Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Shop downtown Pottstown and be surprised

I remember as a child the holiday-season thrill of going into The New York Store in downtown Pottstown on a Friday night, walking to the lower floor among the bustling crowd and seeing Santa greeting children, taking names and promising wishes.
I remember Town Toy, gazing in wonder at the assortment of games, Matchbox cars and Barbie clothes.
If my brothers wanted new baseball mitts, we went to Bechtel's. If my Dad was shopping for a special gift for my Mom, it was Longacre's jewelry store.
By the time I was in junior high, Kessler's clothing and Boyer's shoes were the places to get wool skirts and sweaters and Bass Weejuns.
Those stores -- and the dozens of others such as Ellis Mills, Wolf's China and Glass, H.F. Smith and Son stationery -- were locally owned. They were the small businesses around which Pottstown's downtown thrived.
Today, Weitzenkorn's remains with a fifth generation recently joining the family business, but others are gone. High Street is struggling.
But I am not writing this to lament the days gone by. Rather, to remind readers that High Street still has a healthy sampling of locally-owned shops and offers a rewarding shopping experience.
You just have to come downtown to find it.
Within just three blocks on High Street, you can find gifts for the skateboarder and bicyclist on your list. Warrick Jewelers not only has a fine selection of jewelry and gift items, but the owner and employees are without a doubt the friendliest clerks you will find anywhere.
You can buy gift certificates to theater at TriPAC, dinner at Funky L'il Kitchen or Henry's; plan your holiday parties with catering from Positively Pasta or Grumpy's in the Farmer's Market; buy fresh seafood at Mosteller's and fresh meats (try the pork and apple sausage) at the Market's butcher stand.
You won't find a better selection or more personal service in fine clothing than at Weitzenkorn's. Why shop Victoria's Secret when you can get unique lingerie at Jean's?
There are two bakery shops, two formalwear stores, and a variety of lunch spots, my favorites being The Very Best, Positively Pasta and The Brickhouse.
There are specialty shops for clocks, health foods and at The Gallery on High, you can find paintings, art supplies and an impressive selection of quality hand-crafted jewelry.
Who else carries the range of camping and outdoors gear that the Army-Navy store has in stock? You can even plan a room remodeling project at Ranieri's Paint and Floor Coverings.
Some may say that shopping in downtown Pottstown is "scary" because the streets are devoid of shoppers and those who are out feel vulnerable. I turn that on its head: What's scary is that the streets are devoid of shoppers and the town is vulnerable as a result.
I prefer shopping downtown. I like the walk and the personal service from shop owners. I like that the guy who sells me a bike will also service it and explain the mechanics to me. I like that a piece of jewelry is unique and crafted here and sold in an arts school.
I like trading recipe ideas with the Mostellers and conversation with the Fosters at Positively Pasta.
Saturday is Small Business Saturday, a promotion sponsored by American Express and supported by Fed-Ex, Google, Facebook and local business groups. In conjunction with the national effort, a group in Pottstown is organizing a "Holiday Shopping March" to support small business and focus on locally-owned stores.
The group will meet at 10 a.m. at Bistro 137, 137 E. High St., and embark on a shopping tour of the downtown.
Last holiday season, I made it a goal to buy at least one thing downtown. I ended up buying quite a few.
Think about it: You can get up in the middle of the night to stand in line for an electronics item that will be broken or obsolete in six months. Or, you can take a stroll on High Street and learn why the bike or skateboard or clock or watch or painting you buy has lasting value.
Your purchase might buy Pottstown a second chance.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Proud to be a Penn Stater

It's been 35 years since I went to Penn State, five years since my oldest son graduated. I haven't attended a football game since the years I was there (not that I didn't want to -- plans always got waylaid on busy fall weekends); I don't have a vanity license plate with any variation of Lions in it; I didn't name my dog "Nittany." That doesn't mean I have any less love and respect for the institution that is Penn State and the community that is Happy Valley. It just wasn't something I had to think about -- until this past week.
From day one of the sex scandal news embroiling Penn State, I have shared with hundreds of thousands of others the shock and disbelief that this could happen here. (And I have been equally disgusted by the gloating among some that it did happen here.)We are Penn State: We are a school known for success with integrity, for winning without cheating, partying without destruction.
And then this happened -- sex abuse charges involving the one-time heir-apparent to Joe Paterno. The grand jury indictment of former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky makes every college recruiting scandal look like a traffic ticket in comparison. And, for abuse allegations to be ignored for so long and allegedly covered up by college officials is unfathomable.
When students took to the streets rioting Wednesday night to protest the firing of Joe Paterno, the world's view of Happy Valley reached a new low.
But last night, as I was watching the TV footage of a candlelight vigil near Old Main, Penn State pride started coming back to life.
The students and alumni -- the entire community that in days became a Valley of Sorrow -- is now working to help victims of child abuse.
Last night's candlelight vigil and today's football game at Beaver Stadium are being used to raise money and awareness for the victims of these horrific crimes.
A horror that we see too often in our headlines - child sex abuse by trusted figures in children's lives -- is getting attention and needed awareness.
The work of organizations like Montgomery County's Mission Kids and the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape will benefit from these efforts, which are being coordinated under the umbrella of an organization called RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.)
Students and alumni are calling the movement "Proud to be a Penn Stater."
I am.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

