Camden Courier-Post – Unknown Date
By Harold T. Nedd
The retail stores that gave Broadway in downtown Camden City its luster five decades ago can be found in the pages of the biography of Chuck Doyle’s grandfather.
The book on the life of retail magnate William Leonard Hurley depicts a bustling shopping strip near a Waterfront that in the 1940s spawned industries that had an impact on the world.
“The store took up half the block,” said Doyle, 71, whose mother, Berenice, was one of Hurley’s four daughters. “It was a full-scale department store with jewelry, appliances, rugs and beddings. And my grandfather was well regarded as being a very honest business man.”
Pedestrian traffic used to be shoulder to shoulder along the corridor of shops and various ethnic restaurants. Two large theaters with live performances from the likes of Abbott and Costello helped draw shoppers to the strip. And the Hurley’s store was one of seven or eight department stores at the center of the activity.
“I never saw an empty store when I used to walk down there after school,” said Robert Doyle, 69, Chuck’s younger brother who lives in Haddonfield. “It was like what downtown Philly is today.”
As industries like Campbell Soup, the manufacturer of condensed canned soup, thrived, so did the Hurley store, which one former customer described as a smaller version of the now-defunct Lit Brothers department store in downtown Philadelphia.
Chuck Doyle believes his grandfather’s success as a retailer in Camden hinged on two things: he was the first merchant to introduce credit at his stores, sending salesmen into the country with van-loads of merchandise to sell to women who didn’t have transportation to get to town.
And if there was “anything wrong with something you bought from his store, you could always return it and he would take care of it,” said Doyle, a retired salesman from Audubon who worked in the store growing up.
“When we needed something special…like an Easter outfit…that’s where we went,” said DelRoccili, referring to the many Friday night shopping outings with her younger sister Rose Giuffre. “They (Hurley’s) had a better quality of merchandise.”
The store remained popular until it closed in 1956. It succumbed to competition from larger stores that moved to the suburbs, Doyle said. At the same time, the city’s economy was fizzling: companies like the shipyard shut down, jobs left by the tens of thousands and despair moved into neighborhoods where their employees once lived.
The city’s population would drop from its peak of 125,000 in the 1950s to an estimated 87,000 today, marking an exodus to the suburbs.
“A combination of things eventually led to the store’s demise,” said Chuck Doyle. “And while there was an attempt to get the store to the suburbs, provisions weren’t made within the family for succession. There was no leadership left in the family.”