By ED ACKERMAN
July 6, 2013
I can’t tell you how many times Bill Joyce invited me to stop at the building he and his brothers revitalized on Main Street to see what they did with the lower level. The building, which houses the Joyce Insurance Company, was once the bustling S.S. Kresge store, a place where in my youth we shopped for just about everything and — I’m showing my age here — thought it was a big treat to sit at the soda fountain and order a Coke.
The Joyces’ decision to stake a claim on Pittston’s Main Street by bringing the Kresge building back from the dead was truly the beginning of the economic, cultural and aesthetic explosion going on downtown today. And so when Bill called yet again to suggest I drop by for a drink at a little cocktail party he was throwing in conjunction with the Second Friday event on June 14, I knew I could not disappoint him another time.
A thing about editing a small Sunday newspaper, though, is that Friday nights are not your own. It isn’t unusual to see me still at the office at 11 p.m. I knew the Joyces, if anyone, would appreciate that being your own boss means you have a tough boss, but this time I didn’t want them to understand. I wanted to show up for a change and if that meant jumping through a few hoops, so be it.
Well, I got there an hour or so late, but, man, am I glad I did.
Seeing what the Joyces did with the building made me even more pleased we had named Bill and his brothers Sunday Dispatch Greater Pittston Persons of the Year back in 2006. We dubbed them “The Generous Joyces” and the name is apropos. From their support of just about every cause we can think of to their creation of Miles for Michael as a way to assist cancer patients and their families following the death of their brother Michael, these guys might be the best friends Pittston has ever had.
But Bill’s invitation also brought me to town for Second Friday, only the second one to be celebrated, and that was something to experience. Our parents often talked of a post-World War II Pittston where the sidewalks were so crowded on a weekend night you had to step into the street to navigate. Well, that’s what June 14, 2013, was like.
Mary Kay and I left Joyces along with Charlie Sciandra and his lovely wife Carol, whom we had just met, and started southward on Main thinking of grabbing a bite to eat. We discussed the elegant Palazzo 53 but suspected it might be booked up, considered the new Tomato Bar & Bistro with its outdoor seating, thought about walking all the way down to an old standby, The Gramercy Restaurant, where we knew the food would never disappoint, and then wound up in a booth at The Majestic eating hot dogs with “the works.” It was fabulous.
The Majestic, featuring “Texas wieners” for close to 100 years in the same location, was jammed. Everyone who lives around here grew up at The Majestic and those who moved away make a bee-line for the place whenever they visit. My wife grew up with the owners, the Salavantis family, and enjoyed a long chat with Mr. and Mrs. Salavantis and their son Harry and daughter Mary, who, masters degree in counseling aside, was working the counter that night.
That didn’t surprise me. But Stephanie Salavantis busing tables did.
She’s the country district attorney but obviously not too big for her britches. “Really?” I said, as she picked up a rag and started wiping down a table top.
“I grew up doing this,” she responded without looking up from her work.
That little encounter had “Pittston” written all over it, if you know what I mean.
With bellies full — who knew it was buy-two-get-one-free night at the Majestic? — we walked further down the street, never moving more than a few feet without running into someone we knew. Here was Jim Norris, chatting with art students from Pittston Area High School about their work on display. There was Joe Cosgrove reminiscing about the old, and I mean old, days of the Dispatch when it was located in the basement of the Dime Bank Building with his late dad as advertising manager/beat reporter/photographer/cartoonist.
Playing acoustic guitar and singing in the pocket park next to Napoli’s Pizza was Billy Jumper, leader of the former Jumper Bones and the Sax Maniacs. Performing in the new Tomato Festival bandshell several doors down was Richie Kossuth (another Person of the Year, by the way) and his band Flaxy Morgan.
But the night was far from over. The band Bill Gelb and the Banana Hammocks was playing at Bartolai’s Winery on Route 92 in Harding. And hard as it was to drag ourselves away from Main Street, we couldn’t resist the opportunity to see undoubtedly the most unusual conglomeration of rock musicians you’ll ever find. For starters, the bass player is a local mortician.
Wait a minute. One of the “Sax Maniacs” was a local mortician too. His name is Austin O’Malley III, Buzzy to his friends. He lives in Charleston, S.C., now, but guess what? He showed up and performed with the Hammocks that night in Harding.
Somehow, nobody seemed surprised.
This all took place on the last Second Friday. The next one is July 12. Need I say more?