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New businesses open on Small Business Saturday

The grand opening of two new local businesses, one in Shamokin and the other in Mount Carmel, highlighted this year’s Small Business Saturday.

Shamokin

While the City of Shamokin did not hold an official event for Small Business Saturday, owner Kim Pidgeon opened the doors of her new business “Immersed In the Past,” located at 35 N. Market St.

Inside her unique store, Pidgeon offers customers an eclectic mixture of collectibles and antiques, which conjure up memories of a bygone-era in American history.

“My store has a variety of old, vintage items, including antiques, including books and photographs, which I collect and sell,” said Pidgeon. “Everything in my store reminds me of my past and takes me back to my younger days of growing up, which I hope it will do for others who visit here.”

Pidgeon explained that the idea for opening her new store came from her wedding five years ago.

“I got married in 2014 at the Barn in Gordon and I basically decorated the entire venue for my wedding and that’s what got me thinking about starting this business. I offer everything from housewares and furniture to clothing and collectibles,” she recalled.

“I like to say it’s like an old-fashioned thrift store, gone glamorous. For my merchandise, I search for antique items that are hard to find. In addition to selling, I also rent out antique china, glassware and clothing.

Pidgeon said that her husband, who is a construction worker, creates other items for her store in his workshop at home. The couple also refurbishes many of the furniture pieces which they collect while repurposing others, such as a white metal tabletop which has now been converted into a whiteboard.

Pidgeon currently resides in Ashland and is a student at Asheford Institute of Antiques based in Destin, Florida. She invites the public to check out her new business.

Mount Carmel

In contrast, Small Business Saturday in Mount Carmel was a community event, organized by Mount Carmel Downtown Inc. (MCDI) and marked by a Passport system, which offered customer discounts at participating business.

Those businesses included Academy Sports center, Cinnamon Stix, Hollywood Pizza, Matlows, Mount Carmel Farmers Market, Salon 42, Scicchitano Ace Hardware, Shops on Oak & Avenue, The Closet Door and Willow Creek Treasures.

For each business visited, the passport was stamped and customers were allowed to turn in their passports at the end of the day to have their name entered in a $25 gift card raffle.

New business owner, Erica Stephens, spoke of the grand opening of her used bookstore called “Secondhand Rows,” located at 47 N. Oak St. Stephens’ sister-in-law Emily Ryktarczyk, was there to lend a helping hand as the two placed boxes of used books on tables outside the new store.

“We’re a small community used bookstore that carries a variety of fiction and non-fiction books. Customers may also bring their used books in to us and they will receive a store credit on eligible trade-ins,” said Stephens. “For today’s event, we’re doing a special book giveaway where the first three books are free and 50 cents thereafter, with all proceeds going to the Mount Carmel Public Library.

Ryktarczyk added, “Getting ready for today was part of our Thanksgiving holiday weekend this year.”

Local patron, William Biggs, used the passport which he received at Scicchitano Ace Hardware to buy some items at Hollywood Pizza. He said that he planned on stopping at other businesses listed on the passport if they were located on Oak Street.

Mount Carmel Mayor Philip “Bing” Cimino spoke highly of the event.

“I think it’s a great way to get people to come downtown here to support our local businesses. It promotes the family-run businesses which are the backbone of our community,” he said.

At her business stand inside the Shops on Oak & Avenue, Deb Gownley was busy selling bags of homemade popcorn for her business “County Line Kettle Corn.”

“We’re happy to be here today, participating in Small Business Saturday,” remarked Gownley. “We started our business about a year ago and currently offer about five different flavors.”

County Line Kettle Corn offers an assortment of items including: kettle corn, caramel corn, cheese corn, fresh roasted peanuts and cotton candy.


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Santa visit brings joy to more than 100 children at library

SHAMOKIN — Perhaps nothing brings more happiness to a child than to tell others their wishes and know they’re being heard. On Saturday, that’s exactly what took place inside the Shamokin-Coal Township Public Library as a certain jolly old elf with a long white beard, wearing a red suit invited more than 100 children to sit with him and share what they wanted for Christmas.

