By Patrick Kernan, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader
WILKES-BARRE — Saturday’s winter temperatures were greeted with a profound sadness in downtown Wilkes-Barre as area residents arose to the news that businessman Al Boscov had died Friday night at his Reading home at the age of 87.
“He was a great man,” said Richard Mikulkay, 59, of Kingston. “He’s done a lot for this community.”
The chairman and founder of the department store chain that bears his name passed away Friday from pancreatic cancer, less than two weeks after his diagnosis was made public.
Outside of the Boscov’s store on South Main Street in Wilkes-Barre, frequent customers of the location, such as Mikulkay, shared their thoughts on the iconic businessman and his contributions to the downtown community.
“I’ve been going there for years, even when it was called the Boston Store,” Mikulkay said, referring to the previous store in the building, “Fowler, Dick & Walker — The Boston Store,” which Boscov purchased in 1980. “I bought my girlfriend a Valentine’s Day present from there just yesterday.”
Just a few hundred feet away, the marque of the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts, which Boscov was instrumental in helping found, perhaps summed up the sentiment best.
“Rest in peace, Mr. Boscov. These lights shine because of you. Thank You!” the marquee read.
Local business people on Public Square echoed Mikulkay and the marquee’s praise of Boscov’s involvement in the downtown.
Tim Kohl, 51, of Kingston, is the kitchen manager of City Market and Cafe. Although the market has only been on the square since June, Kohl said he saw the effects Boscov had.
“He did a lot for the downtown,” Kohl said. “He was here before the malls and all the chain stores went in … He kept business alive in the downtown area.”
Kohl said, even in the absence of Al Boscov, the department store will continue its role downtown.
“He was a wonderful man. He cared a lot about this community and his employees,” Kohl said. “But as for the business sense, I don’t think that’ll skip a beat.”
A few doors down on Public Square, the thoughts were the same.
“Al was a giant,” said Phil Rudy, 68, of Wilkes-Barre, who has been the owner of Circles on the Square for 32 years.
In addition to the department store’s influence on the community, Rudy talked about Boscov’s involvement with the Kirby Center.
“His faith in what he was doing is apparent,” Rudy said. “Without him, we wouldn’t have the Kirby Center, which was a boarded-up shell when I got here.”
While the business mogul will be remembered for his cultural and economic contributions to downtown Wilkes-Barre, some shoppers, such as David Andregewski, 62, of Wilkes-Barre, will remember Boscov most for what he did for their wallets.
“He brought a good store to the area,” Andregewski said. “The prices were always fair.”
For more on Al Boscov’s legacy, click here.