J. P. Sellers & Co. Clothiers & Tailors, 6th & Penn Streets, Reading, PA
In 1844, James Jameson took occupancy of a building located at the Northeast corner of 6th and Penn Streets and opened a clothing factory in the portion of the building fronting on Penn Street. In so doing, he was credited with being the first man in Reading to produce ready-made clothes in a wide assortment of styles, colors, sizes and fabrics.
On the first floor rear, running along Sixth Street, was the bookstore of Samuel Heckler and Jacob Knabb. Directly above was the printing office and plant of the weekly newspaper "Berks and Schuylkill Journal" run by Jacob Knabb, who in 1869 purchased the "Reading Daily Times." Above the printery, on the third story rear, was Howard and Maurer's "skylight Daguerroeotype gallery," operated by Daniel D. Maurer and S.B. Howard, Reading's early practitioners of photographic art.
Jameson Building at the southeast corner of Sixth and Penn streets as it appeared in 1882 following refurbishing and addition of a portico. From the late 1700s to its razing in 1931, the structure housed the James Jameson tailor shop and its successor, J.P. Sellers & Co.
In 1865, at the suggestion of his uncle, James Jameson, James Phillip Sellers went to Reading, and after working in the Philadelphia & Reading Railway Company's shop for eighteen months, entered the large wholesale and retail clothing house of his uncle. A decade later he was admitted as a partner, at which time the enterprise was renamed J. Jameson & Co.
In ensuing years Jameson took on two other junior partners - son-in-law William A. Medlar and Charles S. Bachman, a former employee of many years standing.
Interior of Jameson’s business as it appeared in the late 1800s.
In 1890 Mr. James Jameson died. The firm was reorganized by the surviving partners, William A. Medlar, Mr. Jameson's son-in-law, Charles S. Bachman, a former employee for many years, and Mr. Sellers, as Sellers, Medlar & Bachman, the nephew having taken the uncle's place as the senior partner in the business.
In 1900 Mr. Bachman withdrew from the firm on account of his age, and his interest was purchased by William R. Fenstermacher, of Lenhartsville. The name of the firm was changed to Sellers, Medlar & Co.
At the retirement of Medlar three years later, whose interest was taken by Sellers' nephew William J. Frederick of Allentown, the name was again changed - to J. P. Sellers & Co.
Under the management of James P. Sellers the custom and ready-made clothing operation continued to flourish. This was the era in which people sought and bought quality for its obvious merits. Suits and other attire for young men was a house specially.
Location played a vital role in the good fortune Jameson and his successors enjoyed. Being on Penn Square they were always "in the thick of things." And when the Outer Station opened in August 1874, North Sixth Street became one of Reading's three most important thoroughfares. A survey taken by printer Knabb indicated that 500 to 1,000 persons passed Jameson’s comer every hour for most of the day.
Beyond location, the firm brought notice of its existence through all sorts of advertising notices, trading cards, catalogs, handbills and newspaper spreads. Typically they accompanied their ads with illustrations of some kind, a proven method of attracting public attention.
In 1908 Joseph Ritter Sellers, James' son, was admitted as a partner into the business. Upon the retirement in 1916 of both J. P. Sellers and William Frederick, he and William Fenstermacher assumed control. They renamed the firm Sellers Co.
During the major reorganization of 1916 another radical change occurred - the entire first floor was rented to another tenant and Sellers & Co. became "The Upstairs Store at 7 North Sixth." The business at the time was such that the use of the entire corner complex was no longer required.
For many years Jameson had little competition in the field of men's and boys' ready-made clothing manufacture. But in the late 1880's and 1890's a number of similar businesses appeared: Leinbach's at Eighth and Penn, 265 workers employed; Myers & Heim, 508 Penn, 77 hands; John B. Mull, 442 Penn, 32 employed; A. J. Brumbach, 14th and Muhlenberg, 125 workers; Solomon Hirshland, 705 Penn, 60 employed, to name a few.
In 1908 Grover D. Ritter of Lehigh County graduated from The Croonborg Sartorial Academy of Chicago. His final report card dated July 20, 1908, indicated he earned "85 percent in all aspects of tailoring and 98 percent in conduct." Near the end of the next year he was granted an interview with J. P. Sellers who was favorably impressed.
Grover D. Ritter became an employee of Sellers Co. in January 1910. A booklet published on the 80th anniversary of the firm remarked that Grover was "a young man of recognized ability as a cutter and designer in the custom department."
Looking towards northeast corner of 6th and Penn Streets in 1923 during Reading's 175th anniversary celebration.
The late 1920s were characterized as mad speculative years of false prosperity. During this time Reading National Bank, one of the two leading banks of Reading, attempted to buy Sellers' corner and the four properties east of it with the notion of erecting a new banking house that would be the envy of all others - particularly Pennsylvania Trust Company, its arch rival.
They made Joseph Sellers an offer of $250,000 for the corner which proved too good to refuse. Sellers & Co. remained at its accustomed location until the close of 1930; thereafter it reopened in more modest quarters at 130 North Fifth St., home until 1967.
Reading National Bank never got around to constructing the palatial banking house it envisioned. Nor did there materialize a 15-story skyscraper later proposed for that corner. The Sellers and Co. and surrounding buildings were razed in the mid-1930s and a 2-story steel frame building erected on the corner lot which in 1928 was listed as the most valuable property in the city.
The sign on the Sellers & Co. building states that a 15-story office building will be erected here, on the northeast corner of Sixth and Penn, which will be ready for occupancy by Nov. 1, 1931. The ancient structure was removed but the office high-rise never materialized.
The city directory for 1931 shows Joseph Sellers and Grover Ritter as joint owners of the reorganized company at their new location at 130 North Fifth Street. At this location finely-made custom-tailored garments for men were the mainstay. About 10 people were on the payroll during the 1930s, most having been with the firm for many years.
In March 1936 Joseph Sellers died leaving Grover Ritter to continue the business. A decade later Grover's son John signed on as an apprentice. By 1954 John - known to everyone as Jack - was doing much of the cutting and designing, a craft requiring a high degree of skill and superior judgment.
On June 1, 1979, the 135-year-old firm, known as Sellers & Co., ceased operations forever - a victim of changing times and trends.
From the time of Grover Ritter’s death in July 1958 to completion of the last suit, Jack alone was the embodiment of Sellers & Co., which in its final days gave employment to three persons. Mr. Jack Ritter maintained the high standards of Sellers & Co. until the very end.
The last home of Sellers & Co. was at 146 N. Fifth St. where the custom-tailoring operation was conducted from 1967 to June 1, 1979.