Wal-Mart came in and put some of those places out of business. Yeah we lost all of our independent hardware stores, our appliance stores, for washers and dryers, we lost our office supply store, etc… yeah it’s all gone.”(Interview, Bill Seras)

Looking back, it was almost fate that the majority of Greek businesses would be driven out of operation due to chain stores. The 1900’s not only marked the emergence of the Greek community in Carlisle, but it also manifested the beginning of a chain store expansion. An example of this would be the growth of Woolworth’s variety stores growing from three hundred to nine hundred over the years of 1910 to 1920. Much like Woolworth’s, many other chain stores such as Sears Roebuck & Co. and Montgomery Ward were beginning to target small towns, just like Carlisle, in hopes of creating a nation-wide business. Despite this new trend, by 1929 only 22.2% of the market was spent in chain stores. This meant that for every five dollars spent by an individual, four of them went to privately owned businesses. And over the next 25 years, the market share of chain stores only rose to 23.7% (Mitchell 4).

This statistic directly relates to the Greek-owned business found above. Of the seven High Street listings mentioned, five were started before 1950. This statistic is important because it directly agrees with the market of the time. However, by the mid to late 1950’s, developers realized the potential to expand their chains to suburbs and jump-started strip mall construction. Although initially boycotted by the public, the low prices of the chains eventually became more important than supporting local business.
Along with lower prices, as Seras stated “…roads got better, cars got faster, people traveled more,” the evolution and affordability of cars, as well as the building of highways, began destroying the economic make up of the small town American “downtowns.” Seras went further to explain “…people are much more interested in going to a lit parking lot. Park their car and do all the shopping that they need in one store…” This new popularity led to a major decline in privately owned business. Consequently by 1967, the same year the Palace owned by Tony Tranores closed because lack of business. At this time, independent market share had dropped to roughly two thirds of retail sales (Mitchell 5).

Additionally Carlisle’s location also played a major role in the loss of Greek-owned business. During the 1950’s, $130 billion of tax money was spent on the interstate highways system. Carlisle is located directly off interstate 81 bordering Maryland and almost evenly between New York City and Pittsburg also indirectly aided to the success of chains and the loss of Greek-owned business. These new highways favored suburbanization, allowed people to be more mobile and gave developers an easier access to small rural towns such as Carlisle (Mitchell 6). Ultimately it can be argued that the creation of the Carlisle Point, which is owned by the Cedar Shopping Centers, Inc and is also conveniently located less than half a mile off the Interstate 81, is responsible for the loss of many of the Greek-owned business. This is unique because the result of this expansion disagrees with their mission statement that focuses on their “strong relationships with national and local tenants.”(cedarshoppingceters.com) A large percentage of downtown Carlisle has gone out of business. However, most if not all and while many small businesses have closed other businesses such as The Hamilton Restaurant and the Back Door Café still remain.

Why Greek owners are different.
“I think those who were before us paved the streets for the success of so many Greek restaurants. If it wasn’t for my grandfather or other Greek restaurant I would not nearly be as successful. Many of the first Greeks that moved to Carlisle started to learn to cook at the Hamilton. And then most of them went on to having their own restaurants. My godfather was the old Charlie Mallios who opened the Sunny Side Restaurant. And the Hamilton is where he learned how to cook.”
(Interview, Bill Seras)


Over the 4 years that I have been a student at Dickinson, I have seen many locally owned business’s come and go. Salamandra’s, a restaurant going out of business after seven years, La Luz, The Plunket are just a few of the many private business that have gone under. Yet, eateries such as Matty’s Kitchen and Casa Mani have begun, still through all this change, The Hamilton Restaurant has been here for well over half a century and the Back Door Café for over 25 years. The question I am answering is how and why these two individually Greek-owned businesses are so successful. Susan Meehan, the author of The New Way Greeks Come to Carlisle Pennsylvania explains that since the 1930’s Carlisle has an abundant amount of eateries for such a small downtown. “Restaurateurs needed specialty items to attract customers who now had a choice” (Meehan 15). I believe that both restaurants concurred with that idea through their menu items and individual atmosphere.