Bringing the Globe Store in downtown Scranton back to life

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For more than a century, the Globe Store was the heart of Scranton’s downtown. Now closed for 23 years, it remains a powerful symbol to nostalgic Scrantonians who collect its artifacts and reminisce about the beloved retailer on Facebook and YouTube.

Now life is coming back to the iconic building. A year ago, the shuttered store’s display windows were filled with an exhibit of Globe Store artifacts: gift boxes and cards, shopping bags and labeled merchandise. In December, shoppers once again thronged the Globe’s first floor for a ScrantonMade seasonal market.

And in just a few short years, the landmark will be transformed into The Lackawanna County Government Center at the Globe. The inclusion of the Globe name is an intentional tribute to those sentimental ties.

“Much nostalgia surrounds the store because it touched so many people’s lives in so many ways over so many years,” says Steve Genett, an advertising and marketing executive at the Globe from 1984 to 1989. “When people say something was an institution, they mean the way people felt about and still feel about The Globe today, 23 years after it closed.”

Inside The Globe in Scranton

The rise, fall and now rebirth of the Globe is emblematic of the arc of many downtown shopping districts. John Cleland and John Simpson founded the store in 1878 when department stores were still a novelty. (Philadelphia’s pioneering John Wanamaker & Company, considered the first modern department store in America, opened in 1876.)

Throughout the rest of the 19th century and well into the 20th, the Globe was a shopping mecca and point of civic pride. The founding families ran the store until 1979, a full decade after it became a division of John Wanamaker’s; the Globe continued to break sales records into the 1980s.

But larger forces — notably competition from suburban malls and retail consolidations — had an impact. The Globe returned to private local ownership in 1989. In 1993, Scranton’s Steamtown Mall opened in an effort to draw dollars back downtown. The Globe was connected to the new mall via a pedestrian bridge, intended to lure shoppers across Lackawanna Avenue.

“That never seemed to work out,” recalls Genett. “Anchor stores in the new downtown mall changed, the Globe Store struggled…and encountered innumerable financial and legal troubles. It closed in 1994 after filing bankruptcy right after New Year’s Day. The liquidation and closing were sad to watch.”

When people say something was an institution, they mean the way people felt about and still feel about The Globe today, 23 years after it closed.Steve Genett

Generations of Scrantonians had shopped there for school clothes, dined at the Charl-Mont restaurant and spent Christmastime perusing the aisles. Until that day, the Globe jingle – “You can shop all around the globe, and never leave Scranton” – was a local earworm.

In that spirit, the County recreated the Globe’s elaborate exterior and window decorations for the ScrantonMade market in December, including the distinctive array of trees bolted to the façade.

Back in the day, those trees originated as seedlings distributed by the Globe to Scranton schoolchildren in celebration of Arbor Day.

Years later, “the store would get phone calls and letters donating the trees for decorations,” recalls Genett. “The store would arrange a crane and flatbed to go out, remove the trees and bring them downtown to be set in place on the ledge at the second floor. There were eyebolts set in the granite blocks of the building front to hold wires that kept the trees in place. The trees, lights and window displays often cost tens of thousands of dollars to give shoppers that holiday feeling.”

The Lackawanna County government acquired the vacated building last spring and will begin operations there by early 2019. Most of the alterations will be on the interior.

“The historic nature of the Globe building will be respected by preserving the main façade on Wyoming Avenue in celebration of its grandeur and significance to the downtown fabric of Scranton,” says John Palumbo of The Palumbo Group, the architectural firm handling the design in conjunction with Greenman-Pederson Engineers.

Lighting of The Globe

The six-story, 250,000-square-foot building has been largely vacant since 2014. In what Lackawanna County Chief of Staff Andrew M. Wallace calls “a huge undertaking for the county,” operations currently spread across eight locations, both in and out of Scranton, will be consolidated at the Globe. The total cost is projected at $17 million, but Wallace explains that the project will be revenue neutral by saving taxpayers rents across Lackawanna County and enabling the local government to return one of its downtown gems to the tax rolls.

Besides county offices and courtrooms, the new center will feature community meeting space and state-of-the-art communications and technology upgrades. A new incarnation of the beloved Charl-Mont restaurant, a public gallery and a green roof are all under consideration.

We expect this to signal a rebirth of downtown Scranton.Lackawanna County Chief of Staff Andrew M. Wallace

In addition to streamlining government services at a centralized location — and one served by public transit — the county expects that the center, with its steady flow of visitors and as many as 700 employees, will boost foot traffic and help support downtown retail, restaurants and other small businesses.

“We expect this to signal a rebirth of downtown Scranton, especially the 100 block of Wyoming Avenue,” which today has a number of vacant storefronts, says Wallace.

The government center might never engender quite the same devotion as the old department store, but for Scranton, the intensive reuse of the empty building is still great news. Nostalgia may be good, but as Lackawanna County said last year in announcing its purchase of the building, “Bringing life into the renovated Globe Store will be investing in our future.”

ELISE VIDER is news editor of Keystone Edge.

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Region: Northeast

Community, Development, Explore PA, Features, Made in PA, Reuse/Rebuild, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre