By Roger DuPuis, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader
WILKES-BARRE — There were blossoms all around at Friday morning’s meeting of the Downtown Wilkes-Barre Business Association.
There was the bouquet presented to longtime association secretary Bridget Giunta, who is transitioning out of the role after many years of service.
There was a presentation by Larry Newman, executive director of the Diamond City Partnership, on the new businesses and residential developments blossoming around the downtown area.
And there were the blossoms which filled the air as members breakfasted on the second floor porch of the Westmoreland Club, whose general manager, Robert Williams, spoke about recent and upcoming developments at the venerable social club, including anticipated expansion and outreach efforts to attract new, younger members.
Giunta, who is executive assistant to the president at Wilkes University and director of the university’s capital campaign, has served as business association secretary for about eight years, she said.
Friday morning’s gathering, which served as the association’s annual membership meeting, included election of officers and at-large board members for the year to come, with Cassie Fiume succeeding Giunta as secretary.
By a unanimous vote, the officers are: President John Maday, First Vice President (membership coordinator) Leigh Yanchus, Second Vice President (promotions committee coordinator) Michelle Wise, Treasurer Susan McHugh, and Secretary Cassie Fiume.
In addition to Giunta, the at-large board members are: Will Beekman, Patricia Butler, John Karavis, Renee Lutz, John McAndrew, Gretchen Sevison and Newman (ex-officio).
Downtown in bloom
Newman told the audience that 2017 brought a net gain of four occupied storefronts downtown, marking the 13th consecutive year of net increases. And, he said, there are 48 more occupied storefronts in center city today than there were in 2006.
Just since last year, Newman added, nine new businesses have set up shop downtown, including restaurants and coffee shops, live music venue Karl Hall and a day spa.
Currently 3,500 people live downtown, he said, with 152 new market-rate housing units added over the past five years and 48 more under construction.
“There are so many good things going on in this city,” Newman said. “This city is a class act.”
Williams told the audience about efforts the Westmoreland Club has been making in recent years to upgrade and expand its facilities and to provide activities that will bring in a new generation of members.
“People often think about the club as a place where a bunch of old guys sit around in red leather chairs smoking cigars,” Williams said, to chuckles from the crowd.
“And they are here,” he added, “but there are also days when we’re filled with families and kids.”
The porch where association members met Friday was added in the past five years, Williams explained, giving the vintage mansion housing the club 2,200 square feet of dining and entertainment space that is covered but open-sided, with heaters making its use practical deep into the cooler months.
And, Williams said, the club is under agreement with the Jewish Community Alliance of Northeastern Pennsylvania to purchase its property, behind the club on River Street, once the JCA moves to a new facility.
The deal would give Westmoreland more parking for sure, but Williams also said members are considering whether some of the space can be used for entertainment and social purposes, such as a ballroom or family center.
“We want to keep the club going for the next 50 to 100 years at least,” Williams said.