Scranton pins downtown revitalization on repurposing 109-year-old department store

In long-struggling downtown Scranton, Pennsylvania, where empty and under-utilized building abound, the former Globe department store building is poised to become one of the area’s most visible and ambitious examples of revitalization through repurposing.

Lackawanna County purchased the 109-year-old landmark from the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce’s Scranton Lackawanna Industrial Building Company development in June of 2016 for $1.3 million.

The county expects to spend another $17 million to turn the 256,000-square-foot structure into a county government center.

I think everybody everywhere is trying to find new uses for these old buildings,” said Krista Schneider, executive director of the Downtown Hazleton Alliance for Progress. “You can tear them down, but what value is that?” Hazleton is about 40 miles south of Scranton.

Not only will the project preserve an iconic, architecturally distinct building, it will consolidate county functions now scattered among offices in Scranton and elsewhere at a central location in the heart of the downtown, where county officials hope it will jump-start more redevelopment.

The center will draw hundreds of people — both county employees and visitors who have business with the county — into the 100 block of Wyoming on a daily basis, Commissioner Patrick O‘Malley said.

It’s one of the concerns we have,” said George Kelly, Lackawanna County’s director of economic development. “We look at the Globe as a revitalization effort in addition to an efficiency-in-government project.”

The original Globe Store building was a three story white stone-faced building. It was stocked with “the latest and largest line of dry goods, notions, cloaks, ladies’ tailor-made suits, and men’s furnishings“. The Globe Store eventually moved to Scranton where it would gain local fame. The Scranton Globe Store was the Cleland, Simpson & Taylor building on Wyoming Avenue. The original building of Cleland was destroyed by fire on March 17, 1889.

The new Globe Store in Scranton was one of the only stores of its kind in the city. It had sometimes been compared to the stores of New York City with its large display windows, enormous selection with all of the latest fashions, and its restaurant, the Charlmont (later converted to cafeteria style restaurant). The Globe continued to prosper throughout the 1900s, adding a wider selection of goods and other features to the store. It had elaborate outside decorations during the Christmas season.

The store prospered until the opening of the nearby Viewmont Mall in the 1960s. The new suburban mall drew business, and downtown business began to decline. In the 1960s Wanamaker‘s purchased the Globe, but it quickly became an independent store again in the 1970s when Wanamaker’s experienced financial difficulty. That chain eventually closed in 1986.

In the 1970s and 1980s Scranton’s downtown shopping district as a whole was in financial trouble with the closing of Stern’s and other similar department stores. In 1987, the Mall at Steamtown was proposed to help revitalize the shopping district. Demolition of dilapidated buildings started October 1991 but this was too late for the Globe. The Mall at Steamtown opened to the public October 23, 1993 with the Globe as one of the anchor stores (connected to the new mall by pedestrian bridge).The Globe could not last though and closed its doors April 1994, laying off 400 workers, after PNC Bank seized the store’s assets.

About the Downtown Hazleton Alliance for Progress: Believing that progress is dependent upon Public-Private Partnerships, the Downtown Hazleton Alliance for Progress includes representation from the City of Hazleton, the Greater Hazleton Chamber of Commerce, CAN DO, the CAN DO Community Foundation, the DBi/Hayden Partnership, and leadership from within the Latino community. They realize that in order for this effort to succeed, they must share the rebuilding effort with all members of their community— including those residents and business owners that have been here for generations, the youth who have all the energy and are seeking new opportunities, and the hard-working newcomers who are now making Hazleton their home. Its mission is to provide sustainable leadership, direction,and support for the successful, efficient revitalization and long-term success of downtown Hazleton.

About the Lackawanna County Office of Economic and Community Development: The Lackawanna County Department of Planning and Economic Development oversees Lackawanna County’s Office of Economic and Community Development, as well as the work of the Lackawanna County Regional Planning Commission and the Lackawanna County Redevelopment and Industrial Development Authorities. The Department of Planning and Economic Development is the administering agency for the Community Development Block Grant Program in the County. The CDBG Program consists of federal funds from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) which are administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.

1978 photo of Globe department store by Donald Liotta and Michael Griffin via Wikipedia.

See full Times-Tribune article by David Singleton.

See Lackawanna County’s Office of Economic & Community Development website.

See Downtown Hazleton Alliance for Progress website.

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