Selling the past

Isaly’s in Irwin closed down years ago, much to my dismay because I was a regular customer, heading there every Saturday with my kiddo to buy lunch meat, bread, and other sundry items. Then my kiddo and I would sit in a booth and eat a cookie, and then we’d unhitch our horse and buggy and ride on home, pa.

Isaly’s was replaced a few years ago by a deli/bakery that never really took off on account of it wasn’t Isaly’s. Here’s something you might not know: when Isaly’s closed down in Irwin, my husband seriously considered it as a place to put a Mexican restaurant, but I begged him and begged him to buy it and keep it an Isaly’s. I promised I would run it and make it successful. I couldn’t bear the thought of that history going away.

I did not get my way.

That new deli/bakery is going out of business and all of the original Irwin Isaly’s fixtures are for sale on Craigslist.

The ice cream dishes from the original Isaly’s:

The original lamb cake pans:

The original machine that ties the strings around a bakery box:

The original signs that hung in Isaly’s:

Antique deli tape dispenser:


There are also the original display cases and the original bread slicer.

I wonder if I can convince my husband to buy all of these for me and I’ll just keep them in my kitchen.

“Kiddo. Here’s your lunch for school.”

“[sigh] Is the bread shaped like a stupid lamb again?”

“Yes. It’s adorable! I bet you’re the coolest kid at lunch!”

“Look, mom, I can deal with taking a lamb-shaped freshly chipped chopped ham sandwich to school every day, but DO I HAVE TO TAKE IT IN A BAKERY BOX TIED UP WITH STRING?”

Best mom ever.


  1. cmd_45
    February 28, 2012 6:16 pm

    There was an Isaly’s in my small college town. I loved it there. I adored the grilled ham and cheese sandwiches for about a buck fifty. Was very sad when it closed during my junior year.

  2. Suz
    February 28, 2012 6:58 pm

    I think that you need to do this.

  3. Kaylee
    February 28, 2012 8:09 pm

    So the sign saying it would be open again in the spring was was false hope. sigh. the one thing Main Street Deli had going for them were the Ladylocks

  4. Bob
    February 28, 2012 10:30 pm

    The Isaly family used to live nearby us. At Halloween my children, as well as all the others in the neighborhood, always made a beeline for the Isaly house because they gave Klondikes for treats.

  5. ~Anna
    February 28, 2012 10:49 pm

    I so remember the machine that tied the string around the bakery boxes!!! Wow.

  6. bucdaddy
    February 29, 2012 1:25 am

    According to UrbanSpoon, that leaves two: One near Turtle Creek and one in, of all places, Wolfdale, just west of Little Washington. (I didn’t know about that, I’ll have to check it out next time I’m in the area). Can anyone confirm?

    I haven’t been in one in decades. Know there used to be one in Great Southern Shopping Center.

    • Butcher's Dog
      February 29, 2012 7:36 am

      Sadly, “there used to be one…” describes Islay and most of our towns and villages. Ginny should do the scenario she outlines in the post, too. Kid’ll hate it now but brag about it during most of his adult life. Parents are on the planet primarily to embarrass their kids, anyway. Just ask any kid if that’s true or not. Might as well get your money’s worth now, Virginia.

    • Washpa
      February 29, 2012 11:00 am

      The Wolfdale Isaly’s is at 2400 Jefferson Avenue. Still operating last time I checked. And I agree with the others about this “chopped” business. We took chipped ham sangwiches (as my aunt said) in our lunchboxes. I never heard the “chip chopped” added until the Isaly’s commercials started running during the Pens’ games.

      • bucdaddy
        February 29, 2012 11:07 am

        Whoa, thanks! Any idea what the hours are? None of the websites seem to have that info.

        • Washpa
          February 29, 2012 2:57 pm

          They’re open pretty much all day and into the evening — even on Sundays. Take out only, though. No tables. Phone is (724) 222-0390.

    • Nancy
      February 29, 2012 11:18 am

      Confirming the Isaly’s in Wolfdale, it’s definitely still open. It’s on the way from my house to the kids’ school. I’ll check the hours the next time I stop in and try to remember to post them here. :)

  7. Dave White
    February 29, 2012 9:19 am

    Damn. They had some of the best donuts around. I’ll miss them.

  8. John
    February 29, 2012 9:44 am

    that string machine gave me a jolt of melancholy nostalgia. sigh.

    A Pittsburghese note: Mahnt Worshingtin is my home city section. We always called that lunch meat “chiptam”. There was no “Chop” in the title, and I’d never even heard the “Chop” part until recently, and I’m 55 yrs old.

