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.