The event, which was funded through library donations, began promptly at 11 a.m. with Santa Claus arriving on a fire truck out side the library. He proceeded to walk inside and headed upstairs where a long line of children awaited him.

Sitting in front of a makeshift red brick wall and two small Christmas trees, Santa listened intently to the children, sharing smiles and photos with each of them and their families.

The McCabe family, consisting of 9-year-old twins, Tiffany and Trinity, along with their younger brother, Corey, and mother, Amy, were happy to meet with Santa. Afterward, they sat down at a reading table looking over their Christmas gifts and playing together.

“They made a picture for Santa and gave it to him,” said Amy. “This is very nice — what they do for all the kids here at the library.”

Corey talked about what he enjoyed most on the special day.

“I like the presents he gave us (candy, stickers),” he said while singing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”

Ann Weikel, accompanied her two grandchildren, 4-year-old Olivia and 2-year-old Daelyn Weikel, on their trip to meet Santa.

“They come here to Shamokin to visit from Easton and they always love to come to the library because there’s so much to do and learn about here. It’s a lot of fun for them and a wonderful facility,” she said.

Santa, and his elf helper, were busy with the children and unavailable for comment throughout the event. However, event organizer, Mary Sickora, an employee of the library, shared her feelings about the special day for the children.

“I’m really happy to see this many people here today,” she said. “In addition to Santa, the children were also treated to gift bags with light-up necklaces, candy, ornaments to make, Christmas carols and many family photo opportunities.”

Little 3-year-old Lukus Boyles, summed up his Christmas wish in a few short words when he told Santa, “I want a train, that’s all I want.”

Other helpers at the library for Saturday’s event included Deb Steinberger, Kris Raker and Abby Witt.

Near the library’s entrance, visitors were invited to purchase a chance for $1 to win one of three separate Christmas gift card trees, with each tree containing $300 worth of prizes. The chances were being sold by library board members Frank and Margaret Konopka, who indicated that all proceeds from the fundraiser would benefit the library.

“Dave was an amazing Santa today for the children. This was his first year with us and he really interacted well with the young people,” said Frank.

“We’re grateful to the citizens of our wonderful Shamokin area community and all those who generously support this library,” said Margaret. “Without them, none of this would ever be possible.”


Jennifer Mosbrucker/The Commercial Dispatch via AP  

Holly Parker holds her turkey, Willie Nelson, last Monday at her home in Caledonia, Mississippi.


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Over $11M in grants flow through lower anthracite region since 2018

SHAMOKIN — Change is never easy, but not changing is often more costly.

From the boom and bust of the coal industry to more recent improvements that some attribute to a broad revitalization movement, the lower anthracite region of Northumberland County has gone through many changes.

Over the past 70 years, business has fled the area and the people have, too, with the population of the City of Shamokin now estimated to be under 7,000 residents, a far cry from its peak of 21,000 in 1920.

Now the area is beginning to see signs of life, which state Rep. Kurt Masser, R-107, and state Sen. John Gordner, R-27, Berwick, discussed with The News-Item during an interview Tuesday.

Since 2018, the two area legislators have played a role in bringing in more than $11 million in grant money to the lower anthracite region, including a recent score of $3 million in Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) money.

While the area is only beginning to see a glimpse of change, the influx of both investor and government money has already given citizens something that hasn't been seen in the area in several decades — hope.

Why now?

Coal, as a large-scale industry, is gone, and there are very few who would argue that it's ever coming back. Businesses in the downtown areas of Mount Carmel, Shamokin, Kulpmont and Elysburg have been affected by the success of big box stores and internet shopping.

And that doesn't make the area special by any means — the decline of small-town America has been heavily documented across the country — but both Gordner and Masser said they are seeing opportunities for the lower anthracite region coming from avenues that have only recently been considered.

