Susan Magnotta: Community Connectivity Key to Successful Downtown Recovery

Susan Magnotta: Community Connectivity Key to Successful Downtown Recovery

It doesn’t matter where you live – a big city, a small town, a suburb, or a rural area – feeling connected to your community and others helps create a sense of happiness and purpose, and can be a huge part of what gives our lives meaning.

In 2001, Tom Hanks was nominated for an Academy Award for his memorable performance in Cast Away as the sole survivor of a plane crash that drifted ashore on a deserted island. He is physically and mentally tested as he develops skills over the years in order to survive; His only contact has been Wilson, a volleyball player, whose friendship essentially gives Hanks the strength and sense of community he needs to get through really tough conditions.

Prior to COVID-19, a sense of community in downtown Wilkes-Barre contributed to its success. Downtown was making a recovery. Lunchtime saw workers from large and small employers fill the streets to patronize restaurants and small businesses whose owners welcomed them by name. Visitors to arts and culture venues can also enjoy a meal in the city’s downtown international dining area that serves food from all over the world.

The pandemic has affected every aspect of downtown life, especially for small businesses and restaurant owners who have lost customers due to telecommuting. Not much from here but they invested in downtown and our area. And like the indigenous people of northeastern Pennsylvania, they are strong, resilient and have worked hard to overcome unprecedented challenges and keep their doors open.

On December 31, my family enjoyed a wonderful New Year’s Eve meal at Bronco’s Vault Brazil Steakhouse on their last working day downtown. For 18 months, owner Edeline Falcon and her wonderful staff have delivered a unique product and excellent customer service, but have found that opening a restaurant of her size in the midst of a pandemic has not been sustainable. However, like my other friends at the downtown restaurant, Falcon is resilient, optimistic about the future, and appreciates the support it has received from the community.

There are plenty of reasons to be hopeful for the future of downtown Wilkes Barre. The Diamond City Partnership (DCP) is entering this year with a much stronger team of staff and volunteers to tackle the issues we face. Talented community thought leaders committed to making our central city come alive are the champions of our ‘Transformation Teams’ in economic vitality, downtown design and merchandising.

The Downtown Arts Council will be launched in 2022 to bring together downtown arts and culture offerings and increase the number of cultural events throughout the year.

The wind is also at our back to make downtown feel like a real college town. In 2020, Madina Saeed, a DCP trainee at the time, launched the Downtown College Ambassador Program. As part of the program, college interns from King’s College and Wilkes University worked individually with downtown business owners to provide technical assistance in social media, graphic design, marketing, website development, and more.

The program has expanded to Penn State Wilkes-Barre and will welcome Lucerne County Community College (LCCC) and University of Misericordia students. After conducting several roundtables with over 50 local college students, we have a better understanding of what they are looking for in a downtown experience. Students are excited and work with the DCP team to bring the “wonderful factor” of a college town to our central city.

The community can also look forward to continuing downtown festivities such as the Southern Maine Sunset Music Summer Series, Live Music Happy Hours, Downtown Discoveries Family Fun Festival, Cocktails and Culture Events, SIPS Happy Downtown Hours, Dine Out Restaurant Week and many more events of the year 2022.

Just as Tom Hanks’ Cast Away needed Wilson as his connection to a sense of community, we need each other more than ever now — in our personal lives and to help downtown recover from the pandemic.

If you want a vibrant city center in the future, please support our restaurants and small businesses now. You will not be disappointed. And if you have the time and talent to deliver in 2022, we’re just an email ([email protected]) far. The fate of Downtown is in the hands of our society. We have every reason to be optimistic. We invite you to join DCP’s ever-growing team of “Downtowners” staff and volunteers working together to reinvent our central city and give it the brightest future.

Susan Magnotta is Director of Marketing and Development at Diamond City Partnership.

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