By Bill O’Boyle, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader
WILKES-BARRE — Imagine having no long commute to and from work — no traffic jams, no parking issues, no early rising to get to work on time, and no late arrivals back home.
More and more people have found what they consider the perfect life arrangement — living where they work in a mixed-use building, which is designed for both residential and commercial uses.
The Times Leader found some folks who live in the same building where they work:
• Attorney Al Flora, whose law offices are on the first floor of his home on West South Street. Flora moved back to the city from a country residence, seeking proximity to clients and the city.
• Gordon and Cecilia Williams, who own the Hillard House Inn, a bed-and-breakfast on West River Street. The retired couple bought the historic home and converted it to a B&B in 2006.
• Kris Jones, owner of KBJ Capital and several other businesses, purchased a loft above his workplace that he uses as a secondary residence and for business purposes.
• Nick Dye and brothers Casey and Adam Donahue of housing developers D&D Realty. Dye and Casey Donahue live in Hampton Park West at 45 East Northampton St., one of several buildings the trio has purchased, renovated and leased out — 210 units in Wilkes-Barre and Scranton. D&D’s offices are on the first floor of the building. Adam Donahue used to live there, but he got married and now lives in Dunmore.
Flora said living in the city is good for work/life balance.
“When you look at the downtown environment, you see that it offers a lot for professional people,” he said. “Especially young professionals.”
Dye and the Donahue brothers said living above the workplace is as efficient as it gets.
“There’s no commute,” Dye said. “And everything we need is accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
In the 1950s and ’60s, in towns near and far, Mom and Pop would wake up, have breakfast and head down a few flights of steps to open the door of their business. Everyone in town knew them and would stop by, browse and pick up a few items before heading home.
That was life in small-town America, but things have changed over the past handful of decades. The growth of the suburbs brought malls and big-box stores, shopping centers popped up, and Mom and Pop were forced to close their businesses.
Now, Mom and Pop’s kids and grandkids are taking a similar approach.
Larry Newman, executive director of the Diamond City Partnership, stewards of downtown Wilkes-Barre, said “living above the store” used to be something done out of necessity. Newman said he has seen a trend in the city over the past five to 10 years that shows more people opting for live-work environments as a conscious choice.
Newman said throughout history, people have combined work and home. In America, he said, citizens traditionally associated living above the workplace with the operators of Main Street or neighborhood stores, bars and restaurants, or with self-employed professionals such as doctors, dentists and lawyers.
“The ranks of live-work business owners dropped rapidly during the latter half of the 20th century,” Newman said. “Today, however, it’s professional and service workers who are increasingly combining work and home.”
That’s due in large part to technology and the way it has changed the definition of “workplace” for many office-based workers, Newman said. However, it also is related to changing residential preferences among the latest generation to join the workforce.
Newman said the vast majority of people still leave home to go to work, but more than 5 percent of workers do their work from home — and that figure has grown substantially over the past three decades. Northeastern Pennsylvania is changing more slowly — as of the 2010 Census, only 2.4 percent of adult workers in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area combined work and home.
In Wilkes-Barre, D&D Realty has developed Hampton Park West and Hampton Park East on Northampton Street, the Allegheny Lofts on South Main Street, and the group purchased the PNC Bank Building at Market and Franklin streets. D&D is close to completing 40 apartments on the upper floors, and all are under lease.
Adam Donahue no longer lives at Hampton Park West. After he got married, he moved to Dunmore, where his wife resided.
“It’s definitely different,” he said. “Now I have to get up earlier and drive I-81 to and from work. And then I have to drive home on I-81. I often get caught in traffic jams.”
Casey Donahue said he, Adam and Dye like the urban feeling of living downtown.
“Nick and I don’t want to live in a neighborhood,” Casey said. “We like the accessibility downtown — we’re close to restaurants, Kirby Park, and there’s a movie theater across the street.”
The Donahue brothers and Dye said they saw a demand for downtown living, noting that the Elevation Lofts above Movies 14 filled up fast.
Dye said because he lives in the same building he works in, he often puts in longer hours. He said he knows most of his tenants and has good relationships with them.
‘A lot less stressful’
Flora said he was living in Hunlock Creek in a large house with an abundance of land. He said the drive to his office in Wilkes-Barre was more than 30 minutes each way. He noted that moving to the city and living in the same building where he works has many benefits.
“First of all, I now have basically no travel time,” Flora said. “I can walk to just about everything. Even supermarkets are five minutes away by car.”
Flora said his neighborhood is quiet and that living on the Wilkes University campus makes him feel even more secure because of the 24-hour security the university offers. And, Flora said, a lot of professional people live near him.
“Overall, there is much less wear and tear on me by living here,” he said. “Plus I have no yard to maintain, no swimming pool to take care of, and with all of the development that has happened in the city, there are many options for entertainment and dining.”
Flora, a criminal defense attorney, has a conference room and an office in his home. He is the only employee in his practice and said his home offers an informal and comfortable setting for clients.
“There’s no hustle and bustle that you might find in a larger legal firm,” he said. “There aren’t a lot of people constantly running in and out of here.”
Flora said unlike most people, he left the country and found peace and quiet in the city.
“It’s a lot less stressful here,” he said.
The Williamses fell in love with the historic Hillard House, built in 1865, so they bought it in 1999. After a trip to Connecticut and a stay at a bed-and-breakfast, they came home and decided they could convert their home. In 2006, they opened Hillard House.
“We enjoy it so much,” Cecilia Williams said. “Gordon is very social. He likes to talk and I love to cook.”
The Williamses offer their guests breakfast and conversation every day.
“We just love this house — it’s so comfortable,” Cecilia said. “And now we offer everyone the opportunity to see it, stay here and enjoy it, too.”
Three rooms and a suite exist on the second floor for guests. The Williamses live in an apartment on the third floor. All rooms have private baths. The first floor has common areas such as a music room, sitting room, dining room and TV room.
The Williamses said they enjoy their retirement all the more because of their new business venture. It keeps them busy and provides a service to travelers, many of whom are repeat customers.
And then there’s …
Kris Jones, founder and CEO of KBJ Capital, ReferLocal, LSEO, and APPEK Mobile Apps, said one of the smartest investments he has made was buying a residential loft in downtown Wilkes-Barre. It isn’t the primary residence for him and his family, but it serves several purposes.
“Not only have I run my primary business from the loft, but I’ve been able to incubate and support many successful technology start-ups from the loft,” Jones said by email. “My teams often use the loft for team meetings and client meet-ups — it presents a non-traditional work environment, which promotes work/life balance and fun.
“I’m a big believer in the renaissance going on in downtown Wilkes-Barre and consider my investment in real estate and multiple businesses as a testament to the viability of the future of Northeastern, Pa.”
Music to his ears
Newman, the Diamond City Partnership leader, said it’s pretty clear to urban planners that while the majority of American households still separate home and work, the number of people choosing to combine the two will continue to grow.
However, he said that approach can be challenging because so much of the conventional real-estate development system — from financing to zoning to design — is based on the assumption that residential and commercial uses should always be separated.
“However, over the past few years, those assumptions have begun to change, because a portion of the market is demanding change,” Newman said. “And there’s no question that’s a very good thing for places like downtown Wilkes-Barre.”