Frey’s Country Store closing after 33 years of community love affair
Harold Frey is spending the last few day’s of his stewardship of Frey’s Country Store, along Alburtis’ main street, reducing his inventory and saying goodbye to a community he has loved for 33 years – and seeing that love returned many times over.
Throughout the community of Alburtis, a sense of loss seems to be settling in. Francee Fuller, daughter-in-law of the late Jean Stoneback, longtime East Penn Press columnist, said “it is truly the end of an era.”
The store has been a combination deli and convenience store, with catering as a main focus, since Frey took over in 1986. “He has provided meals for weddings, funerals (including Jean’s) and community celebrations of all kinds,” Fuller said. “The store has been an informal community gathering place for years.”
Stopping in to buy lottery tickets last week, Alburtis resident Jerry Thomas said, “I’ve been coming in here for 20 years. I’m going to miss him.” Thomas commented Frey knew his clientele very well and “he helped them out when they were short of money.”
Frey did not respond to those comments with any sort of pridefulness.“You gotta take care of the people who take care of you,” Frey said simply. “I’ve never regretted helping people. That’s what you’re supposed to do.”
Looking back over his years in the country store, Frey said, “a lot of cheesesteaks, and potato salad, and macaroni salad, and on and on, have gone out the door.”
He said it was his privilege to be part of the Alburtis community. “This community has been wonderful. They are hardworking people, always ready to give you a smile and share their life with you. Whatever I gave to this community, they gave back a hundred-fold.”
Asked why he decided to retire at this point, the 78-year-old, said it was just time. “I’ve been working for 63 years and I’m just ‘getting tired.’”
He started working with his father, who had a small television business in Allentown in the 1940s and 1950s when that medium was in its infancy. “We were putting up antennas and making service calls day and night,” Frey recalls.
When his father said he could not afford to raise Frey’s $6-a-week pay, Frey set out to change careers and spent three decades in food service management for F.W. Woolworth’s restaurant division, including a stint in the Woolworth’s store in downtown Allentown.
Frey’s father often told him he was destined to work for himself, but it took him 30 years to get to that point, when he bought the store in 1986.
Frey said he was saddened to see “so many good (Alburtis) people passing away. This is such a perfect place to raise a family – everyone sticks together.”
Alburtis Borough Manager Sharon Trexler, echoes Frey’s devotion to Alburtis. “Harold is a community man through and through. He has been gracious in catering for many of our community organizations – and you can’t get a steak sandwich like his anywhere else,” she proclaimed.
Tracy Malinowski, working in the borough office, described Frey as “just an all-around great guy. There is nobody like him.”
Trexler said the borough will honor Frey at its July 31 meeting.
Macungie business owner Donna Hosfeld, owner of Hosfeld Insurance, has purchased the country store building and is hoping to gain borough approval to move her operations to Alburtis.
She said she hopes to conduct her business the same way she has in Macungie. “We’ve enjoyed a lot of community involvement and community support in the Macungie area. We just hope to move the ambiance from here to there.”
Her firm’s business is very much relational and “word-of-mouth” referrals, she said and losing her Main Street location along busy Route 100 will not be a detriment.
As for “what’s next” for Harold Frey, he says his ambitions are simple. “I’ll crack open a few Budweisers, read books, do my gardening – and some cooking.”
He has a whole community wishing him well in his retirement pursuits.