Sunday, September 3, 2017

Going Back Part 4: Stepping Out Downtown & Back In Time

It may be September but I've got more to share about my August trip to visit my family in Pennsylvania. 

First I must thank all of you who took the time to read the "Retracing My Steps" post. Because of your support and sharing on social media, on August 30th I had the most page views of any single day in the 9 year history of my blog. Again, thank you to both the new comers and those who are loyal readers.

In this post I'm continuing recollections. This time I'd like to share with you both old and new experiences I had in Downtown Easton.  

On Friday, the first full day of my visit, I went with my niece and nephew, Teejai & Bobby, to visit the revitalized historic district of the town that stems from the Center Square and it's traffic circle. 

Here's a bird's eye view looking north into the square. As you can see the centerpiece of the area is the soldiers & sailors statue surrounded by a fountain. 
In the 7 years since I'd been there, the downtown area had experienced both a physical and cultural renaissance. 

Let's start with the new city hall and the parking garage. This view of the brand new, to me, buildings is from the parking lot of the hotel I stayed in. 
 This complex is built on land where the Eric twin screen theater (the place I first saw "Jaws") and Perkins restaurant (where I ate 19 1/2 pancakes in 15 minutes as part of a radio station contest) had once stood. I spent many hours and happy moments in both of those places.  
After finding a spot right next to the elevator on the 3rd level, we exited the parking structure and headed for the side entrance of The Crayola Experience. The family friendly attraction opened in 1996 as a means of improving the downtown area. 

It was such a success that over the last two decades there have been 3 other locations opened: Plano,Texas, Mall Of America in Minnesota, and Orlando, Florida.  

We entered the building from Pine Street. Technically it's the back entrance with an ADA ramp. 
As former employees, both Teejai and Bobby were not exactly thrilled about going here. They are always telling me stories about what a terrible place it was to work. 

Twelve years ago, during a visit to PA with my wife, we took my son, and all the kids in the family to what was then known as "The Crayola Factory". Everyone had a good time. That's my only point of reference for the place. 

The attraction has expanded since that first visit. This is the first floor gift shop the only place we went. 
The place was so crowded with day campers that we didn't stay very long at all. 

We stepped out onto the square and walked over to Northampton Street. We walked to the alley known as Bank Street. 
There's a section of the street between Northampton and Pine that is just a pedestrian walkway. Nowadays there are a couple of shops including an ice cream shop. 
When I was younger it was just a bricked walkway with mural's on the wall. 

I told TeeJai & Bobby that this was the place where I impressed my 8th grade buddies by going up to a girl walking by and talking to her. They were in awe of me the rest of the day. 

What I didn't tell my friends was that I actually did know the girl. She went to my church and was already a friend. 

The innocent scam got me so much "cred" with my peers that it's one of my best "downtown Easton" memories. 

By now, we were all a little hungry and it was time for a late lunch. At Teejai's suggestion we went into the Easton Public Market. 
This is a very unique place that I can only describe as a hybrid of a community center that hosts workshops and classes; an indoor farmers market; a gallery of artisan and specialty shops; and an upscale food court. 

The three of us took advantage of the variety of specialty food items for our lunch choices. Bobby got an Asian noodle dish with really spicy type of meat. 

Teejai and I ordered from this brick oven pizza place. 

Here's a double-selfie of us waiting for our number to be called. 
And finally it did and we got our lunch. It was delicious.  
Once we finished our lunch and the kids got themselves a coffee drink, we left the market. 

We made our way toward center of the circle in the square that has the fountain and the statue. Along the way we stopped into a shop that was a combination collectible card shop and an video arcade. 

Most of the video games weren't turned on but the 3 pinball machines at the back of the room were. TeeJai and I each played a game on one. 

We returned to the street and we crossed the traffic roundabout to what the locals call "the circle." I looked around noticing some things that were different but a lot of it was the same. 

Our time for browsing was growing short because Teejai had to go to work later that afternoon.

There was one last place that I wanted to go. I will share that with you in a moment. Right now I want to share with you what I took away from my visit to the revitalized downtown. 

Because of the very short time I had to spend in the new downtown Easton, I only got a very small sample size of what it has become. 

The way I would describe it is that it's a destination for people who are college age and up to enjoy a relaxing time with friends and get a good meal. There are a lot of small specialty restaurants and coffee shops. 

Easton is the home of Lafayette College. It's a liberal arts school with an enrollment of about 3000, which is about the equivalent of about 11.5% of the city's overall population. 

The downtown area seems to be, at least to a certain extent, designed to draw the students there amplify their contribution to the local economy. 

From what I saw in the area that we spent our time in, there seems to be very little shopping opportunities. But my nephew tells me those increase the farther away from center square you go. 

The Crayola Experience brings a lot of school field trips and summer camp groups into the area. But it's only a 1/2 day's worth of activities. There's not much in the area to fill up the rest of the day. 

By my observation, if you are a family with kids from pre-school to high school age; you might find it difficult finding anything they are interested in after Crayola. But that's not true all the time. 

Downtown Easton specializes in hosting festivals. Throughout the year there's a garlic festival, a bacon festival, Heritage Day that end with a fireworks display.

