“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
MY HOME TOWN — PITTSTON
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.