Monday, February 13, 2017

Al

You can always tell a reporter who's been working in this market for a long time.  Our eyes roll when we hear "The Mall at Steamtown."

It took years to get the thing built, and many of us covered it every tedious step of the way-- from the announcement, to the planning, to the endless court fights over getting the land, to the implosion, to the construction, to the opening, to the defection of stores, to the sale, the the renaming, to today.  The early days were especially frustrating.  It was delay on top of delay.  Nothing was happening.  No progress.  It seemed to be the same story over and over again.  We counted the number of times we said "the proposed mall has cleared another hurdle."  There were lots of hurdles back then, more than any athlete ever encountered.

Al Boscov was there with us.  I admire Boscov for sticking with it, even though most people would have walked away.  I don't live in a fairy tale world.  There was money to be made in Scranton and Al Boscov was a good businessman.  He had patience.  There were also a lot of reasons to stay.

Boscov went in to a sort of retirement several years ago.  His successors expanded too much, too fast, and in to areas that really didn't get what a Boscov's was all about.  Chapter 11 bankruptcy followed.  Boscov returned and steered the ship away from the iceberg.

One of the first times I met Al Boscov back in the mid 80's.  I was working at WARM.  We were doing an all day remote broadcast at the Paramount Theater on Public Square in Wilkes-Barre.  WARM was publicizing the effort to save the theater from demolition, renovate it, and turn it into a center for  the performing arts.  Yes, that was back in the day when radio stations tried to help their communities.  Al Boscov was one of the people behind the project.  It was the right thing to do, and it was another example of why he was a smart businessman.  A renovated theater meant traffic.  More people in downtown Wilkes-Barre translated in to more people walking through his South Main Street store.

The same goes for the Northampton St., Wilkes-Barre movies.  Boscov is given credit for helping to attract a theater operator to Wilkes-Barre.  It was the right thing to do, again, and I'm sure it translated to more shoppers at his store.

Al Boscov was a charming man, and he loved running his stores.  Shoppers adored him.  Employees revered him.  It was a joy to watch him travel through aisles and displays, shaking hands, checking out merchandise.  He was kind, and friendly, and approachable.  Again-- a smart businessman.

By now, you probably know Al Boscov died Friday night.  87.  Pancreatic cancer.

I'm guessing I interviewed him more than a dozen times over the years.  It was always entertaining.  Al Boscov was always a gentleman, even when my questions were annoying.  You couldn't ask for a better face for a big company.

Perfect?  Not really.  The Scranton store has some gaps where appliances used to be.  There's a lot of "dollar store" type merchandise.  The store looks a little tired, occasionally cluttered and unorganized.   Wilkes-Barre was a wreck until the company finally threw some money in to it.

He couldn't stop stores from deserting the Mall at Steamtown in droves.  He remained committed to the mall concept, even though it was failing in so many places.  Default.  Sheriff's sale.  An attempt to buy the property at auction failed.

Boscov's company also controlled the old Oppenheim building in Scranton for a while.  That's the place Scranton mayor Jim McNulty originally wanted Boscov to locate.  Boscov saw the building as too old, too small, and with a lousy parking situation.  Oppenheim's was turned in to offices, and I don't think the place was ever close to being filled.

Overall, and it's not even close-- we're much better off because Al Boscov chose to do business here.