I have often thought that if I could live anywhere I wanted, I would choose a small-ish city with everything I needed within a five-minute walk. It would have to include a nice library, a good coffee shop with nice baked goods, a few quite good restaurants, a moderately exotic market, a nice pub, a branch of the bank I use, some interesting stores (small, and not chain stores), some artsy sorts of places, and a well-defined sense of history. It should be small enough that you would see some of the same (friendly) people on a regular basis. It should offer everything you need on a day-to-day basis, but shouldbe within an hour’s drive of anything you could possibly need in terms of cultural entertainment and outdoor recreation. Oh, and it should be on a river, one that was accessible. The nearest ones that come to mind are Jim Thorpe, perhaps Tunkhannock (although the pervasive gas drilling presence would eliminate it), and Pittston.
Pittston? If you’re surprised, it’s time you visited. The city, which has had its ups and downs, is getting its act together in dramatic fashion.
|The colorful Pittston mule artwork created by artist Angela DeMuro
For about the last decade, the town fathers (and mothers) have been focused on transforming Pittston into a desirable place to live and do business. The results are bearing fruit in a big way.
In the words of City Manager Joe Moskovitz, “This is a 20-year project,” which means they are about halfway through it. As an outside observer, I am convinced that it is not the stars that have aligned to produce Pittston’s renaissance, but its leaders. And, its leaders are not just the elected or appointed officials, but the business owners, large and small, and the many people who just plain care enough to devote a significant amount of their time and energy to make it happen. It doesn’t matter whom you talk to, and in the past month or so I’ve talked to a lot of people. The city’s young mayor, Jason Klush, agrees.
“The vision is clear and there are a lot of people working together to make it happen,” he said. “It’s not about personalities, it’s about moving forward.”
Mike Lombardo, former mayor and now a leader in the Redevelopment Authority, echoed Moskovitz’s thoughts.
“We’re not ignoring our neighborhoods. We’ve spent millions of dollars to improve them,” he said. “But if you want to turn a distressed community around, you have to improve the aesthetics and the amenities. You have to begin somewhere, and the only logical place to target is the downtown.”
Rose Randazzo, a lawyer with civic pride if there ever was one, is the volunteer leader of the Main Street Project, in which the transformation is most evident. With a shot in the arm from a local share grant of casino money, new sidewalks, pedestrian street crossings, historical-style street lights, and signage and facade improvements have made Main Street the center of vibrant shopping, services, and cultural activity.
Bookending the Main Street project are two independently owned pharmacies. On the west end, Joe Albert, a lifetime resident of Jenkins Township and a Pittston High School grad, left the area long enough to attend the Temple School of Pharmacy. On his return, he worked for Thrift Drug, Eckerd, and Rite Aid before fulfilling his dream of opening his own. Connected to Albert’s is the new Pinnacle Rehabilitation Associates. It specializes in joint replacements, post-surgery therapy, arthritis, neck and back pain, and many areas related to work, home, and auto or sport injuries. Nearly at the other end of Main Street is Fino’s Pharmacy.
Vince Peck’s roots in the pharmacy business go back several generations, and his business has always been known for excellent and friendly customer service. It’s no
surprise that Fino’s Pharmacy is celebrating its 61st year in business.
At a brisk pace, you could walk from Albert’s to Fino’s in five minutes, but I’ll bet you can’t do it because there are so many attractions along the way. The Pet Zone, just behind the new pharmacy and rehab building, for example, is no ordinary pet store, for it houses The Cave, which is a reptile zoo. The landmark Gramercy Ballroom and Restaurant, a fixture in Pittston, has been helping families in the Wyoming Valley commemorate events for more than 70 years. Its menu includes mostly Italian dishes, steaks, and seafood. Gramercy also features a full bar and two private dining rooms. As you continue down Main Street, you might be tempted to stop in at New York Pizza Cucina, and you would not be disappointed if you did. Nearby is Sabatelle’s Market, which is unlike any market you’ve ever seen. So, even if you’re full of New York Pizza, go in to Sabatelle’s and take a look around. Chuck, Jane and Jason Sabatelle offer up the finest in homemade italian meats and cheeses and friendly service. I guarantee you’ll come back.