    One of my best old buddys, who also is named Ginny, recently referred to Chip Chop Ham on her facebook page and I was all like WHAT? She explained that her husband, who is from the Norside, called it that. We agreed that Norsiders had a speech affliction.

  9. Robin
    February 29, 2012 9:59 am

    Yep, it was chipham….what’s with this chip chop nonsense? The Isaly’s in Oakland…..great memories! Whitehouse ice cream………yum!!!

  10. Dan-O
    February 29, 2012 10:00 am

    There’s still an Isaly’s in Westview – they’re only open certain days a week (I think closed Tuesday and Wednesday) and they close after lunch – but it’s Isaly’s … I want a chipped chopped ham sandwich with american cheese now …

  11. WI Mom
    February 29, 2012 10:57 am

    I remember an Isaly’s in Knoxville and when we went to visit my grandparents, my grandfather would take my brothers and I for a rainbow sherbert cone. And I agree- it was chipped ham.

  12. Jess Vey
    February 29, 2012 11:57 am

    My parents own and operate the isalys in West View. We are open Thursday through Monday. We sell breakfast,lunch and have the deli. They close at 2…any questions feel free to email me at

  13. John B.
    February 29, 2012 12:14 pm

    And there goes another piece of my childhood. Heading down to Irwin with my gram, getting a baker’s dozen donuts, watching the little old lady behind the counter wrap the box up with the WICKED FREAKING AWESOME MAGIC STRING MACHINE then waltzing across to the other side of the store and getting a bag of Swedish Fish and a pound of chipped chop ham. I also remember going to the one at Norwin Towne Square and then going to Woolworths to buy goldfish to replace the ones I over-fed the week before.

    I’d so buy that stuff if I could afford it.

  14. JMetheny
    February 29, 2012 12:58 pm

    Scene in a Florida deli.
    Pound of chipped ham please.
    We don’t have chipped ham.Boiled,baked,or ginny.
    Hmmm.Boiled I guess.
    That sliced OK?
    That’s the thinnest I can slice it.

  15. ~Anna
    February 29, 2012 5:58 pm

    Oh, rainbow sherbert ….another Isaly’s memory!! Grew up in Sq Hill, so the big Isaly’s in Oakland is the one we went to. (Fie to those who call it sherbet!)

  16. Christina
    February 29, 2012 7:01 pm

    The former Kaufmann’s bakery downtown (now Macy’s) (but it’ll always be Kaufmann’s, whatever) needs to buy that string machine. They used to have one. It broke down, and they couldn’t get parts to fix it. I purposely went there to buy cakes and desserts JUST to have the very pleasing experience of watching them wrap the box in string. Boxes closed with tape just isn’t the same. It isn’t!

  17. Chloe
    February 29, 2012 9:44 pm

    You bore me now. I’m not coming here anymore

    • Virginia
      March 1, 2012 7:25 am

      Thank you for letting me know you’re not coming here anymore! You have a nice life!

  18. Tam
    February 29, 2012 9:57 pm

    Grew up loving Isaly’s – the swedish fish on trays – the lady locks – the red cake. And the amazing string machine. I would stand there in wonder and watch it the entire time my mom shopped and visited.

  19. Dr Kevlar
    March 1, 2012 10:26 am

    + 1 on the Isaly’s in West View. It is like taking a step back to the “old days” while being able to enjoy a really good lunch/breakfast.

    They also have a terrific collection of pictures from the old West View Park, which was just down the street on Center Ave.

  20. Elle C.
    March 1, 2012 1:03 pm

    They want $2,000 for those signs?! yikes.

  21. Lauryn
    March 1, 2012 1:45 pm

    I live in Northern VA and was at the deli counter a few weeks ago when I heard another customer asking for “ham as thin as you can possibly slice it”. I looked at her, noticed the Steelers sweatshirt and asked her if she wanted “chipped ham”. She smiled, I smiled and we conversed about where we were from and how long we’d be here. The deli guy looked very confused.

  22. Kathleen
    March 2, 2012 7:35 pm

    It’s a shame about the Main St. Deli. I loved their wheat berry bread. They didn’t distinguish themselves. They served a similar menu to the Colonial Grille next door. And people never quite forgave them for not being Isaly’s.

    And I second (or is it third?) the Mexican restaurant idea. The crowd’s going to need somewhere to go after we Relight the Lamp theatre in Irwin!