Luzerne County’s Top Business Stories

December 30, 2018 GMT

Wilkes-Barre Twp. suffered a series of blows in 2018.

A tornado ripped through a major shopping district in the township on June 13, destroyed a number of businesses and left others out of business for months.

The Bon-Ton and Sears, two of four anchor stores at the Wyoming Valley Mall, and the Sonic Drive-In restaurant outside the Wyoming Valley Mall shut down.

The nearby Toys R Us store on Kidder Street in Wilkes-Barre and Babies R Us in the Wilkes-Barre Twp. Commons also closed.

As several retail stores closed, warehouses have been going up.

Missouri-based NorthPoint Development has been constructing warehouses in Luzerne County including Adidas and Patagonia next to Chewy.com in Hanover Twp. Construction began on one of three warehouses near Luzerne County Community College that will house a fulfillment center for an e-commerce company.

Construction of another distribution center also has begun at the former Techneglas site in Jenkins Twp.

The construction of more warehouses and closing of retail stores shows the shift in the way people are shopping. With an increase in online shopping, huge warehouses are opening and creating jobs to fulfill people’s orders while fewer people are shopping at some traditional retail stores.

Here’s a look back at the top business stories in Luzerne County in 2018.

Tornado rips through W-B Twp.

It took months to rebuild stores in the Arena Hub after an EF2 tornado ripped through the shopping plaza, Mundy Street and Wilkes-Barre Twp. Commons on June 13.

Since the tornado, eight of nine stores in the Arena Hub reopened including PetSmart, Dick’s Sporting Goods, T.J. Maxx, Staples, Carter’s/OshKosh, Eddie Bauer, Avenue and Men’s Wearhouse.

Construction continues at Barnes & Noble, which will not reopen until early next year. In the meantime, it is operating a temporary pop-up store in the nearby East End Centre.

On Mundy Street, Kurlancheek Home Furnishings was destroyed and demolished. Owner Ronne Kurlancheek opened a temporary location in the former Gateway Cinema in Edwardsville and recently opened a holiday pop-up shop in Midtown Village in downtown Wilkes-Barre.

Ashley Furniture also was destroyed by the tornado and opened a new location behind the Wyoming Valley Mall that formerly housed H.H. Gregg before it closed and other vacant stores.

Stations Grill closed because the building it was in was demolished.

The Wilkes-Barre Twp. Commons strip mall that housed eight tenants was destroyed and is awaiting demolition.

Panera Bread, one of the tenants, could return.

Another tenant, Tovon & Co., reopened a store in the Dallas Shopping Center. Owner Tommy Van Scoy Jr. said while the tornado devastated the store, diamonds and other jewelry remained in the safe unharmed.

After the tornado, employees from other tenant GameStop began working at another store location in Wyoming Valley Mall. GameStop recently opened another store in the closed Sweet Frog in the Wilkes-Barre Twp. Marketplace near Walmart.

Employees at Holiday Hair, another tenant, moved to another location in Edwardsville.

Jack Beccaris, owner of Sneaker King, recently announced that his store in Plains Twp. will close after more than 71 years. That left Sneaker King without a location in the Wyoming Valley since the tornado destroyed the other store in the Wilkes-Barre Twp. Commons.

Other stores destroyed in Wilkes-Barre Twp. Commons included America’s Best Contacts & Eyeglasses, LA Nails and Famous Footwear.

The tornado caused at least $18 million of damage. In all, about two dozen businesses were damaged and six people suffered minor injuries.

Sears and Bon-Ton close at Wyoming Valley Mall

The Sears and Bon-Ton stores, two of four anchor stores at the Wyoming Valley Mall, closed this year.

The Sears store at the mall was the last one in Northeast Pennsylvania. The store closed in July and Sears Auto Center closed in May.

Parent company Sears Holdings previously announced it would close 166 Sears and Kmart stores this year but the list of closures grew.

The decision came after The Bon-Ton announced it would close all its stores, including its location at the Wyoming Valley Mall as well as another store in the Midway Shopping Center in Wyoming.

Outside the mall, the Sonic Drive-In restaurant closed as well after the new owner could not come to a lease agreement with the mall owner that owns the land.

Toys R Us and Babies R Us close

Toys R Us on Kidder Street in Wilkes-Barre and Babies R Us in the Wilkes-Barre Twp. Commons also closed this year.

The company decided to close or sell all its stores after filing for bankruptcy protection in September and suffering through a brutal holiday shopping season.

Liquidation sales were held for the company to clear shelves at its roughly 880 Toys R Us and Babies R Us stores around the country.

In the age of online shopping, Toys R Us has struggled to keep up with Amazon and Walmart and was burdened by $5 billion in debt.

The company said it was burning through $50 million to $100 million in cash a month as it struggled to pay back billions in debt.

