SHAMOKIN — Throughout its nearly 80 years in business, the Fun Shop transitioned from a magic shop to an office supply store and, eventually, to the city’s Hallmark Gold Crown store. While the ground today is packed with dirt and rock where the historic 116-year-old Masonic Lodge once stood, an unlikely part of the Fun Shop’s history is still alive and illuminated with action.
Appropriately located in the basement of former Fun Shop co-owner Katharina Lorrey’s Elysburg home are four arcade games — Ms. Pac-Man, Excitebike, Dig Dug and Super Mario Bros. — all of which made Fun Shop the place for young people to be in the 1980s.
Eighties arcade enthusiasts may recall walking, with quarters in hand, to the store in the basement. After making a right at the register and picking up a SLUSH PUPPiE (hoping for extra “juice”), the next destination would be in the back where at least seven arcade games waited to have their high scores challenged.
Nothing like it
When Bob Lorrey bought the store from original owner J.E. Harris in 1976, arcade games weren’t even on his radar for the business. The Fun Shop was one of Lorrey’s accounts when he worked as a Hallmark sales representative.
“It was my largest account, which really kind of surprised me until I came to the store. I had never seen anything quite like it,” Lorrey recalled.
The majority of his clients were little card shops, but the Fun Shop had always been something more. When Lorrey purchased the store, the majority of business conducted was sales of office supplies, but national companies intervened by sending out mailers to local businesses that bought from the Fun Shop. Lorrey defines it as “the forefront of the internet.”
Larger companies destroyed the local office supply business, so the Lorreys had to think to the future of how they could keep their store popular and relevant. It was in the golden age of arcade games and they decided to try to benefit. Out went the office supplies and in came the games.
Lorrey fed more into the craze by walking across the street to Sun Ray Drugs to purchase empty pill containers. He printed out labels that read “Pac-Man Fever Pills” and filled them with tokens to sell to kids to play the games.
Those were the days when Hallmark was more liberal with what could be placed in stores, and it certainly helped that the Shamokin store was one of corporate’s favorites. Fun Shop was a popular destination for corporate employees from Kansas City, and special allowances were made for Lorrey that weren’t made for any other store in the country.
Corporate policy prohibited the sale of tobacco or gambling-related merchandise, but an exception was made for the Fun Shop because of how long the store had been selling such items. Lorrey said cigarettes and lottery tickets didn’t bring in a lot of money, but attracted many customers who would buy other items from the gift shop.
Mimi Tawil was 2 years old when her parents bought the store. Of all her childhood memories involving the Fun Shop, none are more prevalent than going to the store at night with her parents and brother, Robert, and having full access to the games.
“We would go in as kids when it closed at night on Friday with our friends and literally play video games until midnight,” she recalled.
Tawil laughed, remembering her dad telling her stories about having to throw out kids who got a little too excited about the games.
Lorrey remembers those moments all too well, saying, “You’d hear a lot of cussin’ going on, a lot of slammin’ and bangin’ and beating on the machines when they lost.”
Sometimes it would get so bad he would go to the circuit breaker for the arcade games and shut the whole row off and tell the kids, “We’re gonna calm down now or they’re not going back on!”
Pac-Man at home
Like all trends, arcade games eventually fizzled out as the popularity of home video game consoles grew. The Lorreys made a decision to hold onto five of the games and created their personal home arcade in their renovated basement.
Katharina Lorrey said there were places built into the room for the machines to fit. Today she still has her retrofitted game room, complete with a jukebox. She won’t part with them for sentimental reasons and doesn’t boast about owning the unique pieces. Other than her kids and grandchildren, no one knows they are there.
She did part with a few game tokens, or “Pac-Man pills” when she met a couple after she and Bob had sold the business.
While working at a new job, she spoke with a woman who knew she had owned the Fun Shop. One day the woman said to her, “Do you know my husband and I met there while we were playing the games?”
“I thought it was wonderful, so I gave them a few Fun Shop tokens as memorabilia for them,” Katharina said.
Once in a blue moon, she joins in on the play, but she’s not very good, she admitted with a laugh. She enjoys watching her six grandchildren play and listening to her kids reminisce about their childhood and the store.
Every summer, Tawil and her family fly from Florida to visit her mom. With her three sons, she said “unfortunately, Xbox trumps all the games,” but they “still dig the games and have their little tournaments.”
“They’ll talk about how much better the graphics are now because Mario doesn’t look like a pixel,” she added.
Five games were moved into the house, but only four remain. The extremely popular TRON had been taken to an arcade warehouse where it sat waiting for a part to come in. During that time, the warehouse went out of business and Tawil said they never saw TRON again.
