WILKES-BARRE — Married for almost 56 years, sharing a business for 34, Colette and John Wengryn were marking price tags at Grumpo’s Warehouse on a recent Tuesday.
“How much for this?” John asked his wife, holding up a set of six tent pegs.
Colette knew the answer, without consulting any charts: “$1.99.”
“Since when?” John said. “I thought they were $1.”
“They were never $1,” Colette told him firmly.
Many of Grumpo’s wares, from a crossword puzzle book to a package of six toothbrushes to a set of three wooden spoons, do cost a slim dollar — or less. Others items cost a bit more, such as the $1.59 desk calendars, the $1.99 diaries, the $3.99 quarts of motor oil and the $3.99 flood lights.
Aluminum baking dishes, candy, puzzle books and holiday decorations are among the most popular items sold here, and if you want something less typical, just ask Colette or John and they’ll direct you to items as diverse as security envelopes and rent receipt booklets, fashion dolls and action figures, bolt cutters and hammers.
Then there are the holiday items, ranging from a bat-shaped Halloween basket for carrying candy to pilgrim-shaped candles for the Thanksgiving table to old-fashioned bubble lights you might want for a Christmas tree.
The Wengryns know where all the items are in their cavernous warehouse, which had been the home of the Acme Bakery until that establishment closed in 1980. They also know their regular customers by shopping preferences.
When a Wilkes-Barre retiree named Marge walked through the doorway earlier this month, Colette recognized her right away. “You’re the jewelry-cleaner lady.”
Marge nodded. Jewelry cleaner is one of the items that brings her back to Grumpo’s.
“It’s $1.59 here, and you’d pay $6 or $7 for a name brand at another store,” she said. “This one does just as good a job.”
Not that you can’t find name brands at Grumpo’s. A glance at the candy aisle alone reveals Starburst Fruit Chews, Kit Kat candy bars and premium Ghirardelli chocolate bars, all at a fraction of the typical retail cost.
“Anything you need, you’ll find it here, and at a good price,” said Marge, who declined to give her last name. “The people are wonderful, so nice and friendly.”
“It’s the best-kept secret in Wilkes-Barre.”
While Grumpo’s is somewhat off the beaten path, if you were standing in the parking lot of Schiel’s Market on Hanover Street, you would be very close. Likewise, if you were standing in front of Main Hardware on South Main Street, you would be less than a block away.
Grumpo’s address is 171 Race Street, with Race Street being a narrow side street off Hanover Street in South Wilkes-Barre. You can enter that way, but some customers find it easier to enter Grumpo’s parking lot off Oregon Street, which connects Wood Street and Hanover Street.
“We’re not on the main drag,” Colette said. “That hurts us.”
But once you take the trouble to find Grumpo’s Warehouse, long-time customers said, you’ll be happy with the savings.
“They’re very reasonable,” said a Wilkes-Barre woman who gave her name as Shirley.
“Look,” Shirley’s friend Andrea said, pointing to the suggested retail price on a crossword puzzle book. “It says $3.95, but they’re only charging a dollar.”
“I think we have more dollar items than the dollar stores,” said Colette, who can often be found tidying the merchandise.
“I straightened out all these bulbs,” she wrote on a hand-lettered sign in the light-bulb aisle. “Keep them that way.”
Colette Wengryn is a retired nurse and John Wengryn used to work in housekeeping at a local hospital. It was his idea to go into business for themselves in the early 1980s.
The couple, residents of Alden, didn’t have to remove any old ovens from the former Acme Bakery, but family members pitched in to help scrape what seemed to be a mix of flour and dirt from the floors.
They named the place Grumpo’s to reflect the pet name their three children gave John, claiming he was grumpy when he told them they had to study.
Actually, all that studying led to other careers for the Wengryns’ children and grandchildren, none of whom wants to take over the business.
The Wengryns, now in their 70s, think about retiring sometimes. But not just yet.
“I’ve already ordered things for 2018,” Colette said. “I have to order months in advance.”