For downtown Pittston hair stylist Virginia DeSpirito, the bad old days are over.
The Renaissance is here.
There's a lot of good energy here now, said DeSpirito, who used to be afraid to walk to her car at night. Before, it was just all around not a good place. There was a bad element, a lot of graffiti and vandalism. Now with all the beautiful lights, people are around. We don't see as much of the bad element. You get a lot of walk-in traffic, and I'm next in line to get a façade.
With help from a $2.3 million in federal Transportation Enhancement grants, Pittston's Main Street during the past two years has gained new brick crosswalks, period lighting, new sidewalks and curbs and spiffy new facades for businesses.
There's been a lot of private investment as well, volunteer Main Street Manager and local attorney Rose Randazzo pointed out. For example, every business that received grant money for a facelift has matched or far exceeded the contribution.
But it's not money alone that's helping Pittston prosper. Also deserving credit are the commitment of newcomers, the perseverance of long-time businesses and their customers, and the creativity of artists.
It's a beautiful thing, what's happening here, musician Ryan Post, 27, said as he strummed his guitar late on a recent afternoon in front of The Coffee Table Café.
Post, a Sweet Valley native who moved to downtown Pittston a few months ago, plans to set up a series of open-mic performances at the café. Anybody can sing and play or bring poetry and express themselves, Post said. This place is becoming more cultural, and I want to be a positive part of that.
Of course, there are people who saw the positives in Pittston long before the remodeling began.
I've always come here, said Pauline Albano, 53, who lives just across the river in West Pittston. I would always shop at Sabatelle's. Their meats are excellent. And I would get my hair done (at Virginia DeSpirito's Hair Fashions).
But nowadays, if you ask people who live, work or socialize on Main Street, you'll hear about many more reasons to come, from the regional handiwork at the Arts SEEN gallery to the British-style clothing at the Boden USA outlet store to the food – and martinis – at Palazzo 53.
I love, love, love Palazzo's, said DeSpirito, who recommends the linguine with crab and garlic.
At 53 South Main – hence the name – co-owner Chris Barcia spent a recent few minutes before the evening onrush of customers helping his three children, Isabel, Samantha and Joey, carve pumpkins at an outdoor table while employee D.J. Lillis built a fire in a chiminea.
We serve food like your mother would make at home, Barcia said, explaining the philosophy he and his wife, Beth, share.
But along with that cozy sentiment, Palazzo 53 has a reputation for elegance.
That's where the classier people go, musician Post said candidly.
There's more of a rock crowd at The Rattler, he said, indicating a bar down the road.
Classic or trendy, upscale or down-home, from billiards hall to pet groomer to dry cleaner to dental office, the new mingles with the traditional throughout the downtown.
At The Coffee Table Café, one of the new businesses, manager Becky Edwards, 30, might serve you a breakfast panini, ooey, gooey grilled cheese, or a cake ball, a trendy sweet similar to a cupcake except it's round. We hand-ball them and dip them into a flavor coating, Edwards said.
Across the street at Jackett's Central Lunch, which dates to the '40s, you'll find bacon and eggs, hamburgers and generous slices of freshly baked pies.
It's country cooking, pie baker Jessica Zelonis said with a grin from her post behind the lunch counter.
Zelonis, 29, moved north with her husband, Kris, 31, who took over the business from his mother a few years ago, and the Georgia native did experience some culture shock.
Everything is a faster pace up here, she noted.
But sometimes things take longer than you'd suspect.
To a casual observer, Pittston's glorious rebirth seems to have taken place over the past 18-24 months, Randazzo, the Main Street Manager, said. However, the planning and application for grants were going on for several years in advance.
The improvements aren't finished yet, redevelopment leader and former Mayor Mike Lombardo said. Funding from the state's Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program will continue to help upgrade the downtown, where planners envision new office space and new living space.
But already, people are excited about the turn their city has taken.
All I hear is how attractive the town is, especially at night. The streetscape is the talk of the Valley, Sam Valenti, 61, said as he enjoyed a recent pizza lunch at Napoli's, one of a host of popular pizza shops in the city.
Pittston is beautiful, owner Jane Sabatelle said as she presided over a market filled with such items as homemade pasta and sauces as well as the celebrated meats. It's like the whole community is beaming with pride.
The cleaner, brighter downtown creates more foot traffic, which in turn makes the city more lively and inviting. A lot of people have been coming in, just for that simple fact, Kris Zelonis from Jackett's said.
One business' success feeds another, Maria Livrone from Arts SEEN gallery said.
The other day some people drove all the way from Vermont to shop at the Boden outlet, and they came in here and shopped, too, she said.
Livrone is eager to begin work on a glass mosaic for the water wall in a pocket-park of green space on Main Street and she plans to build a full-size metal man for the front of the Arts SEEN gallery, too.
The momentum just keeps building, she said.