When the house wakes up

The best thing about losing electricity for a number of hours is the sheer joy when it comes back...
After 83 hours -- three and a half days -- the lights came on at 10 p.m. Tuesday in parts of Union Township, Berks County. Not only the light, but the heat, the running water and the refrigerator, washer, dryer and stove.
Three days of ice-cold water, clothes stiff from the cold, food spoiling in the freezer, and dirty laundry piling up in the laundry room ended. No more taking buckets into work to fill up with water in the cleaning closet and transport home for flushing toilets.
No more eating sandwiches and fries at restaurants to prolong going home.
When the power is out, it's like your house is in a deep sleep -- dark and quiet without the background noise of TV voices and humming appliances, without clock numbers lighting the way out of sleep in the morning.
The only sound is the neighbors' generator; the only warmth comes from the fireplace.
It was tough going for a few days, but we survived. And oh what a joy when the sleeping house woke up and those appliances started beeping.

Friday, October 28, 2011

‘Rules of Civility’ is impressive first novel

This is a book review from 'Balancing the Books' by Michelle Karas, who graciously published my first-ever book review on her blog. She's the expert book blogger; I'm just an avid reader. Thanks to my sister-in-law JoAnne Egolf for the book recommendation.

Amor Towles’ first novel, “Rules of Civility,” (Viking, released July 26, 2011; $26.95; 352 pp) is a fresh, brightly-written tale of a young woman’s coming of age in New York as the Depression is ending and before America realizes the world’s greatest war is beginning.
As the story begins, protagonist Katey Kontent (pronounced like the state of being, not the table inside a book) is looking back at her youth from a fulfilled place in the future. Visiting a photographer’s exhibit opening with her husband, Katey stumbles upon photographs from 1938 of a rich banker in his prime and then in his decline. She recognizes the face in the photos as that of Tinker Grey, a man she once knew, and the recognition takes her back.
The years in which the story is set, from the last night of 1937 to the last night of 1940, are significant in Katey’s life as the start of a career in publishing. At the time, Katey is working as a stenographer in a law office, living in a woman’s boarding house and going out on the town with her friend Eve to meet men, listen to jazz and experience the city.
Katey and Eve are pursuing careers and looking for love in a city that’s coming of age along with them. In a small jazz club on New Year’s Eve, they meet successful banker Tinker Grey, who befriends the two women and introduces them to New York’s high society, flirtly publicly with Eve and falling in love privately with Katey.
The story of Tinker and his relationships with first Eve and then Katey winds through the book and brings with it a cast of interesting characters: Wallace Wolcott, the reserved millionaire whose courtship of Katey becomes not a romance but a sincere friendship that gets both of them through their time of self-discovery; Dickey, a rich and delightful suitor who enjoys his life and takes Katey along for the ride, beguiling the reader because he is spoiled by his mother’s wealth , not in spite of it; Henry Grey, Tinker’s struggling artist brother, who lives on the seamier side of New York, coming in and out of Katey’s circles with reality checks on the state of mind and circumstances surrounding his brother.
Tinker is not always what he seems, and his relationships – with his godmother, his brother, Eve and finally Katey -- appear uncomplicated, but each one hides the truth on some level.
Katey makes bold choices throughout the book – quitting a job just when she is promoted to pursue another career in which she has no experience, eventually taking her into the publishing world of Conde Nast.
The book’s title comes from George Washington’s “rules of civility” printed at the end of the book in their entirety. The rules are introduced as a standard by which Tinker claims to live.
Asked about how he claimed to focus on a document from an era 150 years before the book’s setting, Towles says, “I imagined Tinker as an avid student of the (colonial) period. But once into the book, I happened to pull a collection of Washington’s writings off my shelf, which led off with his ‘Rules of Civility’ – and I knew right away that the ‘Rules’ should be the primary thing that Tinker had studied.”
He calls the rules “Washington’s youthful list … at the heart of the whole crazy matter.”
While introduced as Tinker’s rules, they also blueprint Katey’s search for identity during a time in which New York and the nation are striving to recover from the Great Depression and preparing to face a horror beginning in Europe that they don’t yet know exists. The hopefulness of a young woman setting out on her life’s course matches that of a city and nation. Towles’ protagonist is a woman of ambition whose encounters and actions above all serve to protect her integrity.
The novel joins “The Postmistress” and “Sarah’s Key” as books set around the time and mood of a pending World War II, and Katey Kontent joins those books’ heroines as another woman of self-sufficient means and inspiring strength.
“Rules of Civility” is that rare combination of good storytelling and exacting prose from a first-time novelist that predicts Towles is a writer we will hear more from in the future.

