Did you know Spotlight PA is a nonprofit? Learn more about our nonpartisan journalism »
Skip to main content
Main content

TikTok riveted by one of Pa.’s last waterbed stores

Plus, the sheepskin king of Pennsylvania.

We're kicking off our critically important end-of-year fundraising drive and a historic effort to raise $125,000 before 2024. And we're doing it with a special TRIPLE match — but this won't last long, so give now.

These aren't just arbitrary numbers. They are important milestones to keep Spotlight PA's budget on track and ensure we can continue to provide PA Local and all of our vital reporting.

We know you value and rely on our journalism. Now we need you.

Help us kick off our critical year-end member drive and lock in this special chance to triple your impact. Make a gift now »
Welcome to PA Local, a free weekly newsletter about the great people, amazing places, and delicious food of Pennsylvania.
Your Postmaster: Tanisha Thomas

November 3, 2023
Inside this edition: Waterbed trends, winning design, runaway reaction, art installation, theater sale, and invasive species. It's already November?
🏆 SEVEN QUESTIONS: Stay on top of the news this week? Prove it with the latest edition of The Great PA News Quiz: Old election rules, 'illegal tax,' high-rank resignation, and claim to veep fame.
A Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.

What is believed to be the oldest surviving photo in the U.S. was taken in Pennsylvania. Can you guess which city?

Hint: It's also home to the first selfie.

(Keep scrolling for the answer, but don't miss all the good stuff in between. Like what you read? Forward this email to a friend.)

Our five favorite Pennsylvania stories of the week.

» One design worth knowing: A design has been selected for the planned Harriet Tubman statue in Philadelphia’s City Hall. Winning artist Alvin Pettit said he wanted to capture Tubman as a "conqueror."

» One reaction worth reading: The runaway Gettysburg pig Kevin Bacon has been caught after the real Kevin Bacon (*Pennsylvania native and famous actor) posted an appeal for his namesake's safe return

» One project worth seeing: Larger-than-life historic photos of Black residents' lives in Philly's old 7th Ward are part of a new outdoor installation commemorating the lost history there, per Billy Penn.

» One story worth sharing: Lebanon County’s only remaining single-screen movie house is up for sale, and you can buy it. Lebtown reports Allen Theater owner Ed Felty is "ready to pass the torch."

» Two species worth knowing: Lanternflies are gone (for now), but they’re not the only invasive species to watch out for. Beware the feisty wild boar and voracious flathead catfish, The Inquirer (paywall) reports.

The top stories published by Spotlight PA this week.
» Court strikes down key Pa. climate program

» Money floods Pa. Supreme Court race in final days

» How a Pa. election skeptic became a believer

» When to expect 2023 election results

» Gun control stalled after Tree of Life shooting

» Pennsylvania Election 2023: Complete coverage, guides

» Elecciones Pa. 2023: Traducciones al Español
Support Spotlight PA and for a limited time your gift will be tripled.
Cars parked outside a store under a sign advertising waterbeds for sale.
“One of the last waterbed stores in America" is in Allegheny County, and now it's TikTok famous. (Tanisha Thomas / Spotlight PA)

“Do you know what I was thinking about?” TikTok user @_acid_g_ asked in an Oct. 9 video. “What happened to all the waterbeds in the world?”

Tara Clark wondered the same thing when she came across the video and recalled the waterbed she purchased from a store near Pittsburgh in 1998. 

Clark, a Greensburg resident, told PA Local she owned the bed for four years. 

“That was my first big purchase,” she said. “I got the lowest-end [model]. It was definitely warm and comfy. Best night’s sleep of my life.”

After watching the TikTok, Clark decided to Google the store — Alternative Bedding — to see if it still exists. 

It does, and that same TikTok reached the owner of the Brentwood, Allegheny County business through his son, who used it to achieve a level of notoriety most waterbed dealers aren’t seeing these days. 

The serendipity was something of a wish come true.

Owner Ronald Feitl had for years asked his YouTuber son to make a video advertising the store to let people know waterbeds still exist. But his son, Brent, aka BrentTV, wanted the recognition to happen organically. The content creator is known for his YouTube series on collectible toys, games, and popsicles.

“The problem is just making a video saying, ‘Hey everyone, I'm at my dad's store. He sells waterbeds.’ It's boring. It won't work. I know my audience. They're kids,” Brent told Spotlight PA. 

He sat on the idea until he saw that fateful TikTok. 

"I was like ‘Omg, yes, this is perfect.’ This guy is posing a question, has over a million views, and has comments asking what happened,” he recalled.

The next morning Brent went to his dad’s store to record a response video telling everyone about “one of the last waterbed stores in America.” The video, watchable here, gained traction overnight, racking up millions of views and more than 834,000 likes and 7,000 comments as of Nov. 2. 