The success of the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area, which recently celebrated its fifth anniversary, has helped to create a more positive sentiment from outside investors, Masser said.

"I think a lot of investors were looking to see how things turned out with the AOAA," he said. "They have far exceeded where they were expected to be at and have proven to be a viable operation."

Masser mentioned the success of West Virginia's Hatfield-McCoy trail system, which, according to a 2014 study from Marshall University, has impacted the state's economy to the tune of $22 million by developing a trail network for ATVs and allowing them to travel on designated roads.

Gordner made note of other operations in the area that have likely helped to attract investors, "It's easy to forget because it's in our backyard, but Knoebels is right here and just a bit down the road heading this way is the (Pennsylvania State Shotgunning Association), both of which have proven to be successful."

In previous interviews, both lawmakers have said they believe President Donald Trump's Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 has played a major role in bringing investors into financially distressed areas. Erie, for example, has caught attention from the federal government for its successes that have been achieved through the use of the tax bill's federal opportunity zones, according to a report from Erie News Now.

Shamokin has areas designated as a federal opportunity zone, which both Masser and Gordner have touted often in an attempt to catch the attention of outside investors.

Masser said he also believes the city's designation as an Act 47 municipality, which is a state program to help guide financially distressed locales out of debt, has likely helped its cause when applying for grants.

"In some ways it has been a blessing in disguise," he said.

Investments, not handouts

The Republican Party line across the nation is one that is often described as promoting fiscal conservatism and the idea of shrinking government, not expanding it.

Gordner said he believes in using grant money as an investment in local communities, and puts an emphasis on advocating for projects that are likely to bring a return to local communities.

"You have to spend money to make money," Masser said, adding that he believes grant money can spur economic development, which often times brings a tangible return to residents in the form of creating a tax base.

In July, the two legislators announced $3 million in RACP funding for downtown Shamokin, with $2 million slated to go to real estate developer Andy Twiggar for the construction of a hotel and $1 million for a medical facility.

Both projects will not receive the funding until the potential projects have been completed. Gordner explained the grants are distributed as a reimbursement and not a blank check written to developers.

Making a move

The revitalization movement in Shamokin has roots that go back several years, but it officially began with the creation of Shamokin Area Businesses for Economic Development in 2018.

Masser said the group was formed to give an outlet for positive voices in the community to see what results could be generated. He said that the organization found early success, but eventually ran into a roadblock where attendees had solid ideas, but no way to execute them.

Enter the inclusion of SEDA-COG to the Shamokin community.

Gordner said the council of governments has resources that cover a multitude of topics including blight remediation and grant writing, which could prove vital in assisting the area economy.

Due to restrictions placed on Shamokin from the state's Act 47 program for financially distressed cities, the municipality is unable to hire staff that could help combat local issues.

"SEDA-COG essentially gives the city an additional 46 employees," Masser explained.

Community involvement

The increase in grant money flowing through the area and the revitalization movement in general has not come without its detractors.

Masser said he understands that not everyone is supportive of the AOAA, and not every citizen is pleased with taxpayer money being used for grants. While Masser is open to other options of creating revitalization, he said he has yet to see an alternative proposal that holds merit.

"Give me a better idea," he said. "I have an open mind and would love to hear options we have to make the area a better place to live, but I haven't heard any yet. There are a lot of good things going on in this area and they are gaining momentum. We need to embrace it."

Gordner said the best way for area residents to affect change in their communities is simply to get involved and support established efforts such as the Kulpmont100 and the Northumberland County Council for the Arts and Humanities.

"There are a lot of great organizations around here that have done very good things," he said. "Helping with community events is a very important part of making your home a better place to live."


Chris Grego / C. J. GREGO/STAFF PHOTO  

Redelia Shoffler decorates a Christmas tree inside First Baptist Church of Shamokin on Saturday morning. See Page A7 for other church photo.