Monday, October 3, 2011

It's National Newspaper Week: Celebrate the commitment

As a fitting prelude to National Newspaper Week, a news story Saturday quoted police crediting a published account in The Mercury with providing tips that led to the arrest of a child rape suspect.
According to Pottstown Detective Heather Long, police had been trying for months to locate a man wanted for sex assaults on children. The day a story was published in the newspaper with that information and the suspect’s photo, the phone started ringing at the police department at 8 a.m.
Long said the tips led to the suspect’s arrest.
Despite all the doomsayers out there writing obituaries for the nation’s newspaper industry, 150 million Americans — two out of three adults — read a local newspaper last week.
And the case of the child rape suspect shows they often take action on what they read.
Newspapers still represent the most trusted source of news in America. And local newspapers like this one still provide readers with information they can’t get anywhere else.
Here’s another example:
On Sunday, The Mercury published a news story that revealed area members of Congress collect state legislative pensions while earning a congressional salary of $174,000.
The gist of that information came from a recent USA Today analysis on how state legislators around the nation boost their own pension benefits, often unbeknownst to voters.
Staff reporter Evan Brandt took that information and localized it with five congresssional reps from the tri-county area, soliciting explanations from them and reaction from readers.
Without that initiative by this local newspaper, the report’s impact on local voters and their opinions would go unknown.
Local newspapers are still the best and in many towns the only source tailoring information to a community or neighborhood level.
This is National Newspaper Week, and this year’s theme, “Newspapers — Your Number One Source for Local News,” underscores the importance of the nation’s newspapers in the daily lives of citizens.
Newspapers certainly have competitors out there: a hundred million websites, hundreds of thousands of bloggers, Facebook, Twitter, billboards, radio and television. And that competition is formidable.
But the vast majority of the “authoritative” news coverage that other media outlets utilize comes from daily and weekly newspapers.
Every day, some 20,000 households representing about 60,000 people read the print version of The Mercury. During the course of a month, our website will be clicked more than 2.5 million times.
That’s a lot of traffic for an industry that some call a dead-end road.
Newspapers are the number one source of local news in every city and county in America because we show up each and every day and cover those stories. It’s what our readers have come to expect.
And it’s what we do better than any other news source in America.
Newspapers matter -- in print and online. If you doubt the power of a newspaper, just ask Pottstown Detective Heather Long.

Doug Anstaett, president of the Newspaper Association Managers, contributed to this Opinion.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Who says you can't go home?

