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Hens & Kelly site yields time capsules

Workers taking down the former Hens & Kelly building in the old South Shore Plaza in Hamburg found a part of the site's buried treasure Tuesday: 54 time capsules placed in the store's walls 48 years ago.

But they're still missing the big one, a capsule with a 60-foot scroll with greetings from workers of the old department store.

"They were using a backhoe to scrape off the brick veneer when someone said, 'Wait a minute,' and held up a couple of the capsules," said Matthew Hens, who was there with his father to watch the process. "They were in the brick facing."

The plaza, later known as Brierwood Square, is being leveled to make way for a super Wal-Mart at Route 20 and Rogers Road.

Hens' brother, David, had brought the existence of the time capsules to light earlier this year after becoming aware of the impending demolition.

Matthew Hens said what was found were the little -- perhaps 6 inches long -- cylinders. One cylinder was opened, and it has just the name, address and company position for one of the company's officials.

He said he assumes that is what is in most or all of the smaller cylinders.

"They did have names on the outside, but time was not kind to those labels," said Matthew Hens.

Whatever capsules can be identified will be given to the original owners or their families, said David Hens.

David Hens, speaking from Colorado, said he had hoped to be there Tuesday but couldn't make it on short notice.

By the time the store was being built in Hamburg, the business no longer belonged to his family but had been sold to Sperry Hutchinson, the company that made S&H green stamps. Buyers received the stamps with their purchases and would eventually have enough to redeem them for products.

John Hens, the father of the two, said he has memories of when his family still owned the store, which stood alongside Sattler's, AM&A's and Hengerer's as area retail giants.

"I was about 8 when my grandfather died," he said. "But I can remember being outside the store down there on Mohawk Street, my grandfather [Matthias J. Hens] smoking his cigar and saying good night to all the employees as they left the building at closing time.

"Of course, he may also have been making sure they stayed there to the end of the shift," John Hens laughed.

"I'm just thrilled that we've been able to find something," said Joseph Dietterich, an area retail history buff who helped the Henses in their efforts to retrieve the capsules. "Hopefully they'll find something more tomorrow when they go through the rest of the building."

The Henses all said they were pleased with Benderson Development Co.'s helping find the capsules. Benderson owns the site and is coordinating the demolition and site preparation.


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