Isaly devotees celebrated Skyscraper cones, chipped ham and Klondikes.



Isaly devotees celebrated Skyscraper cones, chipped ham and Klondikes.
By RON COLE
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
PITTSBURGH -- Stanley Cohn leaned over the tub of ice cream, shoved the plastic scoop in and took a trip down memory lane.
More than six decades ago, Cohn spent hours in his father's Isaly's store on Youngstown's West Side scooping Skyscraper ice cream cones.
On Saturday, in the Great Hall of the Sen. John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center, Cohn relived the experience.
"I remember that making these cones, your forearm got to look like Popeye because it took a lot of strength," Cohn, 74, a paper Isaly's Dairy hat teetering on his gray hair, said about the high-stack cone that became an Isaly's trademark.
"There was no art to it. It was all muscle."
Cohn was among about 800 Isaly's enthusiasts from throughout Ohio and Western Pennsylvania, including Isaly family members and former employees, who converged on the history center in Pittsburgh to mark the opening of a new exhibit tracing the rise and fall of the once wildly popular ice cream and deli chain.
Cameras flashed, video cameras whirled, long-ago acquaintances hugged and employees reminisced about chipped ham, Klondikes and the good old days when a nickel could buy you a towering cone of rich, creamy, flavorful ice cream.
Part of history: Samuel D. Isaly, whose father, Sam, operated Isaly's Youngstown plant on Mahoning Avenue, was there. So was Margaret Isaly Hermann of Columbiana, whose father, Chester, also operated the Youngstown plant.
All came to pay homage to a business started in 1902 when Swiss immigrant William Isaly opened a dairy in Mansfield that by 1939 grew to include 310 Isaly's stores across the region.
"The depth of affection for Isaly's is just astounding," said Brian Butko, author of a new book chronicling the Isaly's story on which the Pittsburgh exhibit is based.
"Younger people today wonder what all the fuss is about, but it wasn't too long ago that Isaly's was everywhere."
Lots of stores: At one time, the Youngstown region boasted nearly 130 stores.
"There was hardly a town that there wasn't an Isaly's, and I'm talking about Mingo Junction and Ashtabula and Fairport Harbor and just about every little town you could think of," said Barbara Horton of Boardman, whose father, John Paul Jones, was the company attorney.
Horton, who was among several Mahoning Valley residents attending Saturday's reunion, said Isaly's was a phenomenon.
"In the period of the 1920s and '30s and '40s, if you needed something and the grocery store was closed, Isaly's was open until 11 o'clock at night," she recalled.
"So you went over and had a cup of coffee, you went and bought a box of doughnuts or a bag of potato chips or an ice cream or sundae or milkshake.
"It was a meeting ground. Many of the single, older people or truck drivers or working people would go into Isaly's for lunch because there was no Perkins, there was no fast food. There was Isaly's."
Samuel D. Isaly, who grew up in Boardman but now operates a health care investment firm in New York, was 2 years old when his father died. He said family was the key to Isaly's success.
"It was so human," Isaly said from the crowded exhibit floor, which featured free ice cream cones and Klondike bars.
The company touched generations.
Margaret Latsko O'Grady, 87, who now lives in Florida, stood on the exhibit floor Saturday with her son and daughter. All three worked in the Youngstown plant.
In addition, her first and second husbands, a brother-in-law and a nephew worked for the company.
"It was hard work, but we had good times," she said.
A secretary for the general manager for 18 years starting in 1931, O'Grady remembers sneaking into the plant and filling up cups with ice cream.
"I had so much, I got sick," she chuckled.
Longtime employer: Cohn said he was first wheeled into his father's West Side Isaly's in a baby buggy when he was about 6 months old. He started working in the store when he was 2, and stayed until he was 18.
His father, Fred, who operated the store from 1925 to 1948, died last year at age 100.
"We had every kid in town working for us, and every one of them made a success of themselves," Cohn said. "One ended up being a sheriff in Florida. One or two became doctors. A dozen of them owned their own businesses."
Sally Schlabough of Canfield talked about a tour she took of the Youngstown plant when she was in the Girl Scouts in the early 1950s. It was the highlight of the year, she said.
The history center exhibit, which includes photographs of Isaly stores, Isaly milk bottles and a neon Isaly's sign, will run through next July.

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