The LuLac Edition #3428, February 12th, 2017
Albert Boscov died Friday night t the age of 87. Boscov was the department store magnate who was well known to generations in both Luzerne and Lackawanna County. Before he came into our lives, Boscov had successful stores throughout the state and beyond. He had 50 stores, half in Pennsylvania and the rest in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Ohio
The announcement of Boscov’s death came on The Boscov Store Facebook page with this announcement "We are saddened to announce that our beloved chairman, Albert Boscov, passed away today at the age of 87. We celebrate his amazing life, dedicated to loving his family, serving his customers and employees and making our community a better place to live."
That statement came from his store’s headquarters outside of this area. That fact makes the last sentence all the more significant for this region. “Making our community a better place to live”. Within the confines of the Lu and The Lac, that sentence rings true.
Al Boscov entered our lives in 1980 when he purchased The Boston Store, also known as Fowler, Dick and Walker. Wilkes Barre needed him more than he needed us. Boscov got to work revamping the entire store. He also made his presence known. Boscov was a hands on owner and could frequently be seen on the store floors.
He spring into action full speed. All of a sudden newspapers had full page advertisements of sales. Radio and TV ran ads that asked in a cheery jingle, “Did you Boscov today?” For his grand opening he didn’t bring a B level actor (with all due respect to them) or a ballplayer, he brought Sophia Loren.
Sophia Loren…in Wilkes Barre. Yey Al Boscov made that happen.
The new Boscov’s store became a one stop shop. The floors were re-arranged with a nod to the old but a bigger concentration on the new. New employees were brought in but not at the expense of long time Boston Store regulars. The Management team Boscov put in place, Tom Jacobs as Store Manager, Irene Kennedy as Community Relations Director as well as Curtis Montz in Marketing (who was a veteran of FD&W) ran the store efficiently but with style and grace.
The old Boston Store Pickering Room was renovated and new menu items were put in place. They tried a lunch buffet with free shrimp but true to form the area was represented then by senior citizen slobs and slugs (a few not all) who stuffed fresh shrimp in their purses after ordering a discount lunch. That stopped pretty quick. Al Boscov was generous but did not allow ignorant consumers to take advantage of his good nature. Or his seafood supplier.
There were coupons in the paper for a very inexpensive bus ride to the store. I want to say it was a quarter.
Once the store was up and running, Boscov got involved with various non profit and community organizations. Generously offering his community room, merchandise and even employees in their endeavors, Boscov made quite the impression in Wilkes Barre. Boscov heavily supported the United Way providing the services of two key personnel including the aforementioned Tom Jacobs and Irene Kennedy who served on various committees.
On cultural issues his wingman was the late Curtis Montz who ramped up his involvement in the Fine Arts. Montz was one of the people who saw great potential in the old Paramount Theater on The Square. Along with Boscov, Augie Sims and Fred Kirby a campaign was spearheaded to get the showplace built through donations, endowments, as well as general support. it was decided that a Center For the Performing Arts should be located in the Downtown. The Paramount which closed in 1977 was it! The theatre was renovated and the grand opening featured performers of national stature.
The Kirby’s best hire in the mid 80s was John Loesser. If that name sounds familiar it’s because he was the son of Frank Loesser of “Guys and Dolls” fame. Loesser brought Tony Bennett to town when the singer was on his comeback tour as well as Mitzi Gaynor and other Broadway favorites. Broadcast giants Barbara Walters and Willard Scott also were headliners in those early days. Anyone who was anyone in the entertainment industry played The Kirby.
The city of Wilkes Barre, a tad stagnant after the renovations since the flood of ’72 got a major boost from Al Boscov. It can be argued that the city was on the ropes but Boscov provided the smelling salts from his corner to have it fight on.
Scranton benefited from Boscov too. The Mall at Steamtown took more than 8 years to build. The way things moved in Scranton were glacial back then. Boscov signed on as one of the three major tenants in 1993 when the opening happened. The Mall struggled but Boscov’s didn’t. Boscov even tried to save the distressed Mall until 2014 when it was foreclosed on.
Through the new century the Boscov brand was threatened by over expansion, his retirement and the great recession of 2008. Boscov came out of retirement, revamped, renegotiated and used his own money. The stories grew from 835 million to over a billion in 2014. But foreclosures on some properties took the bloom off that rose.
That said, Boscov will be long remembered for his work ethic, his ability to promote, and his belief in both Wilkes Barre and Scranton. This statement on Boscov came from former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge on the department store owner’s passing: "Al Boscov's story is the story of America. Al was an immigrant's son, who through hard word, an endlessly creative mind and sheer tenacity led his family's retail business to extraordinary success. My personal relationship with Al began during my first campaign for governor in the early 1990s. It didn't take long to learn of Al's passion not just for his business, but for his beloved Reading, Pennsylvania. I was privileged to earn his support and friendship. He cared deeply for his employees and for those less fortunate, giving generously to countless organizations and events. It's hard to imagine Reading without Al Boscov. Michele and I extend our sympathies to the Boscov family, his employees and all who benefited from his philanthropic spirit and zest for life." (Source: Channel 69)
Everybody it seems has an Al Boscov story. They all involved his work as a business and community leader who did good things while making a profit along the way. Boscov and his like will never be seen this way again in retail or as a community booster.
