“Now Main Street’s whitewashed windows and vacant stores
seems like there ain’t nobody wants to come down here no more”

from Bruce Springsteen’s  My Home Town 

Joe Leonardi

With all the talk about Scranton City Council and this being the season of resurrection —- I thought I would write about my hometown and the possibilities of it’s rebirth.

During my run for Congress, our grass roots, shoe leather campaign brought us to downtowns all over NEPA.   Eventually, one of those tours, brought us to the town where I was born and raised.  When we hit Pittston, the usual meet and greet was enhanced by me giving a guided tour of my hometown.  I noticed I was continually saying, “and over there used to be this, and over there used to be that.”  “In that vacant lot was this and that parking lot used to be that. ”  I have to admit, a tear touched my eye as I realized all that has been lost since my youth.  Then a smile touched my face as I realized all the possibilities.

What went wrong?  Well in Northeast Pennsylvania the answer is easy.  We were a one industry region for a long time. When the Knox Mine disaster deposed King Coal, not only mining jobs were lost, but all the jobs and industries that supported anthracite fell away.

After Knox, the next industry to dominate Pittston was the garment industry.  We had numerous dress factories that were teeming with work.  So much work, that many women sewed from home. Then the next knock down came in the form of the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA for short.  When NAFTA was being bandied around, I was one of its most vocal supporters. I laughed heartily when Presidential candidate H. Ross Perot spoke of the giant sucking sound that would be heard throughout the land.  Well if you want to see the aftermath of that giant sucking sound, go to Pittston.

Now, on a smaller scale, it is about to happen again. With the closing of Seton Catholic the downtown will loose those that work for and attend the school.  Once again, a stinging jab to the fortunes of good old Pittston.

It is easy to sit back and identify what went wrong. The breakfast counters, barbershops and bars are full of those more than willing to point out who or what was responsible.  For the most part they are pretty accurate, well maybe not the folks in the bar at 2:00AM, but I digress.

What can we do to make it better? What made a smile touch my face as a tear touched my eye? What gives me hope for Pittston?    Possibilities of a resurgence in downtown Pittston, that’s what.  Downtown Pittston has many advantages:

One – It is centrally located between Scranton and Wilkes-Barre.
Two – The Susquehanna runs along side it.
Three – It has relatively easy access to interstate 81, access that can be made                    easier.
Four – It has good infrastructure, a great fire department and police force.
Five – It is full of good, honest, hardworking people.
Finally, for the sake of this discussion anyway, it has buildings and land.

Perhaps it is time to take a new line of attack regarding downtown redevelopment.  Past thinking has always been to grow downtowns we must lure businesses, usually retail, to the downtown.  I say we take a new approach.  Let’s turn downtown Pittston into a middle to upper income residential area.  We need to encourage investors, builders and developers to take to the downtown and create townhomes, condominiums and apartment buildings.  When these buildings are in place and people are given incentive to live there, then the specialty shops will come. The boutiques, gourmet restaurants, cafes, professional offices and such will move in to service and supply the new populace.  We can make Pittston an oasis of residential and specialty businesses smack in the middle of a great old coal town.  (And we should never be ashamed of our coal mining roots, but that’s for another column)

A different idea?  Maybe, maybe not?  However, we need to start thinking outside the box.  We must create a strong incentive for people to want to come downtown. In the process perhaps we can start a new economy so our graduating children can stay….in our hometowns.

Joe Leonardi



Filed under City Council, Congress, Hometown, NAFTA, NEPA, Northeast Pennsylvania, Pittston, Scranton, Springsteen

8 responses to “MY HOME TOWN — PITTSTON

  1. Anonymous

    Let’s see if I got this right… Salvation lies in positioing our gutted village so as to become servants to the rich. Is that about it?

  2. Where the heck did I say that!!!!!! When did middle classs become rich?????????? You can not develop without some money. You can not produce jobs without some money. Shall we take this incredible area were hardworking people sacrificed so that I and my contemporaries were afforded the chance to go to school and better ourselves.