In October of 1738 a young man George Adam Egolf left his home in Unterschefflenz, Germany, to emigrate across the Atlantic to the colony settled by William Penn.
The farmer – a boy really, just 18 years old – traveled alone, an adventurer leaving his home behind for life in a new land.
By 1745, he had married and established a farm in New Hanover Township of 100 acres, two horses and two cows. He and his wife Maria Elizabeth Schadler, also from Germany, had nine children – six boys and three girls.
Their third son John Michael Egolf served in the Revolutionary War with the New Hanover militia, then left home to establish his own farm at the bend of the Manatawny near Thomas Rutter’s Poole Forge in what is now Douglass (Berks) Township. He had seven children, passing the farm on to his son Mahlon. Mahlon in turn passed the farm on to his son Jacob, who married and raised 12 children there in the first half of the 20th century.
My father James Atwood Egolf was in the middle of those 12 children, who are my aunts and uncles and the parents of my too-many-to-count cousins.
Last week, 11 of those cousins with our spouses went back to Unterschefflenz, retracing the path young George Adam embarked on some 275 years ago. There are Egolfs still residing in the small town – five separate families, we were told -- and farming remains the mainstay of the region.
But best of all, in the town of Unterschefflenz where my great-great-great-grandfather lived nearly three centuries ago, there’s a brewery with my name on it.
Brauereihof Egolf is listed by Guinness as the smallest commercial beermaking operation in Germany, a country where quality beermaking is synonymous with national pride. A visit to the brewery was part of a travel tour, “Tracing Our Roots,” sponsored by the Reading Liederkranz, arranged by Boscov’s Travel and planned by Cherylene Shollenberger, a retired Reading teacher and one of my second cousins.
The trip centered around a sister-city arrangement between Reutlingen, Germany, and Reading, one of several exchange visits the two regions have hosted in recent years. Most of the 45 people on the tour, besides the Egolf clan, were members of the Reading-based German social club, the Liederkranz, retracing roots to the region of Germany where many Berks families originated.
Cherylene had worked with a counterpart in Reutlingen to arrange a lunch and tour at the Egolf brewery, but despite the preparations, no one was quite sure what to expect. Distant relatives or acquaintances who had sought out the brewery in the past had reported owner Guenter Egolf as a bit abrupt. He does not speak English, and the brewery is not a public establishment, serving only private parties and events.
Cherylene’s friend was able to book us for lunch, but she too described Guenter as less than enthusiastic in his phone demeanor. Our group was a little nervous as the visit drew near.
The trek to Unterschefflenz was on day eight of our 10-day tour. The trip had already taken us viewing castles while cruising on the Rhine, dancing on the Drosselgasse in Rudesheim, soaring on a chairlift above endless rows of vineyard grapes, touring the churches of Strasbourg across the border in France and lolling on a gondola on the Nekkar River in Tubingen.
We were wined and dined and entertained by German singers in a reception hosted by the mayor of Reutlingen; we ate bratwurst from sandwich wagons and drank in biergartens; browsed shops and oogled the cheeses and vegetables in market squares, and shopped for cuckoo clocks in Christmas shops.
We walked in squares near where Gutenberg invented the printing press, stood below the windows where Goethe wrote love poems, sat in churches where Mozart played, and walked sideways through an alleyway labeled narrowest street in the world.
We shopped, we ate, we gazed through centuries of history.
Now, we were eager to taste Egolf beer.
As our tour bus maneuvered its way toward Unterschefflenz, our anxious anticipation blended with a sense of familiarity. The region called to mind an undeveloped Berks County – plots of land laid out in orderly squares like the Amish farms, wood stacked neatly along the fence rows, gladiolas planted at the edge of the crop fields.
The road became narrower as we neared, and it soon became clear that this was not a region frequented by tour buses or trucks. We were not only retracing our history, we were pushing back the clock on our lifestyle to a simpler, slower time.
As the bus rolled into town, two or three women weeding the flower gardens around the flagpole stood and waved, smiling recognition. A man walking his dog hesitated, then raised his hand, his smile registering the memory that this was the day the Egolfs were coming.
By the time we got to the brewery and met Guenter, our nervousness had vanished. We were the celebrities in town, and our host was thrilled to have us there. Through a translater, he told our group that he too was raised on a farm, the land where we were standing, and that his mother still lives there and works with him in the brewery.
He had been an engineer, then an insurance salesman, before he was encouraged by friends and co-workers to start a brewery in the 1980s. He invented his own brewing technique, his own equipment, for which he needed a seal of approval, and his own blend, which he described as similar to a pilsner, but unique.
He told us of his trials and errors before he was able to open for business in 1987. He has found success and now caters festivals and hosts parties and special events in his 50-seat banquet hall.
We introduced ourselves individually as Egolfs to Guenter, and there were lots of hugs, handshakes and photo ops. Even the region’s weekly newspaper sent a photographer to report our visit.
We bought so many mugs as souvenirs that we had to drink faster so they could wash the ones we were using for sale.
There was no argument to drink more or drink faster. In a land known for high-quality beer, Guenter’s blend was the best we tasted throughout our travels. And the lunch he served of creamy vegetable soup, German “lasagna” and salad got rave reviews from all of us.
George Adam Egolf died on Feb. 15, 1795 and is buried at Falkner Swamp Reformed Church Cemetery in New Hanover. The epitaph on his tombstone says he was born in Germany in Schefften and “loved the land where he was blessed.”
“Teach us to number our days aright, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom,” it quotes from the 90th Psalm.
Many of those on the trip characterized the ancestral homeland visit as one to cross off their “bucket lists.” I like to think of it in George Adam’s legacy as “teaching us to number our days and to apply our hearts” on a path to wisdom.
Or, put simply: Who says you can’t go home?

Nancy (Egolf) March is the editor of The Mercury. She can be reached at Follow on Twitter @merceditor.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Hot weather challenge of biking to work

I’m biking to work.
For real.
Even in last week’s 100-degree heat, I proudly rode four of the five days — ending up a little sweaty, but proud.
The notion to go green/save gas/burn-fat-not-fuel was brewing in my brain for a while before I made the leap and bought a hybrid 21-speed bike that can handle a 16-mile round trip several days a week.
I was inspired in part by Mercury freelance writer and Community Media Lab blogger Laura Catalano, who has been riding to her job at the Schuylkill River Heritage Area for the past few years, weather permitting. Laura lives a few miles from my home, along the same wooded ridge, and we’ve passed each other a few times on weekend mornings, as I jogged the back roads and she rode them. It unnerved me how much more fun she seemed to be having as I was laboring to run up the hills she was coasting down.
One morning on the eight-mile drive to work in my car, I was pulled over by North Coventry Township police for “speeding” over the 25 mph limit on River Road. Laura, meanwhile, went zooming past on her bike. While I sat being ticketed, she pedaled along, wind at her back.
In addition to staying on the right side of the law, another motivation to bike to work was my desire to try something new for the summer. I have been running several times a week for most of my adult life, and I thought it would be a good idea to mix it up with a new exercise regimen.
As it turns out, I’m not alone. According to Shayne Trimbell, manager of marketing and development for the Greater Valley Forge Transportation Association, 160 people have signed on this summer to the Bike to Work Challenge, a program to encourage biking in Montgomery and Chester counties.
“This is the third year we’ve done the challenge, and we see growth every year,” he said. “The first two years, the challenge was limited to our corporate partners, but this year we opened it up with a website to anyone who wants to use it.”
The website allows people to log their miles and calculate how much gas they’ve saved and how many pounds of carbon dioxide emissions have been prevented. According to the website, biking commuters have logged 28,993 miles so far this year, conserving 1,342 gallons of fuel and preventing the release of 26,040 pounds of CO2 into the air.
Trimbell said many participants ride the Perkiomen or Schuylkill River trails to work. I’m one of those “novice riders” who, he said, prefer trails to traffic.
I bought my Fuji Crosstown hybrid at Tri County Bicycles in Pottstown, where shop owner John DiRenzo made sure I got the right stuff, including a spare tire, tools and a pump. I have a mirror to see who’s coming up behind me, a bell to alert who’s in front of me, and a vial of pepper spray on the handlebars — just in case.
I have a helmet, gloves, wraparound sunglasses, and a can of insect repellent for the muggy evening ride home.
Commuting by bike puts the day’s exercise into my normal routine instead of having to find time to fit in a workout before or after work. Granted, I have to leave earlier in the morning and discipline myself to leave work earlier at night, too, but in the longer summer daylight hours, it hasn’t been too difficult.
I have work attire packed into my backpack, and the bare necessities to make the transition from recreation to work. No more day planner or half-dozen takeout menus. No wallet or clunky purse.
“Playtime” starts when I walk away from my desk and change into my shorts and T-shirt — instead of after a drive home, putting stuff away, taking out the trash and starting dinner.
There are a few disadvantages I wasn’t expecting. Those swarms of gnats on the river trail top the list. Being passed by dump trucks going full speed is another. Branches that jut out on the roadside or broken glass on the shoulder rank in that category, too.
A few annoyances of the road carry over even on a bike trail. I couldn’t believe it the day when I saw the familiar orange PennDOT sign ‘ROADWORK AHEAD’ on the trail. Sure enough, highway bridge work involves the underside of the bridge smack in the middle of the trail.
I pass some of the same walkers, riders and runners on a regular basis. One woman was out picking wild raspberries while in season. A morning group of serious bicyclists seem to be regular riders one day a week.
So far this summer, according to the Bike to Work Challenge website, I’ve logged 350 miles, saved $58.59 in gas and reduced carbon-dioxide emissions by 314 pounds.
More importantly, I’ve changed my lifestyle to travel lightly, move freely and breathe more fresh air.
Not bad for a day’s way to work

