Nestled at the back of Zum Anker Alley in Downtown Lititz is an impressive, three-story brick structure dating from the turn of the 20th century. The entrance of the reincarnated Lititz Shirt Factory opens to the one-way section of Juniper Lane and those who venture inside will discover the home of the Collusion Tap Works’ Lititz location and a two-tiered music and art venue within a restored piece of small-town history. “Re”established in 2020, the venture was sparked in the mind of Lititz native, Jim Hoffer.
Multiple Emmy Award-winning investigative reporter Jim Hoffer found his niche by sneaking around Naval bases, was devastated by 9/11 as it unraveled before his eyes, survived personal struggles and then decided to retire back to his hometown of Lititz … to start up a music venue.
Jim took time to talk about his life and his new endeavor over a cup of coffee at Café Arabella.
THE KID FROM LITITZ
Café Arabella looks a lot different from when Jim worked here as a kid putting in daily shifts after school at what was then a local pharmacy. The work was as close to a full-time job as a teen could have. Raised by a single mother who worked at many Lititz institutions – including Warner-Lambert (now Pfizer) and Stauffers of Kissel Hill – and raised four boys “pretty much on her own,” Jim says he was a good kid.
“I didn’t have a whole lot of time to get in trouble,” adds Jim, who spent a lot of time at work, kept his nose clean for the most part and participated in sports at Warwick, specifically running. “If you got in trouble back then, which would have been the late ’60s and early ’70s, someone would call you out on it. And then they’d let your mom know about it, too.”
He had his share of fun sprinkled with just a touch of mischief, but for the most part this community kept itself in check. He credits Lititz for having a “protective” nature and helping to raise him through his formative years. At Warwick High School, it was Jim’s 11th-grade speech teacher, Mrs. Wanda Shirk, who – impressed with his tone and delivery – recommended he go into radio. The recognition was all it took to set Jim on a career path. He graduated from Warwick, class of 1977, and went on to Temple University.
“I liked Temple a lot. I loved that besides the academic education, I also got a sort-of urban education,” Jim recalls. “Imagine growing up in Lititz and then all of a sudden living in South Philly. A huge Mafia war was going on at the time I lived there, and I was in the heart of the Italian section.” Shootings were commonplace in his neighborhood. Jim lived not far from Philip Charles Testa, a.k.a. The Chicken Man, who died from injuries sustained when a bomb exploded under the front porch of his South Philly home.
“There was a war going on,” says Jim. “But I loved living in Philadelphia. I still love that city.”
For a short time after college graduation, his hometown area filled Jim’s career needs. He started working at WSBA in York as a traffic reporter. He also worked in radio at WLPA in Downtown Lancaster. Jim took a post at WLYH Channel 15 in Mount Gretna, a CBS affiliate at the time, where he anchored local news for the first time. Today, sipping on coffee – one of his top two favorite beverages, the other being craft beer – the nostalgic chat about radio and TV stations of the past leads the conversation to 6ABC Action News out of Philadelphia, where legendary Jim Gardner was anchorman while Jim was going to school for journalism.
The draw of a bigger market lured Jim away from Pennsylvania.“I didn’t start off as an investigator. At first, my favorite stories to tell were human interest and I accidentally fell into the career of investigative reporter,” he explains.
The “accident” started while he was working at an ABC affiliate in New Haven, Connecticut. He remembers how a tip came into the news desk. Naval Submarine Base New London is an hour’s drive east of New Haven and the tip questioned the facility’s security, claiming nuclear-powered subs were left unguarded. Jim teamed up with a photographer and headed to the base one evening. Sure enough, he drove an unmarked van right onto the base without question.
“This was shortly after the Oklahoma City bombing, which used a U-Haul to blow up a federal building. We wanted to see if we could get a van next to these submarines. We parked there for 30 minutes, and nobody said a thing. We even left it there unattended,” Jim says. The investigative spirit set in. He wondered if he could get a boat up to the subs. “We took this skiff up the Thames River and rode all around these boats, touching the submarines. Nobody said a word to us.”
The story went national. The governor of Connecticut got involved. Jim had found his niche. And then he left for New York City.
“My wife at the time [Mika Brzezinski, co-host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe] got a job at CBS in New York and we both wanted to be working in the same city,” Jim notes. He took a job at WABC Channel 7 in New York, where he served as an investigative journalist for 21 years. “I had a long, good run there,” he says of covering the 2003 blackout when parts of New York City were without power for two days; the American Airlines Flight 587 crash in the Rockaway Peninsula of Queens; and the Harlem Medicaid fraud, as well as other scams and forms of corruption.
