By: Denise Allabaugh, Wilkes-Barre Citizens Voice
WILKES-BARRE — The Thomas C. Thomas buildings on East Union Street and Pennsylvania Avenue are being converted into a new retail and office development called the “Union Street Complex.”
Wilkes-Barre Realty LLC purchased the building at 64 Union St. for $399,000 and building at 90 E. Union St. for $931,000 for a total price of more than $1.4 million, according to deeds filed in Luzerne County Recorder of Deeds. Owners include Joseph Rinkus, Varghese Ninan, Aditya Thakar and Abraham Philips.
The buildings will be modernized to fit retail and office space, according to an emailed statement from Rinkus. Extensive work will be done to the interior and exterior of both buildings. Both will have exterior landscaping and “common areas for occupants to live, work and play all in one compound,” he said.
“The developers want this to be a business-friendly workspace and socially enjoyable,” he said. “We are excited to give the historic building a new facade while retaining the historic characteristics.”Multiple different uses are planned for the space, including office, gym, retail and storage, Rinkus said.
Developers are in planning stages and hope to begin construction in March or April on the two-story building and exterior work on the four-story building.
Northeast Tomato Distributors will remain in the building that was once a bustling produce hub in the city’s downtown, according to Rinkus.
Thomas C. Thomas Jr., 75, of Forty Fort, who was running the place until it changed hands, said his realty company managed parking and the building, which was used as office space and storage. Luzerne County Central Court formerly was housed in the building for several years.
Thomas’ late father started the business in 1929 during the Great Depression with a horse and wagon.
The elder Thomas incorporated the Thomas C. Thomas Co. in 1937, becoming a wholesale distributor of fruit, vegetables, fish and frozen food products. The iconic namesake headquarters was built in the 1940s.
Thomas chose the site on the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and East Union Street to provide a central location for a wholesale food terminal,” according to the company’s website. The terminal covered a large marketing area and received products from all over the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
Thomas C. Thomas produce often was called names like “Two-Tom tomatoes” or “Two-Tom potatoes” in jest regarding the businessman having the same first and last name. The company even had a jingle that used the phrase.
After the company ceased production operations in 1991, the family used the building’s real estate and parking assets to survive.
Today, Thomas said he is “tying up loose ends” and looking forward to retirement. He said it was in his family’s best interests to sell and dissolve the assets of the company and he is happy about the sale.
“I believe they’re capable of doing much more than I was. As long as they’re maintaining a good business, I believe it’s in everybody’s best interests,” Thomas said. “It’s still a privately-owned company so the city and the state don’t lose a tax base. That’s in the best interest of the county and the city. I wish them the best of luck.”
Thomas said he is happy to see produce deliveries coming and going from the business again, particularly the tomatoes.
“Isn’t it ironic we have a new tenant that deals with produce? That was our mainstay, tomatoes,” Thomas said. “It reminds me of the good old days.”