South Main Street Business Owners in Limbo

i Jun 9th 2014

By Bill Wellock, Wilkes-Barre Citizens Voice

WILKES-BARRE — One South Main Street business owner plans to reopen her shop this summer.

Another isn’t sure if she’ll be back.

Michaelene Coffee plans to move merchandise back to Place One at the Hollywood, a women’s clothing store, in July.

She moved her goods to a Scranton location when her Wilkes-Barre store closed in 2013 for the demolition of city-owned buildings next door. Business has been too busy lately during the prom season for her to spare the time needed to clean her Wilkes-Barre store and reopen.

“Up until May, I was open seven days a week. The last proms are this week and some out-of-town proms are next week. I couldn’t take the days of being closed to move,” she said.

The city made a request for proposals for the vacant parcels in January, leaving her wondering what is planned for the space. Asked about the proposals, city spokeswoman Liza Prokop had no comment.

“My biggest concern is I don’t want to move everything back down there, something happens and I have to move out again,” Coffee said.

Another small business owner, Ilona Bruns, said she doesn’t know if she’ll return Frank Clark Jewelers to downtown. Bruns also closed for demolition. She reopened in December, but pulled her inventory from her Wilkes-Barre location last week. She owns another jewelry store, Ocean Gold, in Nanticoke.

“For now, I’m hoping to be able to go back in. I’m just not sure when with what the city has done to me,” she said. “I don’t want to lose my Wilkes-Barre business and the nostalgia, the history of the building. That’s why I opened the jewelry store. It’s not something I want to lose.”

The city demolished the buildings after two engineering firms hired to inspect 61, 71, 73 and 75 S. Main St. found the structures to be in danger of collapsing.

The city’s actions were necessary to prevent a life-threatening situation, and the city took action to allow both tenants back in their buildings for the holiday season, Prokop said in an email.

The corner is an important part of the downtown, Diamond City Partnership Executive Director Larry Newman said.

“I obviously prefer if we could figure out how to get both business back. It has not been a fun process, not for them and not for the downtown in general. I’m still hopeful that this whole saga can result in something positive both for downtown as whole and also for the displaced business owners, that we can get them back in place,” he said.

It’s hard to say if any potential developers would be more interested in the corner now that the parcels are vacant, Newman said.

“It really depends on what the nature of redevelopment is, it depends on what the development goals are,” he said. “On the one hand, certainly the rehab of an older building can be challenging because you’re dealing with existing conditions and you don’t know what you’re going to discover. On the other hand, you already have a building.”

“The idea behind the current RFPs is that entity selected needs to incorporate the facade of the city-owned part of the Engel building into a new project,” he said. “One of things the city is doing that is the right thing is saying ‘Here’s a piece of city-owned property, here are objectives, submit a proposal.’”