LUZERNE — Mention Small Town, USA and Norman Rockwell images come to mind.
The West Side borough of Luzerne has many of the qualities and charm the iconic magazine illustrator chronicled for decades. That appeal soon will be depicted on the WVIA-TV documentary series, “Our Town.”
The public station serving 22 counties in Northeastern and Central Pennsylvania is profiling the borough of about 2,800 people in an hour-long program.
The borough is the first Luzerne County town in the series. WVIA has not selected the other towns to be featured in the county.
With community support, the result will be a video scrapbook to be broadcast on Channel 44 where residents paint a portrait of Luzerne’s history, heritage and contributions.
The process got off to an impressive start last week when about 25 residents and business owners attended the first meeting hosted by the show’s producer, Lisa Mazzarella, at the borough fire hall on Tener Street.
Another meeting is set for 6:30 p.m Thursday at the fire hall, and residents are asked to turn out with old photos, videos and stories that may be discussed and filtered into the documentary.
“What we have found in doing this series for four years is that the best stories are in the small towns,” Mazzarella said.
“There is a tremendous spirit in these towns. Everybody knows everybody else’s business and that can be good, or be bad. But we want to show you and everyone else the dynamics of Luzerne and what its particular small-town values are.”
Luzerne was chosen because it has the same name as the county, Mazzarella said. She drove through the borough and came away impressed by its features.
Mayor Jim Keller said he was honored to have his town selected as the first in Luzerne County to be featured by the WVIA series.
The borough celebrated its centennial in 1982, he said.
“Back when the town was formed there was a lot of discussion about naming it. The story goes that after hours and hours, it was decided to name the borough in honor of the county — Luzerne.”
Mazzarella wants to hear about the quaint Main Street shops and what the downtown was like in years gone by. She is anxious to learn more about places like Perugino’s Restaurant and the Veterans Monument on Bennett Street that was erected in 1921 to honor the town’s war heroes.
And she wants to know more about the Luzerne High School Lions sports teams and the tales of the orange and black.
And then there is the Back Mountain Trail that has a popular access point in Luzerne. Parallel to Route 309, the trail provides hikers with scenic views along the hillside to Dallas Township.
WVIA has done about 15 Our Town documentaries, featuring towns like Tunkhannock, Carbondale, Jim Thorpe, Muncy and Dunmore.
The production process produces a ripple effect that “creates a buzz” in each town, she said.
“We have seen a renewed pride in each small town,” she said. “This series is all about community pride. We reveal the best kept secrets of each town. And in the end, people will know everything about Luzerne — who you are and what you have to offer.”
The buzz is already palpable in Luzerne.
Karen Brown, proprietor of My Sister’s Closet on Main Street, left last week’s meeting impressed and energized.
And not just for Luzerne, the town she visited as a child while growing up on nearby Bunker Hill. Brown wants every small town in Luzerne County to be featured because she is certain it will spark the spirit and economy in each.
“I think it’s wonderful,” Brown said. “I can already feel a genuine sense of pride in the community. And that’s what it’s all about.”
Her father was born and raised in Luzerne, and she remembers the old town and its 5 & 10 store and other “neat” shops.
“And then it became sort of a ghost town,” Brown said. “Mayor Keller has led the comeback and look at it today — it’s a great downtown again.”
The WVIA project is the talk of the town, said Brown.
“I hope everybody turns out Thursday,” she said. “I can’t wait to hear all the stories.”
Brown urges residents to dig up photos and videos of buildings no longer standing.
“Tell us the stories behind those buildings. We can go back to the very beginning — to the horse and buggy days. We want to learn it all.”
Next week’s meeting is critical, Mazzarella said.
“The more people that come out, the better,” Mazzarella said. “Tell your friends to come too. You are the ones who will make this film. You’re the people who will tell what it is that makes Luzerne such a great place.”
Following Thursday’s meeting, program producers will spend three weeks selecting photos, videos and stories to be used in the documentary. On April 5th, Mazzarella and a WVIA crew will choose a convenient place in Luzerne to interview people telling their Luzerne stories.
The film debut is set for May 28 on WVIA. There will be live call-ins, and WVIA will use the film to aid in fundraising.
“It’s all about small town values,” Mazzarella said. “The end product will be very good — a warm documentary that tells the story of Luzerne and its people.”
In the fall of 2009, WVIA began looking for a programming idea that would more directly involve its coverage area.
The resulting “Our Town” adapts to television the “day-in-the-life” picture books that profile the people, places and happenings within a specific community or locale, she said.
“A town’s people know what makes their town tick,” she said. “They know what makes it special.”
She predicts a lasting impact on Luzerne and its residents.
“I’ve seen it 15 times already,” she said, referring to the other productions. “There will be a resurgence of pride and a sense of joy and accomplishment.”