One of the fortunate things for us here in Wilkes Barre and Scranton is that he not only crossed our collective paths, he changed them for the good.
I don't mean to be redundant but please let me send this message to all again to all parents of children in LuLac land entering college. Just forget the high grades and the hard work if you want your kids to stay in this area. Oh striving for the upper middle class is all well and good. Hell even being rich would be a goal. But if you want to live here, get in the political class. If you are politically connected, especially in The Lac, your life in the Political Class will be like “The Hotel California”. You can check out anytime you want, but you will never leave”. That happened this past week when once again Lackawanna County showed how greedy lifetime politicians can be.
You know who they are. They are the same people who campaign on getting better jobs for young people to stay in the region. They spend years on the public dole, some doing great things, some not doing much. The people in question might serve a term or two of elected office, there are a few that might serve many years. But once retired or booted out, you’d think they would retire, collect their tax payer paid pensions and then just go away.
Ah…but not in The Lac.
This past week The Scranton Times Tribune’s Kyle Wind reported that former Lackawanna County Commissioner Joe Corcoran snared the job to head The Lackawanna Heritage Valley Authority. Wind reported that the Authority, which is responsible for developing the popular rail trail and promoting the region’s history, culture and natural resources paved the way for Corcoran to get his mitts on the annual $70,000 plus gravy train payday.
Now Corcoran is not unfamiliar with the Authority, as a matter of fact he created it when he was County Commissioner along with Ray Alberigi and John Senio. The position came open when the current Executive Director Natalie Gelb retired.
As a matter of fact, here’s what Andy Wallace, another government retread and triple dipper said about Corcoran. “He is one of the original founding fathers of Lackawanna Heritage Valley Authority” said Wallace who, uh, happens to serve on the board and works for the County Commissioners. You remember how this guy (Wallace) slid in the job like the proverbial eel when Pat “Cam” O’Malley lost his nerve and screwed Evie Refalko McNulty out of that job. Yeah she was the one who had her name on the door. Hey takes one to know one, right?
Another Board member Thom Welby (an employee of State Representative Marty Flynn) described Mr. Corcoran as having “almost an insane drive” as a county commissioner. No argument there. Corcoran accomplished a great deal in his 20 year reign as a Democratic County Commissioner. Let me name them:
1. Construction of three libraries.
2. Baseball in Moosic.
3. The formation of the Casey Highway.
4. Saving the Ski Resort from foreclosure until they found a buyer.
5. The Trolley Museum.
6. The competition of the Coal Mine Tour.
7. Getting financing for the Parking Garage at the Airport.
Without question Corcoran had done a lot in his career as a County Commissioner. It should be noted however that he was no Cincinnatus working in the fields, serving his people and then returning to work the land. Corcoran was elected in 1975 to a Treasury position, then County Commissioner in 1983. For those 28 years he received compensation as well as a pension.
Did Lackawanna County get its money’s worth as from Corcoran as Commissioner? You bet, but does the County have to keep on paying for that service appointing him to a job because he showed interest in it?
By showing interest (which is legitimate), the board essentially never opened the position to anyone else. Corcoran wanted it so they gave it to him because they could. Like my friend L.A. Tarone says, “Authorities can pretty much do anything they want”, including shutting down a job search because a career public servant, at retirement age, wanted it. I sometimes wonder about guys like this, I wonder just “How much do they need or want?”
Andy Wallace said this, “We decided we weren’t going to go out and do a formal search. We had a perfect candidate sitting right here in Lackawanna County. If you have a 10, you don’t go out looking for a seven or an eight or a nine.” Yeah Wallace I guess wanted to spare Corcoran the trouble he had elbowing his way into the Commissioners job he got last year. Bottom line is this, Joe Corcoran never competed for that job. The Authority handed it to him on a silver platter.
Mainly because they could and because he wanted it.
Is it illegal? No.
Is it right? Is it fair?
Apparently yes because Lackawanna County voters support these double and triple dippers while their taxes go up and they get less for their money. Either voters in LuLac know the political class take care of themselves FIRST and love to be played for fools or just don’t give a rat’s ass if the Andy Wallace’s and Joe Corcoran’s of the world get double what most pensioners are getting.
It used to be that there would at least be a process where someone else could be heard from. But that would be a threat to the sainted Political Class that gets what they want just for the asking. Their cronies, uh fellow board members are only too quick to acquiesce because they might need a soft landing at the public trough next.
Will Joe Corcoran do a good job at his new $70,000 a year job?
Given past performance, most likely.
Would a person who might otherwise wanted to apply, a person trained in that field, a young family of young professionals; applying for that position have a done a good job?
We’ll never know the answer to that question because the Political Class took it away from us.
Jitty Joes and Manning’s have nothing on The Political Class when they double dip.