Friday, September 21, 2012

Sound-Off sandwich? Tell us what you think!

Fridays are special days at Grumpy's Hand-Carved Sandwiches.
 And, today is The Mercury's turn at inspiring their special, a Sound-Off wrap with an invitation to say what you think, just like our callers to Sound-Off.
We in the newsroom are regulars at Grumpy's, 137 High St., in downtown Pottstown.
We like the good coffee within walking distance of our office. We like the fresh baked goods from Company Cakes. We like Gene and Sheila Dugan, the owners.
 We love the homemade salads, soups and sandwiches. 
Gene will customize sandwiches or salads to suit our tastes and our commitments to healthy, vegetarian or pure chocolate-loving lifestyles.
Sheila, as Proudly Pottstown and the Main Street manager,  partners with our Community Media Lab on downtown initiatives. We fit a bit of community engagement business talk in with our orders. 

Every Friday, Gene likes to create a sandwich that reflects a downtown business. This week is our chance.
The Sound-Off wrap, Gene says, has a Greek influence because of The Mercury "messenger-god" symbolism.
The wrap includes roasted chicken slices, roasted peppers, spinach, feta, olive oil and black olives.
My Sound-Off comment: DELICIOUS!
Stop in and try one. Right now while the Friday specials last, open until 6 p.m.
We hope to be featured again soon.
Maybe a panini 'Stop the Press' sandwich? 
Shop local. Eat at Grumpy's. 


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

For better or worse, July 4th celebration defines Pottstown

I wrote this editorial about the Pottstown Fourth of July Homecoming celebration over the weekend but there was not enough space on the Opinion page for all I want to say about the event being in jeopardy because of lack of funds.
It's one of those things that I think defines Pottstown, both in its successes and shortcomings, and also one of those things that runs parallel to the path of this newspaper where I started working before there was a Homecoming celebration here.
Pottstown's Fourth of July celebration was started by my first boss, Bob Urban.
Bob and his family lived in town, and he was the kind of editor everybody in the neighborhood knew and liked. He helped his son deliver papers in the morning; he ghost-wrote an outdoors column under the pen name Rod N. Reel, and he led a newsroom that understood "hyperlocal" long before websites were vying for share of audience.
Bob started the Fourth of July celebration along with Gary Babin, who was head of the Pottstown Parks and Recreation Department at the time, because there was a gas crisis and they thought there should be something for local residents to enjoy on a holiday weekend without driving to the Poconos or the Jersey shore.
I was a reporter in 1978 when Bob came up with this brainstorm, and we had little choice but to rally round. We were assigned to write countless stories about the plans and typed in names and dollar amounts for the daily "honor roll" of contributors and the penny-a-vote queens contest.
I can remember Bob's enthusiasm at the fundraising success and reporters' sighs at the number of names we had to type as contributors sent in their checks. As I recall, the donations came into The Mercury to be counted, tabulated and deposited by employees here. We still do that with Operation Holiday, and the time of those tasks on top of regular work is no small feat in a news operation.
Bob's idea took off, and 34 years later, continues, albeit without the initial pouring in of funds or the townwide enthusiasm throughout the planning process.
In recent years, donations have dwindled to the point of endangering the celebration's future, and some on the planning committee have blamed The Mercury.
"It would be a shame that the organization which started the Fourth celebration in Pottstown will also be the one that ends it ..." is one of the comments we've heard repeated.
Those criticisms are fair in that we don't have the resources we had in 1978 to plan and execute a major fundraising campaign.
They are unfair in assuming that's why the balance sheet is turning red.
Even in the beginning, although begun by our leadership, the Fourth of July Homecoming committee was set up with people from all walks of life in town. We had just one seat at the table.
The stories we wrote reflected the energy and enthusiasm that was involved in planning a parade, a hot-air balloon launch, two to three days of activities at the park, a 10K race, food, Little League all-star games, music, rides and competitions.
In recent years, we have been criticized for not writing enough about the July 4th fundraising. But the stories are the same -- a plea that the committee needs money or the Fourth of July will end.
The 34 years since this newspaper was involved in starting the Fourth have coincided with 34 years of change in this industry, too. We can't afford to lament the loss of print readership and advertising; we have needed to forge ahead with a digital-first philosophy and change our ways to include social media, mobile apps, text messaging and blogs.
We try to extend the lessons of change to the community.
For several years, we hosted a Fourth of July committee blog which we helped set up with former committee member Chris Stafy. The blog is no longer updated but continues to attract traffic through Google searches.
Other bloggers -- the Sanatoga Post and Positively Pottstown -- have supported the Fourth. Even some downtown business owners this year conducted their own fundraisers to help out.
We don't want to see the local Fourth of July celebration in Pottstown end. It represents Pottstown's ability to come together as a community. Most of all, the events are just plain fun for families and friends to enjoy while celebrating the nation's birthday.
I have no magic bullet for the committee, just a lesson from the past.
As a newspaperman, Bob Urban knew the story had to be a good one to get attention. He led the effort to give us young reporters something to write about.
Now we're looking for news to tweet and post on Facebook and link to the web -- and still to write about.
The revival of a dying celebration in Pottstown by embracing new ideas? Now, that would be a headline we would love to share.