Thank you for creating GoReadingBerks, one of my go-to websites when I need a dose of hometown nostalgia. Like you, I have fond memories of growing up in Reading. My memories include: being eye level with cases full of Pennsylvania Dutch delicacies at the downtown Farmer’s Market, going down the elephant slide at 11th & Pike Playground, playing on the contemporary climbing structures at Stone Cliff, sledding on snowy hills at Albright, winning a bottle of A-Treat cream soda at the 13th & Union spring carnival, getting up the nerve to jump off the high dive at College Manor Pool, feeling the air conditioned comfort of the Northeast Branch of the Reading Public Library during meetings of the summer reading club, joining schoolchildren from all over the city on the steps of the Reading Museum in a Berks Grand Opera production, stopping at Rundle’s on the way home from school to buy a piece of candy with leftover lunch money, eating cheesesteaks from Augie’s, ice skating at Timberline, buying an Izod polo shirt at the David Crystal outlet…and so much more.
Though I moved away from Reading in the mid-1990’s, my mother remained in our family home until just four years ago. Through her, I stayed connected to what was happening in Reading, for better or for worse. I know that Reading fell upon hard times, but I am optimistic that the worst is behind the city so many of us are rooting for and that things are looking up.
Two recent visits gave me hope. Last summer, I traveled to Reading to photograph sites of personal historical significance. That mission took me all over the city, from the former site of Jackson’s Lock just off Canal Street, to my grandfather’s boyhood home on South Tenth Street, to my great-grandfather’s home on Windsor Street, to the building on 8th Street that once housed Bachman’s Pretzels, and numerous places in between.
I walked all over the city and never felt unsafe. The people I encountered were friendly. I ducked into a corner store to buy an umbrella. I attended a concert at the bandshell in City Park. My Airbnb shared a balcony with a hospitable neighbor in the Centre Park Historic District.
When I returned to Reading in the fall, I stayed at an Airbnb in Hampden Heights. Immediately upon arrival, I noticed the children. Children were walking home and playing outside. Parents were sitting on front porches. It reminded me of the old days. I walked to Pizza Italia to pick up a pizza for dinner. It was as delicious as ever.
The trees on Mount Penn and Neversink Mountain were ablaze with color. I drove along Skyline Drive to the Pagoda and saw groups of younger people admiring the views and taking selfies. I hiked to the Witch’s Hat pavilion on Neversink Mountain, encountering a lone runner along the way. The trails on both mountains have been improved with maps and signs in recent years. With mountain as well as river trails, Reading’s outdoor offerings are exceptional.
Good things are happening in Reading! Nicely updated homes in every corner of the city are going on the market and selling. As you noted on GoReadingBerks, Alvernia is opening a downtown campus. The Santander Arena and the Sovereign Center are drawing crowds. A Fightin’ Phils game is still a fun way to spend a summer evening. Saucony Creek Franklin Station Brewpub and Reading Distilling Guild have set up shop in historic buildings downtown. And the Trexler Mansion/Elks Lodge restoration is underway.
There is still room for improvement, of course, but Reading is heading in the right direction. In our lifetimes, we have witnessed Reading’s transition from an industrial powerhouse to the outlet capital of the world to New Jack City to…what’s next?
A college town? The greater Reading area is home to Albright, Alvernia, Penn State Berks, RACC and now a Drexel University College of Medicine campus. Any chance of luring a law school downtown? Of developing a student-oriented living/shopping/entertainment district? If it can happen in West Philly, it could happen in Reading.
The latest place to shop? Nationwide, malls are on their way out and Main Street shopping is in. Suburbs lacking main streets build them from scratch to anchor new retail development. Reading already has one. It seems to me that there are more than enough people in Berks County to support a row of retail shops on Penn Street.
A destination for historical tourism? Why shouldn’t Reading be the site for a national museum of railroad and/or industrial history? Could some of Reading’s architectural treasures be turned into museums showcasing the furnishings and lifestyles of bygone eras? Would it be possible to offer guided walking tours through Charles Evans Cemetery? The possibilities are endless.
Reading will never be the same as it was when we were kids, but someday it might be even better. Go Reading, Berks!