(Editor’s Note: This story first appeared in a recent edition of the Sunday Dispatch.)
PITTSTON — Billy Joel’s song “Uptown Girl” can be about any girl, but if he were to write a song called “Downtown Girl,” it would have to be about Rose Randazzo.
Randazzo, 56, served as a driving force for much of the city’s growth during her time as Main Street Manager. She stepped down from that position in July.
“It was one of the best experiences of my professional life,” she said.
Lori Nocito, who worked closely with Randazzo and helped form Downtown Tomorrow in 1996, said her presence will be missed.
“As Main Street Manager, Rose worked closely with city officials, the business community as well as artists to help the progress continue in the city,” she said. “She will be missed, but fortunately her role will be continued by our volunteer team members, including Judy Greenwald, Sarah Donahue and, especially, Joleen Lazecki.”
From refurbished buildings to murals to Second Friday Art Walks, Randazzo accomplished much in her stint as Main Street Manager.
Restructuring Main Street
Randazzo was on vacation with her family in 2010 when a friend texted her a picture of a bulldozer holding up a building next to what is now Napoli’s Pizza, in the space now known as Pocket Park.
Disgusted by the picture, she knew something had to be done to preserve the city’s architecture, so she reached out to mayor Jason Klush, who was only a few months into his first term at the time.
“I said ‘I want to do something to help with the Main Street revitalization,’” Randazzo said. “He says ‘What do you want? Do you want a job? I have some solicitorships that I haven’t filled yet.’ I said ‘I don’t want a paid position. I want a position like a mall manager.’”
Randazzo made up the term Main Street Manager, and Klush was immediately on board with it.
“We knew we needed some kind of organization on Main Street because we had so much going on, and we needed someone to take care of that kind of stuff,” Klush said. “If you don’t have a good team, you’re not going to get anywhere. Rose was a good friend of mine for a long time, and she became part of our team and made the city better.”
Randazzo was appointed to the volunteer position of Main Street Manager and immediately went to work on preserving the city’s architecture, starting with the building that houses Napoli’s Pizza.
She said the problem occurring in the city was people were buying buildings and renovating them with no relevance to the historical design, and Napoli’s was a prime example.
“When you look at the original picture of Napoli’s, the top two floors are historical and the bottom was destroyed,” she said. “We had no money in the budget to write ordinances, so I volunteered to write the sign ordinance and write the facade ordinance and I did it with the help of Larry Newman from Wilkes-Barre who gave me guidance.”
The facade ordinance is a law passed by local authorities requiring the periodic inspection of certain building facades to help ensure public safety. It also prevents new owners from changing the architectural structure of buildings.
Randazzo went to work on doing the same to several buildings and business fronts on Main Street and, before long, business was booming.
Buildings that house the Majestic Lunch and Pittston Dental were given upgrades, while new businesses such as Paint N’ Pinot, Purple Squirrel, Pittston Popcorn, Vintage Vogue, UFCW Federal Credit Union, Geisinger Careworks and Merle Norman Cosmetics all opened within the last several years.
Jane Chropowicki, owner of Merle Norman Cosmetics, said Randazzo lobbied to bring her to Main Street for years, but she continuously declined in fear of parking issues.
“When Rose approached me years ago, she had a vision and she told me about her vision of what the downtown would look like with restaurants, shops and bringing back Pittston to where it was,” she said. “The vision was great, but I was a new business owner and I was concerned about parking, and every time I ran into Rose she kept asking me when I was coming down.”
When the lease was up on a building on Laurel Street in Pittston Township she occupied for 16 years, Chropowicki reached out to Randazzo, asking if she could still move to Main Street as the area was thriving.
She opened her current location in 2014.
Randazzo’s crowning achievement is the Luzerne County Community College Satellite Campus, which broke ground in October and is set to open in fall 2018.
“I wasn’t resigning or leaving my position until that happened,” she said. “I chased after that for over 20 years. That sustains all of these little businesses because that brings in 500 students a day, and they’re going to spend money, their parents are going to come down here, they’re going to have activities and night classes.”