Take a few minutes to check out the Main Street Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Center. This is a gorgeous, state-of-the-art facility that offers a wide range of physical therapy services. The highlight of the facility is the Greater Pittston’s first and only Aquatic Therapy Center.
Aquatic therapy provides relief for arthritis, muscle pain, and pre- and post-surgical orthopedic conditions. The physical therapist, Candice Bukevics, has more than 20 years of experience and is a Pittston native.
Now, you’re nearing the center of the Main Street Project. Stop in at the Arts Seen Gallery. Newly renovated, the gallery offers an eclectic array of works by some of the finest artists, photographers, and craftspeople in the region and offers a wide range of workshops. Next door is the friendly Coffee Table cafe, which I can personally attest offers a scrumptious array of baked goods (Try its very own “cake balls!”) and a full breakfast and lunch menu. Next in line is Rooney’s Irish Pub, a popular local gathering place and where important business gets done. Gene Rooney is an incomparable host.
Speaking of incomparable hosts, if you want to take some friends for a special dinner, Palazzo 53 is an elegant dining restaurant that has already garnered a reputation as one of the region’s finest. Across the street is Napoli’s Pizza, newly renovated with the help of some grant money and soon to include an outdoor garden eating area.
Continuing on this side of the street, check out the collection of chess sets at Shooters Billiards and Arcade before stopping in at the Yore Antique Shop. Talk to Ryan or Mark about the pump organ in the window, as well as the wide-ranging collection of ephemera offered for sale, including many items of local historical interest. Just behind Yore Antiques is Vintage Variety, where I learned from the affable Dorie Walters that she and the guys at Yore came to Pittston a few years back and have never regretted their decision.
Across the street, the Reilly Building is a wonderful example of adaptive re-use of an old historical building, the Dime Bank. Now filled with professional offices, the building highlights an interesting advantage for businesses that have clients or customers in Wilkes-Barre and Scranton – Pittston is right in-between. They also appreciate the wide array of nearby places to “do lunch” or have an after-hours cocktail.
Not to be forgotten is the The Open Space, next to the Arts Seen Gallery. According to Jennifer McDowell, Quad3 Group’s Interior Design Business Unit Leader, The Open Space name is very fitting – it represents an elegant renovation of a former dress factory, which now provides an everyday space for a wide variety of community events, corporate meetings, and social and nonprofit fundraising events. Open Space doubles as a weekend outlet store for Boden, a British clothier with a call center and warehouse in the Center Pointe Commerce and Trade Center in nearby Jenkins Township. It is the first retail outlet for the high-end apparel company, and the place fills up with enthusiasm for its weekend hours.
In a way, Open Space/Boden is emblematic of what’s happening in Pittston. The renovation itself was carried on in a very hands-on fashion by Mike Lombardo, Jason Klush, and others who donated time, labor, and materials to make it happen. The space itself is coordinated by Sharon Cafora, who also works at Palazzo 53. Arts Seen Gallery takes advantage of the crowds who visit Boden’s, especially on Second Fridays. Scranton has its First Fridays, Wilkes-Barre has its Third Fridays, and now Pittston, being in the middle, as it were, now has its Second Fridays.
As mentioned, Pittston is about halfway through this two-decade revitalization program, and there is more to come. Recently, the development of a space next to the venerable Cooper’s Seafood Restaurant into a high-end condo complex overlooking the Susquehanna and West Pittston on the opposite shore has been announced. Downtown Arts of Wilkes-Barre will be opening a new location in a recently acquired church in Pittston, and we have it on good authority that this year’s Tomato Festival will be bigger and better than ever.
You might say they’re riding a wave.