Follow Nancy March on Twitter @merceditor.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Here in Neverland

The U.S. premiere production of the “Peter Pan” musical written by internationally acclaimed composer and lyricist George Stiles and Anthony Drewe is currently playing at the Tri-County Performing Arts Center, and Stiles and Drewe came from London this week to attend the musical production.
Let’s repeat that:
The U.S. PREMIERE production of the “Peter Pan” musical written by INTERNATIONALLY ACCLAIMED composer and lyricist George Stiles and Anthony Drewe is CURRENTLY PLAYING at the Tri-County Performing Arts Center, and Stiles and Drewe came FROM LONDON this week to attend the musical production.
The critique of the local production by these two men -- who are a fixture in London theatre, are known as writers and producers the world round, and who cite “Spielberg” as a colleague in casual conversation -- was in a word, “Wow!”
Composer Stiles and lyricist Drewe attended Thursday night’s soldout performance of their show at the invitation of Tri-PAC and afterward spoke at a reception for cast and guests.
“I have one very short word for all of you,” said Stiles, before taking questions from the cast and followers. “WOW!”
Interviewed moments after the three-hour extravaganza featuring airborne Darlings, tumbling Lost Boys, and a delightfully sinister band of pirates had ended, Drewe and Stiles came into the reception, animated about the local company’s handling of their musical.
“This was a fantastically accomplished production,” said Stiles. “They did ambitious things with our show and brought places to life that we hadn’t even dreamed of -- snakes in trees to monkeys in Neverland forest -- they absolutely excelled.”
“This is true community theater,” added Drewe. “Not only is the theater here in the heart of your community, but the show itself reaches out into the audience and involves the community.
“Every town should have a theater like this.”
The passion for community theater is what convinced Stiles and Drewe to provide rights for the first U.S. showing of their “Peter Pan” in an unlikely small town in Pennsylvania.
Tri-PAC executive director Marta Kiesling and artistic director Deborah Stimson-Snow contacted Drewe and Stiles through their website, then spoke to them on Skype about staging “Peter Pan.” The process took more than a year.
“We wanted to make this show available to someone who had a strong desire to do it, and Marta was very convincing,” said Stiles. “They had performed ‘Honk!’ and told us they liked it and wanted to use another of our shows. When we talked to them, we were impressed with their passion.”
Both Stiles and Drewe said they were impressed as well with the mix of professional, amateur and student acting they witnessed Thursday night. “We applaud this model,” said Drewe, “involving talented students from your schools and putting them alongside professionals -- a tremendous community theater model.”
On Thursday night, while the visitors from London enjoyed a buffet of Grumpy’s sandwiches, Argento’s Pizza, home-baked and caterer-donated cookies and cupcakes, the simmering heat on High Street had been broken by thunderstorms.
Boyertown Area and Phoenixville Area high school classes had commencements, albeit interrupted by a storm of thunder and hail. Students were sent home early from area schools due to the heat, something “never” done in years past.
In living rooms, TVs were on while some stayed up late watching the Phillies blow a lead in the 11th inning.
Earlier in the day, a group of state legislators stood alongside Route 422 to explain why tolls will “never” work here.
An evening earlier in borough hall, council members heard a proposal that will cost money the borough doesn’t have and grappled with complaints that they’ve heard a dozen times before.
Life went on at its usual pace, people talking about the heat and traffic and school taxes, noting some things “never” change.
In the midst of all that, two visitors from London came to witness their play produced for the first time in the U.S.
Here in Pottstown.
Let’s repeat that: HERE IN POTTSTOWN.
In a town that tends to behave like a land of “never,” Tri-PAC has brought community theater to life.
There is an opportunity here to build something magical and uplift the community. World-renowned composers see the potential; why can’t we?

