Luzerne County’s Top 10 Business Stories

December 31, 2017

Business expansion dominated headlines of the business pages in Luzerne County in 2017.

Guard Insurance bought the Wilkes-Barre Center on Public Square and Chewy.com opened a massive facility in Hanover Twp. Despite the good news, some took a downturn, including Air Products in Hanover Twp. and some mom-and-pop stores in Hazleton.

Here are the top 10 business-related stories in 2017 in Luzerne County.

Guard buys building

Berkshire Hathaway Guard Insurance Co. purchased the Wilkes-Barre Center building on Public Square for more than $5 million as it expands its national headquarters in the city’s downtown.

The company expansion project is expected to create 285 new jobs over a three-year period, bringing Guard’s employment base in the city to 726 by Aug. 31, 2019.

State Sen. John Yudichak called the project “the biggest economic development victory for the city of Wilkes-Barre in decades.”

Guard purchased the 90,378-square-foot office building to accommodate the company’s growth and consolidate its five Wilkes-Barre offices into one expanded national headquarters, according to Gov. Tom Wolf’s office, which was part of a team that worked to keep Guard from leaving Wilkes-Barre.

Chewy.com opens

Chewy.com, an online retailer of pet food and other pet products, opened an 800,000-square-foot fulfillment center this year in Hanover Twp. with the goal of hiring 700.

Huge bags of pet food are stacked high on shelves inside the new facility, which is the size of 16 football fields and is located in part of the industrial park called the Hanover Ridge Trade Center.

Missouri-based NorthPoint Development owns the Hanover Twp. site and construction also continues there for two other buildings. One building is 840,000 square feet and the other is 365,000 square feet.

Brent Miles, vice president for NorthPoint Development, has not yet revealed tenants for the two other buildings.

NorthPoint Development also purchased a warehouse at 32 Earth Conservancy Drive in Hanover Twp. for more than $10.7 million.

Air Products closed

After more than six decades in business, Air Products on the Sans Souci Parkway in Hanover Twp. closed Aug. 1.

Air Products, a multinational corporation with 15,000 employees in 50 countries, was a thriving manufacturing facility locally that employed about 200 unionized workers in high-paying and highly skilled jobs.

After several rounds of layoffs, it was left with about 75 union and nonunion workers who lost their jobs and were offered severance package.

Workers at Air Products made liquefied natural gas heat exchangers for other countries. The exchangers were more than 15 feet in diameter, 180 feet long, weighed as much as 500 tons and took two years or longer to build.

An Air Products spokesman blamed the closure on a global decline in orders.

ER to reopen

at Geisinger South

Geisinger Health System officials announced this year they will reopen the emergency department at Geisinger South Wilkes-Barre, providing closer access to care from places like Ashley, Hanover Township and Nanticoke. .

As it stands now, people in those areas must drive to Wilkes-Barre General Hospital, which is owned by Commonwealth Health, or Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Plains Twp.

The emergency room’s return is expected to be completed in 2018.

In another development, Geisinger Health System officials broke ground this year for a new $8.5 million, multi-specialty clinic where Wyoming Valley Motors Subaru and Kia dealerships were formerly located on Pierce Street in Kingston.

Services from another Geisinger clinic at 499 Wyoming Ave. in Kingston will be relocated to the new 20,800-square-foot facility, including X-ray and laboratory. The new clinic will include expanded services, including an urgent care center to be open seven days a week, family medicine, a pharmacy, medication treatment management and radiology.

CV takes circulation lead

For the first time in history, The Citizens’ Voice topped The Times Leader in circulation numbers for both daily and Sunday newspapers.

A report from the Alliance of Audited Media showed The Citizens’ Voice in a 23 percent lead for its daily newspapers and a 6 percent lead for its Sunday newspapers.

Publishers of Times-Shamrock Communications celebrated the good news earlier this year with a champagne toast with employees at Voice.

“It’s a really amazing moment in newspaper history,” said George V. Lynett Jr., publisher of The Citizens’ Voice.

Civitas Media, the North Carolina-based company that owns The Times Leader, sold all of its newspapers throughout the country except The Times Leader, according to a recent report in The Times Leader.

A sale of the Times Leader’s main building at 15 N. Main St. in Wilkes-Barre is pending.

The building sale is part of an effort to move Times Leader staff to a smaller building on the Sunday Independent’s former site at Market Street and North Pennsylvania Avenue in Wilkes-Barre.

Mohegan Sun Pocono fined $1M

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board fined Mohegan Sun Pocono $1 million in December for violations of gaming regulations.

A $550,000 fine was related to management failures at the Plains Twp. casino, which contributed to the theft of $478,350 in free slot play in a scheme involving a casino executive and a casino employee.