Perhaps the most compelling event for families is the "lightening" of the Easton Peace Candle each Christmas holiday season. 
For more about any of these events and more, do a Google search. 

Now on to one place in downtown Easton that made the afternoon worth the trip. In the northeast corner of the square (diagonally across from the Crayola attraction). 
The Carmelcorn Shop been located in Center Square since 1931. Not only is it an important part of downtown Easton history; it was an important part of my childhood too.  

The snack shop is located just 3 blocks from location of the two movie theaters I used to go to when I was a kid. 

The State Theater is located in the 400 block of Northampton Street. It was a showcase theater while I was growing up. Today it is a center for creative arts. 
(Blogger's Note: In this picture you can see part of a building that will be the subject of my next post in this series. Can you find it? Take your "time" finding it.) 

There was also the Boyd theater on North 3rd street less than a block away from Carmelcorn. 

The Boyd was closed in May 1972 and leveled for parking later that same year.  
These two theaters were I went to see movies from the time I was a pre-schooler until my mid teens. 

As I write this post, I realize that I have a lot of memories to share about my experiences going to the movies in downtown Easton. I'll share them in a future post. 

Every time we went to the movies it would be preceded by a trip to the Carmelcorn shop. This was back in the days when theaters would allow you to bring in your own snacks.   

With a dollar in our hands we got a large bag freshly made popcorn coated in fresh melted butter from top to bottom. So much so that the grease bled through the white paper bag. 

At 50 cents a bag the price of popcorn allowed me to get some type of candy as well. My choice was usually chocolate but occasionally I'd get licorice or something chewy. 

Once we made our choices and paid for our snacks my cousins, friends, or whoever I was with would shoot out the door and head to the theater. Once there we would see the latest release by Disney or kids movie was playing. 

But the theater experience, which was a much bigger event back when I was a kid than it is now, started off with stop at the Carmelcorn shop. 

Now as nostalgic as those last few paragraphs are, you can understand how excited I got when I looked across the downtown Easton circle and saw that Carmelcorn was still there and it was open. 

I hadn't been there in years but I had to go by just to see how it changed.      

Now let me try to explain what I was about to experience in the most "geeky" way I can think of. 

On the TV show, Star Trek: The Next Generation, they had something called a "Halodeck". A starship Enterprise crew member could use this room to create or recreate any place or time they wanted to. They'd speak their request from outside, wait for the ship's computer to confirm that the room was ready and then they'd walk through the door into the world they requested. 

Walking into the Carmelcorn on that Friday afternoon was like walking onto the Enterprise's holodeck. 

The second I walked in the door of that old candy shop, my mind started reeling. It was like I had been transported back through time. 

The place looked exactly the same as it always had. 

The visual alone was enough to bring back the feeling of being a youngster again. It looked exactly the same. 

Based on how I felt at that moment, I wouldn't have been surprised to walk out of the shop and find words  "Walt Disney's The Aristocats" on displayed in gigantic letters on the marque of the Boyd Theater. But what I saw that wasn't the factor that awed me. It was the aroma. 

The delicious smell that was a combination of all kinds of bagged sweets, display cases full of chocolates, and freshly popped popcorn grabbed me and threw me into the past. It was like I was in my own personal time machine. 

I immediately started "gushing" with words and emotion in an effort to convey to the "kids" and the two ladies behind the counter, what I was feeling. 

I can't say for certain, but I am pretty sure, that the shop owner, Sia Bassil, was one of the workers busy behind the counter.  

I started telling her about the connection and between her little shop and my childhood experiences. 

Teejai bought a bag of popcorn. I had a couple of handfuls later. It still tasted the same. I bought some of the handmade chocolates and a bag of gum drops. 

Although I could have used a credit card to pay, I used cash to preserve the nostalgic atmosphere just a little bit longer. Soon it was time to "transport" back to the present and leave the shop.  
As I stepped outside and I saw Bobby close the time travel portal (aka the shop's door) behind us; I just couldn't bring myself to walk away from that corner of the square. 

I sat down on the bench just outside the shop to just spend a few more moments still awashed in the waves of nostalgia. That may seem a little too melodramtic but its the only way I can describe it. 

Before leaving downtown I also revisited Joe's Market & Deli, just 1/2 a block away from Carmelcorn. I was delighted to discover that they still make Italian hoagies on hard Italian bread like they did when I was 12. 

While the store still looked, basically, the same I didn't take me back the way the candy shop had. But that's okay; I was still on memory sensory overload anyway. 

We browsed through an antique shop on South Third Street on our way back to the parking structure. My car spiraled down exit ramp and we headed back toward the Southside hill. 

Our afternoon touring downtown came to an end. But I had made a whole new set of memories connected to downtown Easton as it is today.

Once again, thank you for taking the time to read the experiences I feel I need to share with you. 

I have one more story to share with you in regard to "going back" this past August. 

As I hinted earlier, it has to do with a building that has been prominent in the city of Easton's skyline for decades. 

I will share my connection to that building from both a "then" and "now" perspective in my next post. Hope to see you then.  

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