How you can help

Bringing this spectacular production to Pottstown with its technical equipment, is a costly venture. To help offset the cost, Tri-County Performing Arts Center, a non-profit 501(c)(3) performing arts organization located at 245 E. High Street, Pottstown, introduced the ‘Fly to Never Land’ Challenge. The financial goal for this initiative is $20,000. Thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor, every dollar donated will be matched 100%, up to a total of $5,000.
There are many reward options to consider, including autographed show posters, personal phone calls from characters of the show, post-show tour of the backstage and flying effects, tickets to the show, the option to present the on-stage curtain speech, a photo session with show characters on set, a private pre-show wine and cheese reception, and more! Plus every donation to the ‘Fly to Never Land’ Challenge will automatically be entered to win a personal appearance by Peter Pan at a party for a child age 10 and under.

Details about the ‘Fly to Never Land’ Challenge are available online. Visitors can watch a special video message about the challenge, learn why your support is important, review the various rewards available, and view the vibrant show poster, as well as make a donation and purchase tickets to performances of "Peter Pan.'

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Relay for community, for family, for a cause ... for LIFE

Saturday morning, I'll be participating in the opening ceremony at the Pottstown Relay for Life representing The Mercury as a community partner with Relay in the fight against cancer.
The Mercury and are often held up by local Relay organizers as a tremendous boost to their success. We have always said covering Relay in this town as a front-page, above-the-fold story is just doing our jobs.
Relay is a tremendous boost to the Pottstown area as the ultimate community event, involving thousands of people working together for a cause that affects their families and friends.
Last year, the Pottstown Relay was featured in an episode of The Food Network's Ace of Cakes. The Relay has been visited by state and national heads of the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life programs as the little town that raised a million dollars, the place that started Dimes Make a Difference, the originator of Kids for a Cure, and most recently, the town that let the dogs out and started Bark for Life canine relays, now taking off in communities around the globe.
Pottstown is a rock star of Relays. Still, it is difficult to know whether to rejoice for the way this community fights, or weep because part of the success is that cancer has touched so many lives here.
Cancer has touched the family of Mercury employees many times and in many heart-wrenching stories. It is for the people we have lost and the survivors we have stood beside that Relay is such an important story to us.
If you have a few minutes Saturday, come out to the track at Pottsgrove High School. Support the teams there by buying a raffle ticket or lunch or a snack. Take a lap. Join in; be part of the community that takes up the fight.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Setting the record straight

"Boyertown Area School District administrator pay freeze off the table for now"
That headline which appeared on our website Wednesday and in The Mercury on Thursday caused a flurry of protest, including an email from Boyertown schools superintendent Dion Betts to people in the community.
Protesters claimed the headline misrepresented the school actions. It did not.
The key words, that many seem to have missed, are the six letters FOR NOW.
This news article written by Mercury staff writer Phil Ellingsworth Jr. reports on the administrator pay freeze which has been discussed as part of the Boyertown Area School Board budget cuts.
The article stemmed from a Tuesday night meeting in which a printed agenda item to approve a pay freeze for district administrators was removed from the agenda to allow more discussion.
Neither the article nor the headline says the administrators are unwilling to accept a salary freeze.
Neither says the salary freeze proposal has been scrapped.
Neither says there won't be a salary freeze.
Both the news article and headline say the freeze wasn't approved Tuesday and was taken off the agenda -- off the table, so to speak -- for now so that more discussion can take place. The content or goals of that discussion was not revealed by school officials.
After this article was posted on The Mercury website, commenters added their opinions on administrators versus teachers regarding a salary freeze, since Boyertown teachers have offered and been approved to hold their salaries at current levels.
The comments followed a presumption that administrators are dragging their feet on this issue. The story did not say that.
The reaction continued to spin in an errant direction on Thursday, when Superintendent Dion Betts sent out an email to many people in the community, stating:
"You may have read an article in the Mercury about the administrative pay freeze. There is some misunderstanding.
The administration IS taking a pay freeze. There were more discussions with the board in this regard, and that’s it."
The email titled "Superintendent's update" included a link to our accurate but misunderstood article. Earlier, on Wednesday, Betts had complained that the headline on the article was misleading, and while admitting the reporting was accurate, he asked that it be changed.
Another email received Thursday from a member of Community United for Boyertown insisted the article was wrong, and suggested it be corrected to say the salary freeze was just tabled for discussion purposes, not taken out of the budget proposal.
Which is precisely what Ellingsworth's story stated.
In retrospect, we perhaps could have worded the headline differently to say the pay freeze was tabled Tuesday for the point of discussion. But to be truthful, "for now" seems to work just as well.
We could have used a word other than "tabled" but removing an item from the agenda defines the action of being "tabled," so that too seems silly.
We suggest that instead school officials could have been more specific in what they still needed to discuss. Or, they could have been more careful and refrained from putting an item on the agenda if they weren't ready to act on it.
Betts said, and we quoted, that the pay freeze would be voted on before the final budget adoption in June. That tells readers pretty clearly that it's going to happen and has not gone away.
We respect the right of Betts to underscore the importance of this issue, but the bottom line is that we reported this situation accurately.
And we will continue to do so, "for now" and for the future.