Our conversation turns to 9/11. On September 11, 2001, Jim headed to work a bit earlier than he usually would on a Tuesday morning. There was a primary election in the city, and he was tasked with fielding any reports of election irregularities.
“That day is indelible. It was the worst day of my life,” Jim says. A call came across the intercom stating a plane had hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center and Jim responded like he would for any kind of accident. Except, maybe part of him knew this was not any kind of accident; he was immediately queasy. “When the second plane hit, I realized we were under attack.”
He spent hours on the ground covering the story, dodging pieces of buildings as they fell around him. Billowing ash and debris served as a background to his live reports; a glance at his watch and he marked the time when the World Trade Towers no longer stood on the Manhattan skyline in a clip that can still be found on YouTube today.
“I saw things I hope I never have to see again,” he shares. “It felt surreal, and I don’t know if that is just the mind trying to protect itself, because I knew it was real. It was happening. You had to put it on automatic that day because if you thought about it too much, you would just break down.”
He credits his Lancaster County work ethic for propelling him through the tragedy and through the rest of his career.
Eventually, the time came to lay down the microphone and step away from the camera lens. So, he left New York and headed back to Lititz. “A series of things happened to me. I realized, ‘Who knows how much time I have on this Earth,’” Jim recalls. He battled through prostate cancer and survived. His brother got cancer and did not. His marriage ended in a divorce.
“I thought, ‘If I’m going to do something else with my life before the sand runs out of the hourglass, I better get to it,’” says Jim, and then gestures over his shoulder. “So, I bought this building behind me.”
Rundown. Ramshackle. Those are the words Jim uses to describe 5 Juniper Lane, Lititz, when he got the idea to buy the building that would become Lititz Shirt Factory. The old factory started making men’s shirts in 1916 as the Tauber Ryttenberg and Company Shirt Factory. The hum of sewing machines filled the warehouse for decades and the building saw many uses over the years. Recently, for several years, the building sat empty. One hundred years after Tauber Ryttenberg and Company, Jim decided to make it a “shirt factory” once again.
“The building wasn’t for sale, and I just remember running by the old brick warehouse and noticing it was empty. It just kind of spoke to me,” Jim notes. “Here’s this big brick building one block from the square and it’s empty. How’s this possible? I knew I could work as an investigative journalist until I dropped dead, but I wanted to retire. I needed to find out if I could do something else in my life.”
Jim Ultimately persuaded the owner to part with the building. At age 59, Jim left a successful career behind him and followed a path of circumstance and serendipity. He admits he did not really have a plan for the building when he bought it in 2016. He was still living in New York at the time and hopping back and forth between the Big Apple and Lititz on the weekends. Teaming up with TONO Group architects – the same firm that adapted the building in which LUCA is located – Jim transformed the space into something that encompasses two of his life’s passions: beer and live music.
“I thought, ‘Let’s bring these two things that I love together,” says Jim, who started searching for the right brewer to bring into the space. “I wanted to really like their beer if they were going to be my tenant in the building.”
He came across Collusion Tap Works, which opened in York in 2016, and was impressed. The Barnes family, owners of Collusion, could easily manage the operations of a taproom and kitchen. What Jim wanted to oversee was booking and management of a music venue.
The doors of the Lititz Shirt Factory finally opened in 2020, kind of. “My advice would be to not open up a music venue in the middle of a pandemic,” laughs Jim, now that the worst of pandemic closures seems to be behind him. “I mean, what was I going to do? I was already in. I was here full time when the pandemic struck, and I was dead in the water.”
The water has receded in the past few months and the Lititz Shirt Factory has hosted the likes of magician and mind reader Brian Curry, Nashville’s New Suede and an album release party for local singer and Broadway actor Max Bartos. The venue also helped Venture Lititz kick off the Lititz Fire & Ice Festival in February. This month, master magician, Chris Capehart, is slated to appear on April 9.
Beyond music, the Lititz Shirt Factory is home to rotating resident artists who use the third floor as a working space and a gallery. The upper floors are also used to host weddings, class reunions, yoga classes, business meetings and other events.
Looking ahead … more music. Jim likes all genres of music and books acts personally. “The only thing that I am looking for is that it be memorable, that the people who come to the Lititz Shirt Factory are wowed,” he says.
Jim’s love of Lititz (and beer and coffee) are wildly evident. He is as much a natural at promoting the venue in the town he loves as he was reporting on the hard news in front of a camera. In fact, he’s come full circle in a modern sort of way, as he is partnering with Kim Schaller, whose marketing career includes 30-plus years with Hershey Entertainment & Resorts, to present podcasts via a show they call Shirt Factory Center Stage.
For more information, visit lititzshirtfactory.com.