By Sarah Gyle
Scott Street in Wilkes-Barre is chock-full of local history, legends, secret hideaways, and hole-in-the-wall shops. It used to be, and might still be, in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the most bars on one stretch of street (this could be because the street extends through to Plains). I’ve lived on Scott Street for twenty years of my life, since I was 3, occupying the spot next to historic Schoolhouse Lane, where George Banks went on his killing spree in 1982. When I was ten, a camera crew from WNEP came to our door to ask us what we thought about George Banks being deemed “insane” and therefore unfit for the death penalty. Mom closed the door in their face.
Scott Street isn’t all about dark history, though. My fondest memories as a child surround visiting the many corner stores and shops that follow along it, specifically my sector in East End Wilkes-Barre. Many of them are closed down now, including one that the legends say was owned by musician Billy Joel’s aunt and uncle, though I don’t know how true that is. E.M. Foley Gift Shop, Grandpa’s Workshop, Ed’s Barbershop where my dad and little brother get their hair cut every few months, and Moore’s Cafe are some of the only surviving shops. You can still see the sealed-off doors of the others that have come and gone, like Ray’s Deli where I used to buy candy cigarettes for 5 cents a box.
When I was a kid, there was a creek that ran under our famous two-million-dollar-twenty-feet-long-fifteen-foot-wide bridge (the one that precedes the ancient Dunkin’ Donuts and Wendy’s on Kidder Street). It’s dried up now, but my dearly departed German shepherd and Maine coon cat (named, respectively, Nala and Simba in the days of the Lion King) used to open our back door and sneak out to go swimming when we left the house. They’d be back before us, drenched, leaving the back door wide open. We blamed the dog for the longest time until we caught the cat in the act.
I hear people condemning Wilkes-Barre endlessly for its crime rates and rundown buildings and abandoned projects, but it’s where I grew up. It’s kind of a double-edged sword. Wilkes-Barre shouldn’t be measured by those who live in it, but at the same time, its citizens are ultimately what give it so much character. In what other city can you have hours-long debates about where to find the best pizza? Scott Street is no exception to the overwhelming character and presence that Wilkes-Barre has. I spent my childhood walking this street with all its back alleys, “sketchy areas full of crime,” and have never once felt unsafe. I am able look past the crime that others seem to not be able to, as if no other city in the world has a crime rate. This city is deeply ingrained into who I am, and I feel as though I’m one of the few who see it for what it is: steeped in history and hidden gem shops.