Art in the heart of the city
Randazzo realized new businesses and refurbished buildings weren’t enough to bring people back into the city, so her next step was giving people reasons to visit Main Street.
“Public art was first on the agenda,” she said. “Another business that came in early on that I solicited with — Art on Main. It was very, very important because (owner) Maria Livrogne was a big part of the art movement on Main Street.”
Art projects throughout the city donated by Art on Main include the metal structured crossing guards at Law Office at 39, metal flowers outside the Sunday Dispatch office at 71 N. Main St. and a sculpture currently being constructed for outside the Geisinger Careworks building.
One year after Randazzo was appointed Main Street Manager, the city’s first mural — the Coal Miners Mural — went up.
“That was a celebration of our heritage,” Randazzo said. “That looks at the coal miners, the women of the dress factories and the trains.”
The mural was designed by the late Dwight Kirkland, who also did several other murals in the city.
Randazzo said each mural is protected by easements signed by the building owners, stating that, even if the building changes ownership, the mural cannot be painted over for at least 40 years.
“That’s about the life expectancy of the murals,” she said.
The mural Randazzo might forever be associated with is the Inspiration Mural, which was completed in 2015 by Michael Pilato, and earned her the award of the Sunday Dispatch Person of the Year.
She raised $100,000 in funds from private donors within one year to help pay for it.
Now, two years later, she can’t help but smile every time she sees it.
“When I drive down Main Street, two years later, and I get to that mural, it tells me that I’m somewhere special,” she said. “Something wonderful is happening in this city. It’s a show stopper.”
Asked if she might find herself on the mural one day, Randazzo laughed and said, “That’s up to the people who take over.”
Second Friday Art Walk
While murals were being erected, more needed to be done to bring art into the city. That’s where Livrogne stepped in with the Second Friday Art Walk held the second Friday of every month during May, June, July and September.
“When I came to the city, I mentioned my idea of having an art walk in Pittston,” she said. “Rose and (former mayor) Mike (Lombardo) had told me that they were planning on having an art walk; they just didn’t feel they were ready yet. I went ahead, and the first year I had it in-house in the gallery.”
The following year, Randazzo approached Livrogne about making the art walk bigger with the vision to include hand-crafted art and bring in artists to display their work.
The event has grown over the years, something Livrogne said was all because of the teamwork between her and Randazzo.
“It was absolutely teamwork,” Livrogne said. “Rose handled the performing artists and I handled the vision artists, and we just made it work.”
Randazzo and Livrogne both relinquished their roles in organizing the art walks after this year’s season, but Livrogne said she’ll remain an advisor with the event.
With Randazzo leaving the role of Main Street Manager and her role with the art walk, Livrogne knows it’s the end of a creative era between the two.
“I don’t even want to think about losing her too much because it saddens me a little,” she said.
The decision to step away as Main Street Manager was a difficult one for Randazzo, but it’s one she knew she had to make for her family.
Randazzo and her husband, Geoffrey Pizzuto, reside in Scranton and have a 15-year-old son, also named Geoffrey, who is currently a sophomore at Scranton Prep.
“I started to feel really guilty because my son, my only child, will be going to college in three years,” she said. “I thought to myself that I need to step away from the hours I was putting in in Pittston, and I need to step away from that and enjoy him.”
Randazzo said she committed 25-30 hours of volunteer work in Pittston in addition to operating Law Office at 39 where she practices real estate and personal injury law.
She also has projects in Scranton she’s working on and, although she wouldn’t comment on them, said they will be announced soon.
Although no longer a city official, Randazzo will continue to work in her original hometown of Pittston at her law office and will be seen making her way down Main Street to grab something for lunch.
As of now, she’s not ruling out returning to work with the city in some capacity in the future.
“I never say ‘no’ to anything,” she said. “I keep all doors open.”
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Reach Jimmy Fisher at 570-704-3972 or on Twitter @SD_JimmyFisher