By Roman Hladio
A 1932 box set of “The Complete Short Stories of W. Somerset Maugham.” A moon shaped jester mask hanging from a door frame. Jewelry boxes, rings, bracelets, necklaces, earrings, reading glasses, straight razors, scissors, a pair of hatchets, an ale horn, two ceramic Amsterdam steins, one with a lid. Lamps, clocks, pots, Playboy magazines. Most for sale, some on sale. All of this is just on the first floor.
“Try not to look at everything, you’ll never see it in one trip,” says Shannon Marino from behind the sales counter.
Shannon is one of more than 20 vendors who sell goods out of Wexford General Store Antiques. She is also the daughter-in-law of the store’s owners, Jim and Marianne Marino. According to Jim, Wexford General Store Antiques was one of the first cooperative stores in western Pennsylvania — the Marino’s purchased the store in 1966 and have operated it with a vendor-centric business model ever since.
Over the past 57 years in operation, the store has hosted approximately 150 vendors, according to Jim.
“A lot of them stay here until they die,” he says.
Since opening under Jim and Marianne, the store has operated basically the same way: Vendors have a space that they maintain within the store and they work one shift per week. With some exceptions — a pandemic, for instance — Wexford General Store Antiques is open at 150 Church Road in Wexford from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day of the year, except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Although the Marinos have been the building’s longest owner, the property’s history in Wexford and the Pittsburgh region is rich.
According to Jim, the original store, which was just the front left side of the building, was built in 1850. At some point before the turn of the last century, the right side of the store — which became, and still is, the main sales area — was added, along with 50 feet at the back of the building.
A grandfather clock sits amidst jewelry, broom heads and pendant lighting in the original room, which Jim says used to be the hardware section of the general store. A room in the rear right side of the building’s main area was formerly a butcher shop — the animals were easily carried in through a side door. Now, hats hang from a stand in the middle of the room flanked by framed photos and crucifixes.
Farmers would drive their livestock to the barn located next to the present-day Cole’s Tavern, which used to be a hotel.
“They’d pick up provisions from this store and stay in the hotel, then go on to Pittsburgh,” Marino says.
The ownership of the general store was constantly shifting throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Jim’s recollections from numerous articles written about the building mounted on an interior door tell the story: In 1832, Ambrose Schaffer owned 300-plus acres of land in Wexford — including the land where the general store now sits — which was used and built upon. According to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article clipping from about a decade ago, it was not until 1876 when Schaffer’s son-in-law, Ignatius Brooker, built and opened the general store.
The store then began trading hands often. In 1889, the Brookers sold the shop to Mary Callahan, who was the first teacher at St. Alphonsus in Wexford. In 1906, Callahan then sold it to Joseph H. Cole, whose brother, John B. Cole, owned the hotel across the street. Joseph Cole’s family lived in the store for almost 20 years, and after his daughter married Edgar Wright, the newlyweds worked and lived there as well.
Wright’s children and entrepreneurial spirit were born in the upper rooms of the Wexford General Store. The Post-Gazette article notes that Edgar “got the bug for automobiles,” selling cars and operating gas pumps in front of the store, and in 1927, purchased a car dealership with his brother. The original Wright Pontiac is now the Wright Automotive Group, which operates dealerships throughout the region.
The Cole family sold the general store to Edward J. Riffle in 1926, and in 1944, Riffle sold it to James and Virginia Moore. The Moores lived in and operated the shop, modernizing much of it, until it was sold to Wexford Real Estate Inc. in 1964. The real estate company’s president, William F. Schwerin Jr., intended to turn it into a medical practice but ultimately did not.
Everything remaining inside the store was auctioned off, and in 1966, the building was sold to the Marinos. At the time, the Coles still maintained farmland across the street.
“The farm, when we bought it, was storing cabbages in here,” Marianne says, adding that the cool, dry climate of the empty store was perfect for produce.
The Marinos lived in the store for six years after purchasing the building and starting the antiques co-op. While the store no longer serves as the Marino’s home, it is still an important part of their family. Shannon was married to the Marino’s son Josh “right at the end of the carpet,” which runs from the store’s front door to the back wall of the main room.
“It was a good place to get married because this is where we met, really,” Shannon says. “We got married on a January 1. We wanted to do it simply and on a day that the shop was closed anyway, which worked out.”
Wexford General Store Antiques remains a popular stop, as all the past businesses in the building have been. In 2013, the Cranberry Eagle awarded the shop the “Best Antique Store Community Choice Award.” Trib Total Media’s Readers’ Choice Awards gave it gold in the “Antique Shop” category in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2017. The store won second place in the Pittsburgh City Paper’s “Best of PGH” awards last year in the same category and claimed first place in 2021 and 2020.
“We just have such a variety of stuff, and the store is large. The merchandise is a nice mix of things and we treat the customers right,” Jim Marino says. “It’s more unique I guess, and that adds to the attraction.”
Now, 57 years into business, the Marinos have no plans of stopping.
“As long as I can physically do it, I’ll keep doing it,” Jim says.
Roman Hladio was editor-in-chief of The Campus newspaper at Allegheny College and is the recipient of a New York State Summer Writers Institute Scholarship.