“It's really cool because people have been calling the store expressing interest,” Brent said. “Some people have visited because they want to try out the bed for the first time.”

Brent and Ronald seated on a waterbed holding Blockbuster logo-inspired stickers reading: "I went to the last waterbed store in Pittsburgh."
Brent, left, and Ronald Feitl at the store. (Tanisha Thomas / Spotlight PA)

Waterbeds have been a part of Ronald Feitl’s life for a long time. He got his first one when he was 15. Then his brother opened a waterbed store in Brentwood called World of Waterbeds in 1975. After working at his brother’s business for years, Feitl opened Alternative Bedding in 1992. 

“I opened this business after the boom,” Feitl added.

Waterbeds became a hot commodity in the 70s, raking in $13 million domestically for their unique sleeping experience in 1971. The invention was popular at the time for its association with sex. Some brands would use slogans like: "Live and love in liquid luxury.” The waterbed industry reached its peak in the 80s, becoming a $2 billion business by 1984, Mental Floss reports. They made up 22% of all mattress sales in the U.S. by 1987. But that share would plummet to 5% by 2013

Pittsburgh was once a competitive market for the liquid-filled furniture. Feitl said there were over 10 stores with multiple chains in the city. He remembers one store being right across the street from his. Now, there are a few mattress shops that may have a waterbed for sale, but Feitl’s is one of the last dedicated brick-and-mortar stores in Pennsylvania and the nation as a whole.

(Feitl said customers have come to his store from out of state because their cities don’t have one. A few days ago, he said, a group visited from Buffalo, New York, more than three hours away.)

“This is like the last Blockbuster,” one commenter wrote below Brent’s TikTok tribute to his dad’s shop, prompting Brent to create Blockbuster logo-inspired stickers in the shape of Pennsylvania reading: “I visited the last waterbed store in Pittsburgh.”

Brent added: “[TikTok viewers] are probably not going to buy a waterbed, but if they want to check out the store, you can afford a sticker for $1. I thought it would be fun to have a gimmick.”

Waterbeds themselves were long derided as exactly that, a gimmick, but Feitl said the industry hit a decline for several reasons, including price wars. He remembers waterbeds being priced as low as $99 for any size. They were also relatively difficult to move.

Tara Clark of Greensburg avoided that complicated task by selling her waterbed to the person who bought her apartment. She’s currently trying to convince her husband to get a new one. 

Clark recently visited Feitl’s shop and posted about it on Facebook, even sharing pictures of her lying on her waterbed from the 90s. 

Feitl is happy to see new customers, return customers — any customers, really: “It’s nice to see new interest in all ages in the waterbed. A lot of younger people have never seen them and want them as well. We have opened up to a lot of folks who really weren't coming in.”

Tanisha Thomas, newsletter writer / reporter

Our favorite quote about Pennsylvania — or from a Pennsylvanian — this week.

“People don’t think of Pennsylvania and country music, but it’s big here. Real big. I’ve had thousands of people come here to listen to country music, to see country’s biggest stars, right across the street.”

Pat Garrett of Pennsylvania, who supplied sheepskin jackets to the cast of Yellowstone and once performed onstage with Taylor Swift

Our favorite reader-submitted photo of the week.
A monarch butterfly seen at Chanticleer Garden in Wayne, Pennsylvania, via Yoma U. Send us your photos by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
an orange and black sitting on purple flowers
The answer to this week's Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.

The oldest surviving photo in the U.S. was believed to have been taken in Philadelphia, Billy Penn reports.

Western Pennsylvania native Joseph Saxton took a photo of the Philadelphia Central High School and the Pennsylvania State Arsenal in 1839. He used a cigar box and glass lens to produce a daguerreotype image. Saxton was working at the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia at the time.

Weeks after his snap, Robert Cornelius posed for a photo alone in the yard of his family’s Philadelphia gas lighting business. The result — made with a similar makeshift camera — is considered the first selfie ever taken

Thanks for reading PA Local. We'll see you back here next week. But first ... send us your feedback. What did you like? What didn't you like? 

Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan & nonprofit newsroom producing investigative and public-service journalism that holds the powerful to account and drives positive change in Pennsylvania.

Copyright © Spotlight PA. All rights reserved.

Spotlight PA
PO Box #11728
Harrisburg, PA 17108-1728


You're receiving this email because you subscribed to PA Local.

This email was sent to: <<Email Address>>

Receiving too many emails from Spotlight PA?

To change your newsletter subscriptions and frequency, you can update your preferences.

To stop receiving fundraising messages, you can update your preferences and select "Opt out of Fundraising."

To stop receiving ALL EMAILS from Spotlight PA, including all of our investigations and newsletters, you can completely unsubscribe here.