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 October, 2006


 The life of East End merchant George Petro is profiled


By Al Owens
I already miss Georgie Petro! And I hadn’t even seen him for over a year. For as long as I can remember, he’d supplied the entire East End of Uniontown with bread, milk, butter, and friendship. George J. Petro died on October 2nd and there’s simply no way to understand the importance of the man by merely reading his obituary.

I lived only a short walk away from his little corner store on Searight Avenue, before he decided to close it some time back. He’d owned a store there for more than half a century. It was long enough to know the entire neighborhood by name.

He was among that trusting generation of local merchants who’d keep a pad with names and numbers for his familiar customers. People who’d always make sure to get to his store on Fridays! Payday. The day “the eagle flew”. Try that at K-Mart!

Just about evening for a very long time, you could find all the “old heads” out in front of his store as they trickled in from work. Joe Thomas, Johnny Moorman, Jimmy and Lloyd “Butchie” Jenkins, Tom Morganosky and Charles “Snitch” McLee were just a few of them. They were all there at some time or another.

It was nearly the same crowd who’d pile into Georgie’s vehicle and head to Uniontown High School basketball games, when they’d make the play-offs. I’m told the crew argued from the time they mounted up, until they were all dropped off that night. Good friends sometimes do that. And these were certainly good friends.

Georgie had graduated from Uniontown High School in 1949. He played on teams with Wilfred “Spider” Minor. They’d remain close friends from that point forward. Spider and Georgie! Georgie and Spider! They formed a bond that was so natural it seemed they could have been brothers. One black man. One white man. One enduring bond!

Sometimes, when I’d see Mr. Spider walk into Georgie’s store, I would go down there and instigate an argument. I’d always ask who they thought was the greatest basketball player was from this area. (I’d always be ready to name Don Yates) They’d always be ready with the name Chuckie Davis. The names were dropped. The battle lines were drawn. The argument that ensued made me feel like I could be part of their great friendship, for at least a half hour or so. And always, at the end I’d get overruled with a lecture that made me understand just how deeply these two guys felt about athletics and athletes, and our hometown!

That was how I’d always like to remember that store. It was a small brick building full of family staples with Georgie Petro’s voice louder than he needed to be. And with me just trying to fit in - if only briefly. All, while he’d conduct commerce for some neighborhood kid who’d walk into to the store with just enough nickels and dimes to buy a candy bar.

No need to drive miles to find the little things. They were always up there in that cinder blocked place where Mifflin meets Searight.

With his personality, he could have taken his business skills to any other part of town, and made a bundle! Instead he chose to stay in the East End, where he and his wife Angie would open up just about everyday of the year - just
trying to break even. If you needed a Sunday paper, Georgie had it. If you needed a cold bottle of pop on a hot summer day, Georgie had one. Not Wal-Mart. Just a little corner store with a man we all knew!

On Tuesday and Friday evenings in the winter, he could always be found sitting down near the floor at Uniontown High School. He’d be among the longtime Red Raider basketball supporters who’d show their loyalty, no matter how hard times got.

The kind of loyalty Georgie Petro showed my neighborhood!