A second, $450,000 fine, was for conducting business with unlicensed vendors, including ReferLocal, an online advertising firm, and CB POC LLC, which operates restaurants at the casino.

Former casino president Bobby Soper was also fined $60,000 for allegedly failing to disclose investments in firms that did business with Mohegan Sun Pocono, including a 5 percent interest in ReferLocal. Times-Shamrock Communications, which owns The Times-Tribune, The Citizens’ Voice and two other regional newspapers, also owns 22 percent of ReferLocal.

Mike Bean, who succeeded Soper as president in 2012, announced his resignation from the casino in May 2016.

Bean was replaced by Tony Carlucci, who instituted some cutbacks in 2017, including the elimination of free valet parking and cancellation of an annual Fourth of July fireworks display and an Oktoberfest event, which had been co-sponsored by Times-Shamrock.

Soper served as CEO of the Connecticut-based Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, which owns Mohegan Sun Pocono, four other U.S. casinos and one in South Korea, until he resigned in February.

Developments in, near the mall

Hundreds of people lined up for the grand opening of fashion retailer H&M at the Wyoming Valley Mall.

The retailer hired about 20 employees for its store, which sells clothing for women, men, teens and newborns and accessories.

The store opened in the space formerly occupied by teen clothing retailer Wet Seal and CVS, which closed, and athletic footwear retailer Finish Line, which moved to a bigger location formerly occupied by the Gap before it closed.

Earlier this year, the Limited women’s clothing store at the Wyoming Valley Mall also closed.

In another development, construction began for an IHOP restaurant at 770 Kidder St. near the mall.

IHOP, officially known as the International House of Pancakes, is a multinational pancake house/diner-style table service restaurant chain that specializes in breakfast foods.

The site formerly housed Pizza Hut, which closed in 2015 and was demolished.

Longtime businesses close

Three family-owned Hazleton area businesses with a combined life of 233 years closed their doors within two months of each other in 2017.

Empire Cleaners in Hazleton closed Aug. 2 after 84 years of operation by three generations of that family.

Lobitz’s Catering in Hazle Twp. closed Aug. 21 after being operated for 79 years, also by three generations of the family. In its heyday, Lobitz Hall had four rooms — the Fountain Room, the Hawaiian Room, the Mexican Room and its largest, the Safari Room.

On Oct. 1, Moyer Electronics, in its second generation, closed its Hazleton store, which had been in business at 13th and Locust streets for 70 years. Moyer kept its stores in Pottsville and Sunbury open. Along with selling electronics parts, the store also offered books for aspiring radio announcers to study for their third-class radiotelephone operator’s certificate, which was required until the 1980s.

Another area business with a long history, Nathan’s Furniture, closed its doors for good on July 11. Nathan’s opened in Pottsville more than 90 years ago and for the last 35 years had a store on Route 93 in Hazle Twp.

Also, Olympia Sports will move out of the Laurel Mall after 23 years when its lease expires Dec. 31.

No new hospital in Hazleton

Lehigh Valley Health Network reversed its plans to build a new hospital in March, opting instead to renovate the existing hospital on East Broad Street in Hazleton and develop a medical mall for outpatient services.

Network officials cited a national trend with health care moving to outpatient for the move. When Lehigh Valley acquired Hazleton General Hospital through a merger six years ago, officials said they planned to build a new hospital, likely on 70 acres it owns in Hazle and Butler townships and near where it operates the Health and Wellness Center at Hazleton off the Airport Beltway.

The wellness center capitalized on the outpatient services trend when built 10 years ago. It provides outpatient surgery, therapy and diagnostic services and has a fitness center, doctors’ offices and a snack bar.

Some doctors’ offices in the Hazleton area may consolidate on the beltway as plans move forward, and both Hazle and Butler approved zoning changes to accommodate a hospital or other health facilities on the network’s land. A medical mall along the beltway will add or expand services for women and children, outpatient surgery, primary care and ExpressCARE for people with minor ailments or injuries.

Distillery opens

A Nanticoke couple opened a distillery in Luzerne County.

Jonathan and Maryann Lang recently opened Lang Beverage Co. in a former garage at 128 Lee Mine St. and the flagship product they make and sell is vodka called “220 Shine.”

It took several months of construction, applications and inspections before Lang Beverage Co. finally opened in the small garage, where the couple showed a still they use to make the vodka.

Making and selling vodka became legal in the state in 2012 when the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board began allowing limited distillery licenses.

In addition to Lang Beverage, Nick Rosati of Moosic plans to open a distillery called Miner’s Mill in a century-old historic building at 93 Miller St. in Wilkes-Barre that was part of the Miner-Hillard Milling Co.

KELLY MONITZ and JIM DINO, staff writers, contributed to this report.

Contact the writer: dallabaugh@citizensvoice.com; 570-821-2115; @CVAllabaugh on Twitter