By Ruth Corcoran for the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader
On a gorgeous Thursday evening earlier this month, I drove to downtown Wilkes-Barre to help with the Diamond City Partnership’s Sunsets on SOMA Happy Hour. Located in the outdoor space at Midtown Village at 41 South Main, and featuring live music and refreshments, I was in awe of the crowd gathered to enjoy the beautiful summer night. As I looked around at the eclectic group, I saw a mix of business people, families with children, and senior citizens. It made me smile to see the downtown alive with positive energy.
Many surrounding businesses in Midtown Village and along South Main were also benefiting from the influx of people, including Boozy B’s, the Bee Hive Gift Shop, Thai Thai, and Istanbul Grill, among many others. I spotted friends sitting outside of Boozy B’s enjoying alcohol-infused ice cream cocktails and others talking about meeting at Franklin’s for a bite to eat afterward. It felt good to see all the activity in the area.
I think we forget all our downtown has to offer. You can find everything from Circles’ famous sandwiches to fine-dining establishments, such as Jonathan’s and Bank & Vine, lively college bars like Senunas’ and Rodano’s, concerts at the F.M. Kirby Center and Karl Hall, and beautiful works of art at Sordoni and other art galleries. What better way to spend a warm summer night than a stroll down South Main to visit the city’s many galleries followed by a movie at Movies 14 and ice cream from Diamond City Dairy.
The diversity of restaurants found downtown is amazing as well. It is a melting pot of food from around the globe. Just a sampling of the ethnic cuisine to enjoy includes Asian Kitchen, Bronco’s Brazilian Steak House, Burrito Loco, Café Toscana, Caribbean Paradise Restaurant & Grocery, Hartman Jerk Center, Istanbul Grill, Pete’s Place, and Thai Thai. Retail is also alive and well in downtown Wilkes-Barre with longtime favorites including Boscov’s, Marquis Art & Frame, Barnes & Noble, Around Town Bicycles, Bell Home Furnishings, Top of the Slope, and Iorio’s Jewelers.
So many are realizing the convenience of living downtown as evidenced in the waiting list for many of the city’s luxury apartments that are quickly filling with young professionals. In a recent talk with Susan Magnotta from the Diamond City Partnership, she explained that the residential market in downtown is exploding. She said people really love the walkability of a city where you can walk to work, to restaurants, to shop and to find all types of entertainment. In downtown Wilkes-Barre, you can find grocery stores, pharmacies, florists, salons, medical centers, banks, and more, all within a few blocks. She added that downtown residents love the healthy lifestyle and diversity that a walkable city provides.
Susan also stressed the importance of embracing Wilkes-Barre as a college town that fills with students each fall who support local businesses and contribute to our economy. Local bed & breakfasts, such as the Hillard House Inn, and downtown hotels including Genetti’s benefit from college families visiting students, business travelers, and local visitors.
While just two years ago, Wilkes-Barre was emerging with new business openings and bustling with workers who filled many downtown buildings, the pandemic shifted many businesses to a work from home model that hurt the city. Empty office buildings meant fewer customers for restaurants and shops. This brought the closure of several restaurants the past year, including S&W Restaurant, Dino’s Pizza Express, El Zocalo Mexican Restaurant, Center City Café, Boscov’s Restaurant, and Lett’s Eat.
I think it’s up to all of us to support our downtown and help keep our city’s businesses alive and well. Local organizations, such as the Diamond City Partnership, the City of Wilkes-Barre, and Luzerne County Visitor’s Bureau have all been working on initiatives to draw people downtown.
This includes the Sunsets on SOMA Happy Hour series which will continue Thursdays July 15, Aug. 19, and Sept. 16; the return of the popular Rockin’ the River concerts on Fridays July 16, 23, and 30, and the Out Back at Karl Hall Sunday concert series July 11, Aug. 15 & 29, and Sept. 12 & 26.
Health-minded folks can enjoy free yoga every Saturday at 10 a.m. at the River Common by the Riverfront Yoga Project and the Wilkes-Barre City Farmer’s Market now happening every Thursday on Public Square. The Diamond City Partnership is also working to engage families in introducing children to the downtown with the Downtown Discoveries Summer Passport program. It’s a fun scavenger hunt that takes children through the downtown’s art and culture district on South Main, past the storybook on the windows of Barnes and Noble, and the fitness corner at Midtown Village. What a great way to introduce children to our downtown.
Ted Wampole, executive director of the Luzerne County Convention & Visitors Bureau, agrees that keeping downtown Wilkes-Barre alive and thriving must be a community effort. He looks forward to the full return of the F.M. Kirby Center with a packed season of concerts and other shows. He said this will draw the activity Wilkes-Barre needs. Ted was instrumental in bringing the Rockin’ the River concert series to life, which brought thousands to our riverfront and downtown area. He added that all these things are a sign that Wilkes-Barre is heading in the right direction again.
I hope you will join me in supporting downtown Wilkes-Barre by attending some of the planned summer events, visiting our downtown restaurants and retail shops, and enjoying all downtown Wilkes-Barre has to offer.
Ruth Corcoran is a professional marketer, former restaurant owner, and community advocate. She resides in Bear Creek. Readers can reach Ruth by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.