Friday, December 24, 2010

Hometown Holiday celebrated Pottstown

Choirs singing, dancers dancing, shoppers browsing, music in the air; flowers, lights and costumes everywhere.

Could this be Pottstown?

This year in December, I enjoyed every weekend downtown.

In Pottstown.

I shopped here, dined out here, went to a ball and a musical, toured houses, looked at the lights, and went out for drinks. I bought gifts, listened to music, went to church, saw friends and laughed with family.

It was truly a "Hometown Holiday Celebration."

On the first weekend of December, my daughter and I met for a Friday night appetizer and drink at the Brick House and included in the outing a High Street stroll, listening to caroling in Smith Family Plaza by the Pine Forge Academy choir and checking out the gingerbread houses in the window at Ranieri's and an array of pastries on display in Churchill's.

The next weekend, my husband and I dodged raindrops on the Historic Pottstown by Candlelight holiday house tour. I have served as a hostess on the tour at Zion's United Church of Christ several times, but never before invested the time to go enjoy the hospitality and see the sights.

What a discovery! From the stained glass windows on staircase landings to the delightful gent telling stories of when his mother was housekeeper for Dr. Roebuck in his home and office on Hanover Street, the afternoon was entertaining and eye-opening.

On the third weekend, we capped off the downtown Hometown Holiday by attending the Holiday Costume Ball at the Elks on Friday, and then on Saturday, we enjoyed an early dinner at Juan Carlos followed by "Christmas Carol: The Musical" at Tri-PAC.

The ball was a holiday dance event of the type we had enjoyed at Sunnybrook in years gone by. The dressing up, the dancing, the camaraderie brought back warm memories. We didn't know many of the people attending — that was itself a revelation, considering the years we've spent around Pottstown. It means there are newcomers and different people coming into the limelight — a definite prerequisite for revitalization.

The Elks upstairs ballroom was decorated in elegant simplicity — red poinsettias, white linens, green garlands. The crowd danced all night to the sounds of a first-class dance band and had the added treat on stage of Eric Bazilian, former lead singer of The Hooters, who has adopted an interest in Pottstown through his friend Leighton Wildrick, Pottstown's Main Street manager.

Wildrick is responsible for putting together the Hometown Holiday events downtown and for orchestrating the visit by Bazilian, who described Pottstown as a "a slice of American life."

Not a bad message from a Grammy-winning songwriter and performer to this small town.

The ball and Bazilian's appearance was a reminder that sometimes you have to try something, go a bit beyond the comfort zone and reach up in order to attract and inspire enthusiasm and investment.

The atmosphere at the ball Friday was in contrast to the minor sniping that went on earlier in the week about paying for the band in part with money in the borough's transit promotion budget.

The disconnect serves as a reminder to town leaders and residents that sometimes we have to pay for quality to get quality in return, that we will go nowhere if we are not willing to invest in ourselves, and that sometimes the investment in entertainment can build a momentum that pays back.

Our stop at Tri-PAC was the ultimate example. To anyone who has not yet taken in a show in the theatre referred to by us old-timers as the "former Newberry's," do it. The experience of the transformed space, the actors, the music, the children will restore faith in Pottstown more than any debate over taxes, spending, and what High Street needs.

Pottstown has so much to offer, but for those who live here or work here every day, it is easy to forget. This December, I enjoyed Pottstown as an outsider would, and it was transforming.

Downtown has several first-class places for dinner — Juan Carlos, Funky Lil' Kitchen, Henry's, Brick House — all within easy walking distance of remarkable theatre at Tri-PAC.

There are shops with quality items to purchase — a bike at Tri-County Bicycles, a painting at The Gallery on High, furniture at Lastick's, clothing at Weitzenkorn's. You can bank here, utilize investment services, shop for collectibles, see a dentist, doctor or lawyer, buy a house, take a yoga or karate class — even purchase an ad or subscribe to The Mercury.

The December events this year were dubbed "Hometown Holiday Celebration," and perhaps the best reflection of celebrating this hometown for the holidays is the Pottstown Christmas CD of songs and readings produced and performed by local talent.

The music and poetry portray a quality and sophistication that we often fail to acknowledge in our neighbors. Who would think there is so much talent, so much to enjoy — so much to celebrate — here in this hometown?

This was the December to remember — and rediscover — Pottstown.