Friday, May 20, 2011

An idea whose time has not yet come

HARRISBURG - "An idea whose time may not have come."
In more than three hours of testimony -- and no breaks -- those words from AARP representative Ray Landis hit closest to the truth in the House committee hearing Thursday on House Bill 633, which would lift the requirement on local governments and school boards to advertise legal notices in newspapers.
During the session, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association lobbied for a rejection of the bill on the premise it denies the public's right to know and will have a devastating financial effect on newspapers in Pennsylvania.
On the other side are the associations of township, borough and county governments and school boards arguing that the publication requirement is a costly unnecessary mandate in a world going digital. The associations argued the public would be best served by putting notices on county, municipal and school district websites "for free."
Some of the most conflicting testimony and rebuttal came on the subject of how much governments will save if the paid advertisement requirement is lifted and how much they will spend to fit the legal requirements for website publishing without violating fair bidding practices and open meetings laws.
Newspaper publishers Martin Till and Bernard Oravec, of the Easton Express-Times and Williamsport Sun-Gazette respectively, offered eloquent analyses of the loss of revenue to family-owned Pennsylvania newspaper companies as well as denying public notices access to a large segment of the population.
"The system is not broken," Till said more than once during Thursday's hearing, which was attended by more than 60 editors and publishers.
Till's point was that public notices are not only printed in newspapers at the lowest advertising rate available but are also provided in a searchable database online,
Those who read newspapers can learn what their local governments are doing and those who want to search the web can find the same information there.
If notices are only on government websites, the segment of the population without computers -- estimated to be more than half of all Pennsylvanians over 65 -- would not be privy to the date of an upcoming zoning hearing for a trash-transfer plant in their neighborhood or the public notice of a potential pollutant being discharged into a nearby stream or a meeting to hear testimony on why their school district should raise taxes instead of cutting the music program.
The lobbyists who represent the local government agencies argued that the world is going digital, newspapers are dying, and this bill is in keeping with the times.
The AARP's Landis, who capped off the list of 12 presenters, made the point that both sides are right, but the "time may not have come" yet.
We are a world going digital at breakneck speed, but not everyone is there yet.
The irony was not lost that in a roomful of people arguing for the value of print newspapers, many were live-tweeting the testimony on iPads.
And, while insisting that online is where people get their information, state Association of Township Supervisors spokesman Elam Herr "confessed" he reads a newspaper every day and isn't on Facebook.
Landis pointed out that national statistics regarding the daily use of computers may tell a different story than Pennsylvania figures. Pennsylvania has one of the largest populations of senior citizens in the nation, second only to Florida, and it also has one of the largest populations of lower-income seniors.
This is the segment of the population that relies on newspapers for its information. These citizens, who are homeowners, taxpayers, voters, are the ones would not see public notices if notices are not required by law to remain in print newspapers.
Putting public notices exclusively on websites will leave a large segment of the population without access to important public information, particularly in this commonwealth.
Another irony in Thursday's hearing was that by sheer coincidence I was sitting in the hearing room with the editor who first hired me into this business, Bob Urban, now editor of the Lehighton Times-News.
Bob hired me in the age of typewriters, and now I'm checking e-mail on an iPhone. How times have changed.
Changing still -- and changing quickly -- is where we find ourselves in the media industry. We are not abandoning our loyal print readers, but we cannot ignore the digital pull of information.
Part of not abandoning those who rely on print is fighting to preserve paid public notices as insurance that citizens know what their government agencies are planning without needing Internet access to find out.
Putting legal notices on the web may sound to some like a good idea, but it's "an idea whose time may not have come."

