PORTAGE PATHWAYS: Low prices, service key to Skorman's success

By Roger J. Di Paolo | Record-Courier Editor Published:

Simon Skorman had a simple business philosophy: Keep prices low, offer quality merchandise and get to know your customers.

That helped to keep the Skorman family in business in Ravenna for more than 50 years, making the store he opened there in 1922 a downtown institution.

Simon Skorman came to Ravenna with $200 worth of inventory that he displayed on orange crates at the Ravenna Bargain Store, a 15- by 30-foot retail outlet he opened at 249 W. Main St., in a site that originally housed Ravenna's Town Hall.

What began as the Ravenna Bargain Store eventually grew to become Miracle Mart, a pioneer discount chain that expanded to 11 stores and at its height employed a workforce of 400 at locations throughout eastern Ohio.

Skorman's was a familiar affair from the start. Simon -- who was known as S. Skorman -- worked alongside his wife, Stella, who ran the cash register. Their three sons, Albert, Ted and Milton, all grew up in the business.

The Ravenna Bargain Store expanded four times, doubling its floor space with a large addition that opened in September 1933, while the Depression was still taking a toll on business. Skorman's advertised "Everything for the entire family" at bargain prices. The facade of the store was covered with advertising signs.

Simon Skorman was marking his 25th year in business in Ravenna when Evening Record Publisher Robert C. Dix interviewed him for a feature story in August 1948. "I enjoy the excitement of the continuous gamble the modern merchant has to take to make his store a success," he said.

By then, the Skorman sons were taking a key role in operating the business. All three had served in World War II, and their absence had forced their father to cut back on the business operation "for the duration."

"Members of the family make it a point to try to know their customers personally," Dix wrote. "To accomplish that one of them usually remains near the wrapping table where all sales wind up."

The coming of the 1950s saw a move across the street to 250 W. Main St., where a $175,000 facility more than doubled the size of the discount operation. The new store featured 50 departments.

The grand opening on March 6, 1952, drew a crowd estimated at 12,000 to 14,000. In the words of the Evening Record, it was "definitely the biggest show in town." With orchids for women shoppers, balloons and popcorn for youngsters and cigars for men, Simon Skorman found himself "hip-deep in cigar boxes" after handing out 3,000.

By the mid-1950s, Skorman's was known as Miracle Mart, with stores in Cuyahoga Falls, Tallmadge, Warren, Niles, East Liverpool, Bucyrus and elsewhere. The Ravenna store remained the flagship.

Simon Skorman was "a firm believer in advertising," and Miracle Mart circulars were a weekly staple in the Record-Courier in the 1950s and 1960s. They were filled with splashy, bold, black type crammed with bargain items -- as many as 120 on a single page.

The store offered shoppers low prices on a wide variety of items -- it was said that if you couldn't find it at Miracle Mart, you probably weren't looking hard enough -- including "loss leaders" that sold for pennies.

"If we run short on a price item, we fill in from the more expensive lines to meet the demand during a sale," Simon Skorman said in 1948. "By doing this over a period of years, we have gained the confidence of the buying public, which we treasure above everything else."

Skorman's customers were loyal and so were members of his sales force. Many clerks worked there for decades.

Simon Skorman died in 1970, and his sons continued the business but found it a challenge to compete with larger discount chains.

"The market became saturated," Ted Skorman told the Record-Courier in 1977, when the Skorman family closed their doors after 55 years in business in Ravenna. Miracle Mart had changed its name a year earlier -- to Bargain Bazaar -- as part of a change in marketing strategy that wasn't enough to save it.

Ted, Albert and Milton Skorman closed the business their father had begun using orange crates for display purposes, ringing up their final sale on Aug. 20, 1977. More than 35 years later, though, the mention of Skorman's still evokes fond memories for many Ravenna residents.

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