DIt's Business as Usual at Kuetalaitis's in Coaldale
(The Valley Gazette, 1975)
By Ed Gildea
His daughter tells him he could be out raking in the garden on these warm spring days, but if he did that, says Thomas Kuetalaitis, there'd be nobody to mind the store.
The small clothing store, and, until seven years ago, his tailoring, have been his life and Mr. Kuetalaitis does not want to close the store.
It is at 139 Second Street in Coaldale, just up the hill from Ruddle Street. To say that it doesn't get as many customers as Brights, where his daughter, Mrs. Isabelle Camerini, works would be something of an understatement.
"One customer a month," Mrs. Camerini says jokingly.
Business probably isn't quite that bad, but there are times when Mr. Kuetalaitis falls asleep in his chair while waiting for someone to come in. Now in his 90's, he moves slowly and can’t see or hear well, but with assists from his daughter and granddaughters, Francine and Christine, he keeps the store open. One salesman visits him monthly to keep up the stock—men's clothing, work shoes, boots, dish towels, hats and caps, overalls, underwear, gloves. A buzzer sounds when the door is opened. The family's living quarters are in the back and upstairs.
Mr. Kuetalaitis has operated the store at its present location since 1924. Before that he had tailor shops at three places on Phillips Street in Coaldale, first at a house occupied by Joseph Urban in the same block as St. John's Lithuanian Church, then at the present site of the Angela Theater in a building— since demolished—where Joe Whelan lived, and later next to Charles Nedd's house.
Born in Lithuania on Dec. 8, 1883— the date may be a year earlier because there is no birth certificate— Mr. Kuetalaitis went to school there to learn the art of tailoring, then went to England in 1903. He arrived in the United States in 1905, residing in Shenandoah, St. Clair and Gilberton, where he worked at tailor shops, before moving to Coaldale in 1910 and going into business for himself.
He met his wife Veronica Lauriniatis, also a native of Lithuania, in Coaldale. She dies seven years ago. They had been married for 51 years.
Mr. Kuetalaitis still has a notebook with a cloth cover which he received while making the voyage to America 70 years ago. On the front is a picture of the ship of the Holland-America line which brought him across the sea and inside are penciled notations in Lithuanian of significant events and dates of his life. With his senses dimmed by age, he seems to understand the Lithuanian language best and his daughter uses it when speaking to him. A sisiter, Mrs. Anna Petrulis, who was maid of honor at his wedding, is still living at Maspeth, Long Island, N.Y.
Mr. Kuetalaitis suffered a severe financial blow in 1941. It was during the first blackout of World War II. The store was burglarized while the family slept upstairs.
"It was completely cleaned out," Mrs. Camerini said.
The loss amounted to several thousand dollars and there was no insurance.
"But he bounced back again," his daughter added.
Asked about the store's hours, she said, "He has it open all the time," sometimes even on Sundays when she has to remind him what day it is.
Mr. Kuetalaitis is a member of St. John's Lithuanian Church and the Lithuanian Citizens Club. An avid fisherman in his younger days, he once had a summer cabin at Lake Wallenpaupack. All his fishing buddies have passed on and he doesn’t go fishing any more.
But he still has the store.