    Shall we turn the all the vacant stores into parking lost for no businesses.

    As money gets invested into an area jobs can be created. The opportunity for small business owners to start up opens up creating more jobs and more opportunites.

    I stand by my plan unless someone can convince me of a better way to do it. Until then I put my name on my ideas, thoughts, and in my web address.

    Please tell me your plan anonymous. If you have something better please feel free to post it I will use my space to print it.

    Or do you prefer to hide in the background, faceless and nameless???????

    Though I respect your anonimity it lessens credibility, however, I created this site to open a venue for people to come together and exchange ideas.

    Salvation comes through faith, prosperity comes through hard work.

    Thank you for your comment
    Keep up the Dialogue


  3. Jim

    You didn’t say that Joe. Your reaction was mine to my home town of Salem, Massachusetts. I am afraid it would be the same in every town, USA. I wish you luck!

  4. tim grier

    The plan is easier said than done. One of the reasons all of the revitalization is happening in Wilkes-Barre (which is, I think, a model of what you are describing for Pittston – we have about 80 new condos, townhomes and homes in the works downtown) is because of the significant tax breaks given to developers as well as the bonds being floated, all of which may come back to bite the residents in the a*s big-time if we don’t get a bunch of folks to move here in a hurry.
    How do you propose luring all the developers and investors, without asking taxpayers to foot the bill?

  5. Hi Tim,

    Thanks for taking the time to comment. I never said it would be easy, if it’s easy it’s not worth accomplishing and I wouldn’t plan to not ask the taxpayers.

    The first rule of business is that it takes money to make money. If you are not willing to invest where do you expect the return to come from?

    I have been in business for a quite few years and I have worked in many businesses. No start up capital means failure.

    If we are unwilling to make an investment we will never recover. The return is new consumers increasing business and new residents increasing the tax base. Is it a risk? It sure is, but with our towns barely on life support it is an investment that needs to be made. And to expect an immediate turn around is unsound, these investments must be made for the long term.

    Pittston is loosing another employer in Seton Catholic. It not only takes a toll on the workers but all the small businesses that profit because of the school’s presence. From the employees and student who eat lunch or breakfast in town, to the post event destinations.

    I have lived in many different areas and I have never seen the resistance I see locally into investing in our cities and towns. You can’t get something for nothing, but that seems to be what everyone wants. An appropriate, wisely managed tax break can return 2 to 3 x’s itself.

    We have a great area, made up of great people but without solid leadership this area will continue to decline. I have seen Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, Pittston, etc.. decline so much since I first moved away in 1982. I know there are those opposed to some of the goings on in downtown Wilkes-Barre. I’m not fan of the Mayor, but there are signs of life for the first time in more than a decade. If this small development can be properly nurtured and developed for the good of the entire city and not exploited for just a few friends of the Mayor — Wilkes-Barre may finally begin to recover.

    At this point there are good signs in Wilkes-Barre, if earnest people can get into leadership positions the foundation may be in place. If the base is solid large upward growth can be supported. If it is mush — well then it will fall inward on itself.

    Which will it be? It is up to us…

    Thanks for the Comment
    Keep up the Dialogue

  6. Johnny Randolph

    Joe, I understand you worked at WARD up on the hill sometime in the 80’s. tell me more.

  7. Great little article!! I was born in Pittston in 1947, grew up in W. Pittston (happy memories). My dad was the Pres of his high school class in 1938. I now live in Ironton, OH, after having lived in several different states and spending almost 17 years in FL. Talk about a culture shock, moving to IRONton, which was apparently, one of the biggest rn foundry towns in the county “back when”. There are vacant buildings here and no jobs, almost literally. When people here get a job, they die in it.
    Thankfully, I am “retired” but it is depressing to see these old towns so rundown.
    Blessings this hliday season.

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