SHICKSHINNY – With 27 shopping days left before Christmas, Shickshinny residents have a new post office to mail presents to loved ones and will soon have a discount store to pick up wrapping paper, tinsel and other essentials for decking the halls.
The post office and the Family Dollar discount store were severely damaged in the flood that struck Shickshinny in September 2011.
The post office, which took on 6 feet of water during the flood, reopened Nov. 17 on Canal Street, while Family Dollar, inundated by more than 10 feet of flood water, will open its doors again Dec. 7 on South Main Street.
Their return, according to borough residents and officials, marks some of the final hurdles in the small riverside town's comeback from the brink of obliteration.
Now we're a town again, Gary LaTorre of Shickshinny said of the post office's return after mailing a package there Tuesday afternoon.
LaTorre, like some in Shickshinny's significant aging population, said he doesn't email, and that paper mail provides a lifeline for himself and his electrical contracting business.
I'm totally out of the computer age; paperwork is my thing, LaTorre said. For the old-timers, mailing is needed.
Other residents said having an in-town post office is essential for elderly community members, many of whom do not drive.
While mail delivery to Shickshinny was not interrupted, without a post office residents had to travel elsewhere to buy stamps and mail packages or oversize envelopes. The nearest post offices to Shickshinny are in Huntington Mills, Hunlock Creek and Berwick, a round-trip journey of at least 15 miles whichever way you go.
It was rough, said Frank Evina, a 60-year-old retiree from Mocanaqua. Not only with the Postal Service but also with the grocery store. You either had to go 10 miles to Berwick or 10 miles to Nanticoke.
He added, Psychologically this is great. It shows that people still have faith in the area right now.
We've been having to run all over the place for pickups, said Ken Williams, owner of Five Mountain Realty in Shickshinny. It means a lot to us.
Shickshinny's post office services six postal routes as well as one highway contract route, though its carriers are still temporarily working from another office, said Officer in Charge Robert Jones. It also houses about 200 post office boxes.
Jones said the post office building was gutted and completely rebuilt inside, and a large panel exterior window shattered by the pressure of the river was replaced.
A few blocks away, workers assembled shelving units inside the renovated Family Dollar. Flooring, interior walls, ceiling panels and lighting had all been replaced, leaving only furnishings and merchandise to be delivered.
The store will reopen for business Dec. 6, with a grand reopening event planned for Dec. 22, according to store development project manager Joe Wahr.
Wahr said the store interior is being built to Family Dollar's latest design standards, and shoppers can expect a much crisper and cleaner store than before.
Store manager Robyn Rospendowski said the Shickshinny community is eagerly awaiting Family Dollar's reopening as well.
It's all over Facebook that they put the coolers in last week, Rospendowski said. They can't wait.
Borough Secretary/Treasurer Melissa Weber said the post office and dollar store were part of a downtown hub providing essential services not only to Shickshinny but to residents of surrounding rural areas as well.
You have the post office, you have the food store, the pharmacy; they're the big deals, Weber said. We have our restaurants back – all of them.
All we need now is a movie theater and a bowling alley, she joked.
While Shickshinny's commercial district has largely rebounded, Weber said challenges remain for the low-lying community's residential district.
The hardest-hitting loss now is our residents, and residents in any community are your biggest asset, Weber said.
She said 14 homes in the borough have been demolished since the flood and at least 20 households have left to live elsewhere. More National Flood Insurance Program buyouts are expected.
Hemmed in by steep mountainsides, the borough also lacks developable land out of the flood plain, making redevelopment planning challenging, she said.
They want to move back, Weber said. If there was a place for them to live in Shickshinny, they would be here.
The September 2011 flood crippled Shickshinny's economic infrastructure, damaging 28 businesses as well as essential government buildings in the borough. These are some of the businesses that have returned or will come back.
• U.S. Postal Service
• Shickshinny Borough Office
• Thomas' Market (replaced the closed Five Mountain Market as Shickshinny's only grocery store)
• CVS Pharmacy
• Bach's Fitness Center
• Five Mountain Hardware
• The Wagon Wheel
• Family Dollar
• First Keystone Community Bank (will replace Wells Fargo, demolished after the flood)
Shickshinny will host an open house at the borough offices, 35 W. Union St., from 4 to 7 p.m. Dec. 7. The open house will reintroduce the building, which was severely damaged in the September 2011 flood, to area residents.