The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Faces of the Flood

July 8, 2007

1977 Flood devastated local economy

Morton Kaufman was holed up in his Southmont home on the night of July 19, 1977 – largely due to a powerful storm raging outside his door.

Kaufman knew the storm was strong. But until he received a phone call the next morning, he was not fully aware of the destruction wrought in the valley below.

“We had a terrible rainstorm the night before, but we didn’t have any problems in Southmont,” said Kaufman, who at the time owned Morton’s Shoes at 551 Main St. in downtown Johnstown.

“Someone called me the next morning and told me there was a flood,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it.”

Kaufman immediately set out to check on his shop, only to be stopped along Menoher Boulevard and forced to park at the Chapin Arch above Kernville.

After making the rest of the trip on foot, he realized he was among the luckier business owners in the downtown.

About a foot of water covered the main floor of his shop and he had no inventory kept in the basement. So he was able to reopen in just three weeks.

Others weren’t so lucky.

Every downtown business came to a complete standstill for weeks; for some, months.

Some businesses never came back at all.

“It was a tragedy, really,” Kaufman said. “There were cars through Penn Furniture’s window. People had a lot more problems than we did.”

Retail flushed

Downtown’s two major department stores, Glosser Bros. and Penn Traffic, sustained major losses as a result of the flooding. Both organizations faced the very difficult decision of whether to reopen.

Glosser Bros. took a huge hit, losing a “couple of million dollars,” according to Alvin Glosser, who was vice president of the company. The hardest-hit area of the store was the grocery department, which was located in the basement and was completely contaminated.

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