I-95 Marketplace Remembered

One of the staples of my youth was the I-95 Marketplace, an indoor fleamarket which was located in Langhorne, Pennsylvania. It was only open Friday through Sunday (adding Thursdays and eventually the other weekdays during the holidays), and the interior was a large, open space comprised of small shops separated by poles and canvas. You could find all sorts of products there, from clothing, electronics, toys, furniture, books -- pretty much anything.

I would typically go there Friday evenings after school. I'd walk through the woods behind my house, cross two sections of creek, walk under two sections of I-95 itself (the northbound and the southbound), before finally emerging from the woods and arriving at the back of the marketplace building. I have many vivid memories of making the trek in dark, rainy weather, often arriving with wet (or drenched!) sneakers and cuffs, sometimes muddy, but always ready to head inside and spend my allowance on comic books or music or whatever else my young mind would find interesting.

The comic books were purchased at Comic Relief (later rebranded Steve's Comic Relief), one of the many small shops located inside, and the first comic book shop I'd ever been to. There I'd spend 60 cents for a Marvel comic, or 75 cents for a DC comic, with the specials or limited series costing a bit more. Frank Miller's "The Dark Knight Returns" was, I think, $2.50, which seemed like a lot for a comic book to me at the time. From time to time the owner, Steve Gursky, would be there, and if the comics I'd selected included one from the 25 cent box (which featured a great selection of older, less popular comics), he'd let me have that one free. I remember walking to the entrance one day and him driving by, recognizing me, and waving. Things like that made 10-12 year old me feel special, as corny as that sounds.

Other times, I'd run into one of two other employees of the comic shop. One was a guy named Steve (a different Steve, not the owner), who also had a job at the local Bradlees in the electronics department. Steve was a quiet guy, and even as recently as a few years ago was still working for the store, albeit at a different location. Many, many years later, I'd visit the shop as an adult on Sundays to find him there, taking care of inventory and listening to NPR. The other employee was Dale, who also was still working for the store as recently as a few years ago. Dale was a friendly guy who I'd sometimes chat with a bit. It was such a blast to run into these guys, still working for the comic store, all those years later, and to be able to shop for comics there with my son who was almost the age I was when I'd first starting buying comic books from these same people. But as a young kid, at I-95 Marketplace, they were the people I'd see on a weekly basis, spending my meager allowance.

Around the same time there were also some Asian stores with a lot of great, cheap imported items -- particularly fake Transformers! I didn't have a lot of money to spend, so it was great to be able to buy some knock-off Constructicons that were just as good as what Hasbro had released, but just a different color and sold in a box with a bunch of Japanese writing on it. I also bought a really cool-looking digital watch...that couldn't keep time worth a damn! It ran either too fast or too slow, I don't remember which, but it taught me to stick to the Transformers at that particular shop. That one bad purchase aside, I really miss those sort of shops and wish I could find something similar nowadays. I'm sure I could find some of this stuff online nowadays (though the fake Transformers are intricate and pricey now!), but it's not the same as browsing a shop and finding stuff you didn't know about or hadn't thought of.

As I got older, and comics started moving in the direction that would eventually take them towards chromium covers and "Issue #0"s, I began spending more of my money on music instead. Thankfully, the marketplace had an outlet for those purchases as well: Positively Records. This shop sold a lot of music on vinyl, including a lot of bootlegs. I was able to buy some albums cheap because they'd been promotional copies (emblazoned with a warning on the jacket explaining that sale of the item was forbidden -- oops!), and from there made my foray into cassettes, usually purchasing a used tape for $2 or so. The most I ever spent on a single item was $6 for a bootleg cassette of a Ratt concert.

Eventually, the marketplace closed down, and both Comic Relief and Positively Recirds moved to adjacent spaces in a shopping center a few miles away. The marketplace would reopen, only to close down again, reopen again, close again, until finally closing for good around 1999 or 2000 if my memory is correct. I could probably write a small book about the place, about its many different tenants, and the ways it changed over the years. I have a lot of good memories of I-95 Marketplace, and I'll always associate it with my younger years and a time when my life was much simpler.

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