On March 15th, 1977, a beautiful spring day, women eagerly gathered to be the first to experience what would become Central PA’s premiere women’s fashion shoe store. Located in “the alley” of Court Street behind the Federal Building and around the block from Strawberry Square, the first Plum Bottom store was the epicenter of fashion for the professional women of Harrisburg. Joe Correale presided over his tiny kingdom with ease—flattering the pretty women and selling them shoes that were “cheaper than a divorce attorney”.
Joe was always a character!
While I was only nine months old at the time, and have no memory of that specific day, I do remember Court Street very well. A tiny gem of a store, the dark wood and velvet green couch always looked so rich and inviting—except for the heavy fog of cigarette smoke that hung like a ring around my father’s head. I don’t miss that feature of the store!
The first store in "the alley"
Plum Bottom opened as a companion store to the already successful women's clothing store called the Plum. While the partnership dissolved after only a few years, the name Plum Bottom stuck. Both the Plum and Plum Bottom have continued to grow and thrive independently for over 40 years.
There have been eight unique Plum Bottom locations over the years; the second was a shoe store in Lancaster. I was so young when it opened that I remember it as if it was a dream. It featured an out-of-commission glass elevator that fascinated me. My favorite story from the Lancaster store involved a customer calling my father in a panic—a bat had flown out of her very pointy-toed boot when she got it out of the box at home!
Soon after Joe decided Plum Bottom needed an outlet women’s shoe store. On what is currently the location of the side entrance of the Whitaker Center, he opened Shoe-per Market. An enormous room was lined with racks, with a long runway down the center, which was perfect for my personal fashion shows. The space had once been a Cantor shoe store, and still had an old, retired x-ray machine in the basement for customer’s to be evaluated for fitting.
In the early 80’s Joe and Sharon opened their first West Shore location on the Carlisle Pike. The store wasn’t much bigger—and shaped exactly like—a shoe box itself. The best feature was its location right next to Bonanza restaurant with all-you-can-eat soft serve ice cream!
When Plum Bottom opened in the Camp Hill Shopping Mall in the mid-80's, all the of the neighboring stores were locally, independently owned. With a giant atrium filled with fountains and tropical plants, a video arcade and our store outfitted in teal and mauve, the mall personified the decade perfectly. High heel pumps reigned, but it’s also when the first European comfort shoes arrived on the scene. Customers still tell me that Joe would occasionally ask them to watch the store so he could go to his "office"--a bench next to the fountain--to smoke! I recall that store fondly, but I remember the candy store—Yummy Gummy Zoo—with a passion!
I worked at the Camp Hill store throughout high school in the 90’s, then took a long hiatus for college and beyond. In 2003, my father asked if I would help him find a new location for Plum Bottom. Fortuitously the Shoppes at Susquehanna Marketplace was being developed at that time, and it was the perfect opportunity for me to join him. My business partner, Andrea, started working part-time almost as soon as we opened at the Shoppes. After a few years we stole her away from her full-time job at the Whitaker Center and plans of becoming a nurse. My father would joke that he saved many lives when Andrea came on board full time!
The Shoppes at Susquehanna Marketplace store circa 2006
Before making our foray back across the river to our new Camp Hill home, in the mid 2000’s my father tried his hand at a discount store yet again--a store in Lemoyne called Plum Deal. Simply a room filled with folding tables and shoes, it wasn’t much to look at, but it whet our appetites for being back on the West Shore. And the name Plum Deal lives on as clearance rooms at both of our current stores.
Joe with his lovely ladies! Our staff, circa 2011.
Joe died of pancreatic cancer on July 14th, 2015. The shoe business was his life. At that time, I had stepped away from Plum Bottom for a few years to manage Om My Yoga in Camp Hill. While I still loved the shoe business, I wasn’t sure I wanted to live out my father’s dream. After a year of dipping my toe back into the store I decided I was ready to create a new dream I could embrace. I recall my last conversation with Joe when I told him that—like he always said—Plum Bottom is not a museum. It would continue to grow and adapt to the times. I reminded him that he and my mother created a strong legacy—and no matter what Plum Bottom looks like in the future, it would always carry its history with pride.
Joe and his girls on his birthday--July 3, 2015.
With Andrea as my business partner, and an amazing team of women by our sides, we’ve set about re-inventing and re-invigorating Plum Bottom. Opening a new store during the pandemic brought challenges, but also surprising opportunities. Working on a shoe-string budget, we were able to up-cycle fixtures from multiple businesses that closed all while creating a bright and colorful space that aligns with my and Andrea's sensibilities. On March 15th, 2021--44 years after our first Grand Opening--we celebrated our new Camp Hill location!
Andrea and Carla cutting the ribbon at our Camp Hill store
Andrea and I have spent the last few years mapping out the future and fulfilling our dreams for Plum Bottom. Our plan continues to evolve, but developing the website, opening the store at Neighbors & Smith in Camp Hill and now adding a curated collection of clothing at the Shoppes at Susquehanna Marketplace has given us renewed vigor and drive for the decades ahead. We are proud of our heritage and hope that we will continue to surprise and delight you with the best women’s shoes, handbags, accessories—and now clothes—that Central PA has to offer! With a truly amazing staff and wonderful vendor partners like ARA, Naot, Rieker & Eric Michael, we are excited for the future even as we remember the past.