Monday, May 16, 2011

If you care about your school taxes, be sure to vote

Area school board meetings in recent months have attracted hundreds of people offering input into the work of running school districts.
Now, those same people -- if you are registered voters -- can do something with more lasting results than talk.
Today you can vote for candidates to serve on those school boards. And although this election is a primary in Pennsylvania, many school board seats and judges will be decided today.
Candidates for school boards and judges may cross-file in Pennyslvania, which means their names appear on both Republican and Democratic ballots. If a candidate is a top vote-getter on both lines, the name will appear on both sides of the general election ballot in November, virtually assuring election.
Under that practice, the five open seats on the Pottstown School Board could be decided today. Ten candidates are seeking election, but the five top vote-getters could be assured election if they win the top five spots on both ballots.
Eight candidates are seeking nominations for five open seats on the Perkiomen Valley School Board; 11 candidates are seeking nominations for five seats in the Boyertown Area School District; six candidates are vying for five seats on the Owen J. Roberts School Board, and six candidates are vying for five open seats on the Spring-Ford Area School Board.
District judge races in Pottstown and Amity-Oley could be decided today if one of two candidates for each spot wins both party lines.
And, in North Coventry, four Republicans are seeking nomination for two township supervisor spots. There are no Democrats running, so the two top Republican vote-getters will likely not face opposition in the fall.
Local elections -- primaries in particular -- typically draw low turnout. Yet these are the same elections that determine the decision-makers for the most important local matters in our communities.
Voters who go to the polls today will be choosing those who determine how school tax money is spent and who adjudicate the crimes and disputes that come before them.
If these issues are important enough to bring out hundreds of people to night meetings, they are important enough to draw voters to the polls.
Today’s primary is your chance to have a say in local government, local school boards, local courts. Don’t neglect to exercise that right and vote.
Polls open at 7 a.m.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Should we publish graphic photos of bin Laden? You tell us

The question of whether the White House would release video and photos of slain Osama bin Laden on Tuesday became a matter of what and when, not whether or not. And with that change came our own questions: What do we do with them?
Despite the prevalence of graphic images in video games, movies and increasingly on TV, there remains a taboo on graphic images in published newspapers like The Mercury.
Photographers and editors carefully scan images from local car crashes to be certain there is nothing visible of a dead victim. We even crop out or refrain from publishing a victim’s purse or headband or sweatshirt which may have been thrown to the side of a roadway in a fatal crash.
Admittedly, we have made mistakes and published photos that included the sight of a grieving mother or a victim’s shoe or a glimpse of an arm in the background that we didn’t realize belonged to the victim. These are not intentional, not meant “to sell papers,” but are details we missed despite our efforts.
In national or international news stories, the criteria changes a bit. A disaster the magnitude of the Haiti earthquakes a year ago or the long-ago Jonestown massacre involved publication of photos that included bodies or hard-to-watch video on our website of bloodied scenes of devastation.
Despite what many think, we don’t do this for profit but out of a sense of responsibility to show just what people are enduring and how desperately help is needed.
The question Tuesday on what to do with photos of an evil terrorist killed with a shot to the head by U.S. Navy Seals was an entirely different debate.
The release of the photos was considered by many as necessary to prove that bin Laden was dead, and that U.S. military officials were not “making it up.” We asked our readers Monday on Facebook if they thought the White House should release photos, and most said yes.
“Yes, because I think the world needs to know he’s gone for sure!” wrote Jessica Lynn Ebersole.
“I would not want to see them, but it also wouldn’t leave people wondering either,” wrote Amber McClune.
“We should be able to see his body to bring complete closure especially to those families that had loved ones killed during 9/11,” wrote Kimberly Ann Barry Ibach.
On Tuesday, we followed by asking readers if they thought we should publish the photos.
Here’s what you said:
“Maybe on line, but not in the paper because of children seeing it,” said Jim Folk.
Ashley Brooke answered, “Absolutely not. Dead is dead, seeing a graphic image should not make anyone feel better, and children could see!”
“Yes, but please make sure you warn us first. I don’t want to see it on accident,” said Becky Simmers.
“Absolutely publish them the American people deserve to be able to see the proof. If you dont wanna look then don’t! I personally do!” wrote Amber May.
Dave Brewer said, “No ... if someone wants to see them, there will be plenty of places to find them on the internet. No reason my kids (11,9, 7 and 5) should see them plastered on the front page of the paper they see every day.”
“I think they should be released online or in a sealed insert in the paper, that way people can choose if they want to see it or not and make sure their children are not in the room,” wrote Sheryl Wynn.
White House officials revealed that the photos they would release would show that bin Laden was shot above his left eye, blowing away part of his skull. He was also shot in the chest, they said.
Other photos were described as showing the adult son of bin Laden slain as well as a courier and his brother. The photo of the burial at sea, while not as graphic, was also controversial and could inflame Islamic sentiment.
As we discussed how to handle publication including the comments of readers on Facebook, we came back to the sentiment that this is a “family newspaper,” as our readers like to remind us, and we understand that we are “welcomed” into our readers’ homes.
You can’t change the channel or unplug the game once you open the pages of the paper.
But we are also a news organization and the stakes for providing witness to the death of this long-sought criminal are too high to ignore.
Our debate on how to handle the photos was based on trust in our readers that discretion will be used with children and with others who may find the images disturbing. We plan to not publish the more graphic photos in print but include that content on our website. We will be making them available to those who choose to click on them and not displaying them openly to those who don’t.
The news importance of bin Laden’s death is too significant in world history to forego printing images of his burial at sea. Just as we report on the funeral of those whose lives influenced the course of history by their good acts, his burial is a news event, and we are not doing our jobs if we shy away from it.
The angst behind all this comes down to one point made succinctly on our Facebook page by Adam Andrews:
After all, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”