She said she and her brother still love the games and said they’ll have to split custody of them if her mom ever sells the house.
Bob Lorrey is surprised that, of all the stuff that came and went from the store, it was the arcade games that survived, but he loves that his grandkids are getting to play them today.
Bob Lorrey’s original goal when he purchased the Fun Shop was to keep it in the family forever. However, years of trying to stay trendy took its toll on the business.
He recalled in addition to office supplies, one of the biggest moneymakers was selling Halloween costumes. Beginning in June or July, the store would start selling Halloween costumes and he estimated they sold to half of the residents of Shamokin.
“That business was great for a while, but then Ames and Jamesway came into town and they took the costume business away, so we went to gifts instead,” he said. “We had to be nimble because we were always looking to stay ahead of the chain stores.”
In 2006, Bob Lorrey was ready to sell Fun Shop as well as his other five Hallmark stores, saying it wasn’t a hard decision for him in the end.
“In the last five or six years in the business, between Walmart and the internet, the competition just got much, much, much more difficult, so that was when I made the decision to sell the stores because in the past when business had changed, we were able to change and start selling something else and be successful with it, but when you’re up against Walmart and Amazon, they’re too big.”
He has no regrets about his decision to retire other than he misses the people — both the loyal customers and the long-term employees who made the store so special.
“I was always much closer to the employees of the Shamokin store than the other stores because many of those gals were with us when we took the store over. It was unheard of for people to stay with you for over 20 years.”
A part of town
Katharina Lorrey said, “I still miss that store. I miss it terribly. We sold it because we were getting older, but it’s always going to be a part of me. To some of the people in Shamokin, it’s part of them.”
She was sad about the decision and would have stayed on longer, but Bob was ready. She went on to get another job but still runs into people who tell her how much they miss the Fun Shop and how it wasn’t the same after they sold it.
“It makes you feel good because it was worth it. We did have really good customers,” she said.
The Lorreys both referenced the close bonds they shared with the employees, some of who were there almost as long as they were. The store manager, Cheryl Varano, began her time with the store two years before they Lorreys bought it, and was there when it closed on June 11, 2016, under then-owner Chris Matus, of Matus Enterprises, Wilkes-Barre.
Katharina Lorrey still keeps in touch with the ladies, meeting up together once a month. It was heartbreaking for them when the Masonic Lodge was destroyed in a fire on Dec. 14, 2017.
“Cheryl was very sentimental, very upset about it. I think she might have been worse than us. She worked for Mr. Harris in high school as a summer job, and when she graduated from high school she wanted a full-time job, and we owned the store at that time,” she recalled.
One tragedy averted
Bob Lorrey has followed the events since the fire closely, thanks to Varano, who he said sends him a copy of The News-Item every time an update is published.
Varano’s loyalty and dedication to her job helped prevent a fire from ravaging the building about 15 years prior to the cold December night when it burned to the ground.
Always arriving at the store early, Varano one day smelled smoke. She went to the rear of the store and her put hand against a door, discovering it to be extremely hot. She knew from her brother, a firefighter, that meant there was a fire but she didn’t know how bad it was.
Bob Lorrey said Varano reported the fire and it was put out quickly, but it had been a horrible blaze that destroyed everything in the back of the building.
“The only thing that kept it from burning the building down is that she didn’t open the door and it couldn’t get oxygen,” he said.
A metal chimney on the furnace had fallen off and because it was the middle of wintern the oil burner had been going full blast. It threw flames into the room, but the firefighters were able to contain it to the back.
“We were open for business that day,” Bob Lorrey said. “I couldn’t believe it. Every time I’d go back there I’d think about how fortunate we were Cheryl came in early and saved the business.”
He has so many favorite memories, among them the Fun Shop’s Little League teams and the men’s and women’s softball teams.
For Katharina, one of her most cherished memories stemmed from her daughter’s reaction. After purchasing the store, she went there with her children. Her daughter was unimpressed that mom and dad owned the whole store because she was focused on one thing.
“She said, ‘Daddy, do we own all this candy?’ She was more impressed with that than anything else,” Katharina said.
Following the fire, when Katharina’s children came home for a visit, the first place they stopped after leaving the airport was the corner of Eighth and Independence streets to take in the sight of the rubble together.
Katharina still thinks about the Fun Shop often, saying, “There’s days that I still think, ‘Wow, it was great and I loved my job.’ You are very, very lucky when you love your job.”
Bob Lorrey also is grateful for the experience.
“To the customers and employees,” he said, “thank you for your loyalty and friendship and your patronage of the business. I hope we were able to give them as much pleasure as they gave us.”