In an interview in January 2020, Pittston Mayor Mike Lombardo was optimistic about the coming year.
“We cleared the table of things that have held us back. We can really see the whole field. We know where we’re headed,” he said.
He, nor anyone else knew “where we’re headed.”
We were headed to stay-at-home-orders, red, yellow and green phases, shutdowns, take-out dinners, toilet paper shortages and binge watching. But, before all that, in January the Susquehanna Brewing Company hosted an event billed as an Evening of Anthracite Region Music, headlined by Lex Romane, singer/songwriter.
The last big event was the Pittston St. Patrick’s Parade on March 7, with 15,000 people in the city, partying, drinking and dancing. After that, from Sacred Heart Church to the cherry blossom and tomato festivals, bazaars and festivals were knocked out or knocked down to takeout.
Small businesses got smaller. Late in March, the Progress stopped by an empty My Sister’s Kitchen in Duryea during what used to be the breakfast rush. From the story: “Janet Russo and her sister Gina still cooked takeout and delivery orders to keep their restaurant going. ‘It’s really lonely in here,’” Russo said.
With happenings limited, Pittston City Main Street Manager Mary Kroptavich kept an updated list of restaurants offering to-go services on the Downtown Pittston Partnership Facebook page.
With schools closed, home schooling was open. In a Progress story Christine and Jim Renfer talked about teaching their six children, in grades five through 10 in Catholic schools. Jim was the primary teacher, but Christine said, “I’m the math guru.”
Churches weren’t so much closed as they were empty. But the Rev. Joseph Elston, pastor of St. John the Evangelist and St. Joseph Marello parishes, continued to celebrate Masses for online streaming. “Right now it’s just me, a musician and a cameraman,” he said.
In January, contractors had started a $450,000 restoration project in St. John the Evangelist Church. The contractors were tasked to complete the restoration in time for Easter on April 12. The coronavirus restrictions added two months to the project. When St. John’s reopened on July 18 after diocesan-wide church closures due to the pandemic, parishioners who did return to in-person services were awed by what they saw — refinished pews, beautiful faux marble floors, clean icons, bright gilding and restored and repainted ceiling and walls; and what they heard — a restored century-old 2,051 pipe Kilgen Organ and a new sound system installed by Rock Street Music.
The former River Street Ale House at 1575 River St. in Jenkins Twp., near the Eighth Street Bridge, was transformed into an evangelical Christian church called the Plaid Church. Pastor Stan Oschman said the mission was to “find those unchurched and unsaved. People who can’t or won’t go to church.”
Corpus Christi Parish had its own take on how to reach parishioners who are leery of attending Mass in person. The parish broadcasts Masses via radio, ala drive-in movies, to congregants in cars in the parking lots of Holy Redeemer Church in Harding and Immaculate Conception Church in West Pittston.
If there is a business built for social distance, it’s a drive-in theater. Eric Symeon bought and renovated the Moonlite Drive-In in West Wyoming. Dark for 30 years, he reopened the drive-in for a trial run in October 2019. In May of this year he opened again. Cars kept their distance. With no new releases, “Beetlejuice,” “Gremlins,” “Jaws” and Batman were hot.
COVID didn’t stop good deeds. In February, instructor Antoinette Jones and Wyoming Area quilting students sewed “joey pouches,” to help baby kangaroos and koalas displaced by the fires in Australia. Most of the pouches were made on sewing machines, while the remaining were hand sewn by 11th grader Kelly Casterline and ninth graders Gia Jadus and Tatiana Smith.
In April, Barber Ford in Exeter temporarily closed due to COVID. They couldn’t sell cars, so Marty Jordan and the rest of the staff launched a weekly food giveaway at the dealership. Local restaurants, such as Grico’s, also prepared family dinners to give away.
In July, the season’s first Second Friday Art Walk was scaled back. The farmers market in the Lower Tomato Festival lot downtown did not limit the number of vendors. “We have not had to change the layout,” Kroptavitch said, but patrons and vendors were masked and patrons were asked not to touch the produce prior to purchasing.
More than a year after a group of art students completed it, a new mural celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Pittston Area School District was unveiled in the courtyard at the high school. “It’s such a relief,” said art teacher Judy Greenwald. “I thought we were never going to get it up.” The finished mural features ties to Pittston Area’s history, such as the school’s original logo alongside the current mascot.
Pittston Area had planned to remain virtual until the end of the first quarter. Now, the Pittston Area and Wyoming Area school districts both will have entirely remote instruction until at least Jan. 4. The annual PA-WA football game was on again off again for a while, with the Warriors winning the annual Halloween weekend match-up, which was held a week late this year.
Also in October, Kroptavich came up with an alternative plan for the Trick or Treat Main Street event, replacing it with the Haunt on the Hill Drive-Thru Trick or Treat at Pittston Area High School.
Despite the virus, small businesses chose Pittston in 2020. Chastity Krakosky moved her Lolliposh Clothing & Gifts from Wyoming to the former Boden storefront. Cooper’s building reopened as The Banks, a new wedding and event venue with their first, small scale wedding event on Oct. 3. Carley’s Fairy Tail Dog Grooming and Deetz Embroidery opened on Main Street and Sports Page men’s salon opened on William Street. Bartolai Winery is expected to open soon at a location on North Main Street.
The Pittston Chamber of Commerce’s 100th anniversary party scheduled June 20 was postponed until 2021. An Aviation Technologies hangar at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Airport will be transformed into a Prohibition Era bar and restaurant by MCR Designs. The event is chaired by Sandy Insalaco, with music by Sweet Pepper and the Long Hots, beer by Susquehanna Brewing Co. and catering by Jim Guesto of Arturo’s.
In Duryea, there was another mile“stone.” A neighbor left a 30-pound, 2½-foot long marble slab in the yard of Christine Pitzer, a 43-year-old elementary teacher from Sparta, New Jersey. Turned out it was the cornerstone of the old Lincoln school built in 1908 on the west side of Main Street between Lackawanna and Stevenson streets in Duryea. She gave it to Bernie Stiroh, who runs duryeapa.com, and he donated it to be put on display in the borough building, built on the same site as the school, which was demolished in 1981.
Also in Duryea, council proclaimed Komensky’s Market Day in Duryea on Oct. 24 in honor of the store’s 100th anniversary. Paul Komensky opened the original Komensky’s Market on Columbia Street.
And this month, another family business, West Side Auto, at the corner of Wyoming and Montgomery avenues in West Pittston, an automobile gas station and garage since 1927, was sold by Ron Gitkos who ran it for half its life. He retired.