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Unique Shops Offer Unique Gifts — Year-Round

22 December 2010 One Comment

It’s after noon on Dec. 21 and that means there are only about 48 hours left to finish your Christmas shopping. Guys, we better get started.

I’ve always been fascinated by the difference between men and women when it comes to shopping. I’ve found that guys don’t shop, they buy. I wrote once that if you send a Fortune 500 CEO in the middle of a mall, in 20 minutes he will have bought the place, laid off half the staff, changed three leases and rewritten the rental codes. Put him in the same place and tell him to buy a Christmas present for his wife and he’ll wander aimlessly and hopelessly until someone puts his picture on a milk carton seeking his return.

Women, on the other hand, treat shopping like a sport. A contact sport, at this time of year. Guys, don’t get between a woman and a sale. That’s all I’m saying.

Linda Fox, a fourth-generation owner of Sine's 5 & 10, cleans the soda fountain after lunch hour.

My theory is that it goes back to our prehistoric roots. Men were hunters, women were gatherers. Men went out to do the job, bring back the beast and get it ready to be cooked. Women spent more time looking for just the right roots and herbs and greens to go with the meal, taking special care since they knew they were going to be cooking it.

But guys, I have some good news for you. I have two favorite spots to go when I am A.) Short on time and B.) Looking for something unique.

The first is the historic Moravian Book Shop at 428 Main Street in Bethlehem. I have to admit that I love book stores and they are probably the only retail outlet where I will browse for hours. The Moravian Book Shop bills itself as the oldest, continually operated independent book dealer in the world, and it has the props to back up that claim. The store traces its roots to 1745 when it was founded by Bishop Augustus Spangenberg, then the religious leader of the new Moravian colony in Bethlehem.

It has since been known as the Bethlehem Bucher (Book) Shop and it has moved several times over the past few centuries, including a stint on Arch Street in Philadelphia. It returned to Bethlehem in and by the 1860s it included magazines and homeopathic medicines. It the 1870s it added various wares, including poetry and novels, children’s books, office supplies, sporting equipment and games. In the 20th Century it added cards, a cook shop and delicatessen.

It’s a great place to find those one-of-a-kind knick-knacks, decorations and other gifts, in addition to a nice array of books you can’t always find in the mega-stores.

The other store is Sine’s 5 & 10 on Broad Street in Quakertown. While the book shop touts its history, it has nonetheless kept up with the times. Sine’s is like a trip back in time to an era before malls and chain stores, when you could stop in to get a key made, pick up some hardware and stationery, buy your Christmas decorations and have a burger or a meat loaf sandwich washed down by milk shake all made right there at the soda fountain.

Model kits are still a mainstay at Sine's.

Not quite as old as the book shop – it opened in 1926 – Sine’s still boast the local, family ownership descended from founder Howard Sine, now in its fourth generation. The spacious store at 236-238 W. Broad Street also retains the family flavor missing from so many chain stores. Stop in and before long you’re talking to Linda Fox, who proudly tells you the sixth generation is on the way – her niece is pregnant and there are already little ones in the family.

You don’t go to Sine’s for electronic toys and modern gadgets, though. “We sell Slinkys and Lincoln Logs and models, hands-on toys,” said Fox. “You don’t need to plug them in.”

Pam Varkony, a  Haycock Township native who now lives in Allentown, said Sine’s is the place George Bailey would have liked.

“For many of us, Sine’s is the modern day version of “Cheers”; a warm, familiar place where everyone knows your name. Sitting at the lunch counter drinking cherry Cokes and enjoying Marlene Harr’s wonderful homemade comfort food is a feeling you can’t find in any big box store,” Varkony said. “And you can’t find many of the items Sine’s carries in other stores, either, like cast iron pans, penny candy, a complete knitting department and wonderful toys.”

What To Know: Both stores are in real, traditional downtowns so parking close may be an issue. There are parking decks well within walking distance in Bethlehem and the Book Shop can validate your ticket. There is a parking lot less than a block from Sine’s in Quakertown.

If You Go: Both stores are very traditional, which means they may not offer the long hours offered by the mega-stores. Go to http://moravianbookshop.com/ or http://www.facebook.com/pages/Sines-5-10/184449501359?v=wall to check hours.

Facts: The large model of the U.S.S. Akron blimp at Sine’s is a 1/72 scale and still measures almost 11 feet long. The Moravian Book Shop supports the Moravian Ministerial Pension Fund.

One Comment »

  • Pamela Varkony said:

    Great story, Joe, and wonderful photos. Thanks so much for highlighting these two unique stores, and especially Sine’s which will always hold a place in my heart because it was where I was first allowed to pick out Christmas presents for my parents all by myself. Wishing you a very Happy Holiday.