Kmart stores close in Pittston Twp. and Hazle Twp.

Adding to the list of big retail store closures in Luzerne, Kmart in the Pittston Commons shopping plaza in Pittston Twp. closed in April.

It was one of 10 Kmart stores statewide that closed that month.

In all, parent company Sears Holdings recently notified employees at 64 Kmart stores and 39 Sears stores nationwide that they would close between March and April. The Kmart stores in the Laurel Mall in Hazle Twp. also closed in April.

Some said the round of closures was a sign of the times as competition has increased from retail giant Walmart and online giant Amazon.

The Pittston Twp. Kmart was in business more than four decade and was the largest store in the Pittston Commons shopping plaza.

The Kmart in the Laurel Mall was one of three anchor stores, with Boscov’s and Dunham’s Sports. T.J. Maxx and Old Navy also are located in the Laurel Mall.

Kmart still has locations in Wilkes-Barre Twp. and Edwardsville.

NorthPoint Development warehouses go up

As retail stores closed down in Luzerne County, warehouses went up to fill online orders.

Among the new warehouses, an open house recently was held at Adidas distribution center in Hanover Twp.

Missouri-based NorthPoint Development constructed the distribution center for Adidas on a 172-acre parcel in Hanover Twp. next to warehouses for outdoor clothing company Patagonia and online pet food retailer Chewy.com.

Brent Miles, vice president of economic development for NorthPoint Development, said Patagonia has begun operating and Adidas will open next year. He said 2,000 jobs will be created at the site at the three buildings.

Adidas has leased an 843,000-square-foot building and Patagonia has leased a 360,000-square-foot building.

Since Chewy.com opened last year, Gregg Walsh, vice president of human resources operations for Chewy.com, said about 1,400 people have been hired to work at the 800,000-square-foot facility that is the size of 16 football fields.

NorthPoint Development officials also joined state, Luzerne County and local officials this year to break ground for three more warehouses being built on a 340-acre parcel called “Hanover 9” in Hanover Twp. and Nanticoke near Luzerne County Community Colleges.

Miles said NorthPoint has signed a deal with an e-commerce company to occupy one of the warehouses.

He would not identify the company but he said all three warehouses will generate more than 1,500 new jobs with an average annual salary of $41,000.

The e-commerce company will open a fulfillment center and it will be the first building completed, Miles said. Construction of the building has begun.

In all, NorthPoint Development is constructing more than 2.3 million square feet of buildings on the Hanover 9 site near the South Valley Parkway and state Route 29 in Nanticoke and Hanover Twp. and the annual payroll is expected to more than $63 million.

The total capital investment from NorthPoint Development and tenants for the project is expected to be more than $209 million.

Construction of a distribution center begins at former Techneglas site

Endurance Real Estate Group, a Radnor-based developer, announced in November it has secured a $54.35 million loan to begin constructing a 1,078,200-square-foot distribution building at the former Techneglas site at 140 Industrial Drive in Jenkins Twp.

Brian Evans, acquisition and asset management analyst for Endurance Real Estate Group, said the building will be constructed on speculation, meaning it does not yet have a commitment from an occupant.

Endurance and Blue Vista Capital, a Chicago-based investment management firm, announced that the companies have closed on a construction loan with Square Mile Capital Management LLC. Construction of the building has begun and is expected to be completed in the third quarter of 2019.

The development, called the “Interstate Distribution Center,” is being constructed on a 225-acre development in the heart of the Interstate-81 Corridor industrial submarket.

Techneglas, a company that made glass screens for televisions, closed its plant on the site in 2004 and filed for bankruptcy after going through years of layoffs.

Brian Cohen, president of Endurance, said the Northeast Pennsylvania industrial market continues to see an increased demand for “state-of-the-art distribution buildings from end users.”

Miller’s Ale House and IHop open

Some new businesses, including IHOP and Miller’s Ale House, have opened in Wilkes-Barre and Wilkes-Barre Twp. in 2018 while others closed.

IHOP, also known as the International House of Pancakes, opened in May at 770 Kidder St. in Wilkes-Barre.

It is the only IHOP in Northeast Pennsylvania. The closest other one is 50 miles away in Allentown.

Florida-based restaurant chain Miller’s Ale House opened in November in the former Logan’s Roadhouse in Wilkes-Barre Twp. that closed two years ago.

Miller’s Ale House is known for its signature hand-breaded, boneless chicken Zingers with the choice of more than 15 sauces. The menu also features a variety of appetizers, burgers and entrees including steaks and seafood

The restaurant has at least 60 televisions to watch sports and offers a large selection of draft beer. Its full-service bar features specialty cocktails, a wine selection and more than 75 varieties of local craft, seasonal and domestic beers.

Contact the writer: dallabaugh@citizensvoice.com, 570-821-2115, @CVAllabaugh