Sunday, February 12, 2017


Vgogh helps preserve memories

Kingston business specializes in custom framing

By ALAN K. STOUT
NEPA’S BEST BUSINESSES

When someone chooses to have something properly framed, they are, in a sense, also making a statement. They are saying, "This is important to me. This has value to me. This is something I want to preserve. This is something I want to display."

It is a meaningful gesture, and though the reasons for the framing may vary from sentimental value to actual value, Vgogh Gallery & Custom Framing, located at 281 Wyoming Avenue in Kingston, treats them all with respect and care. The business, pronounced "V-Go," opened in 2006 and is owned and operated by Ariane Marsico.

A native of Scranton, Marsico moved to Dallas while in high school. Later, while doing a marketing internship with Showcase Art and Framing, a New Jersey-based company, she discovered a great appreciation for all-things-framing.

"It was a two-month summer internship, and I just feel in love with it," she says. "I love everything, from the manufacturing to the preserving of memorabilia. And that's really what we do. We do frame art, of course. Everybody does. But we mainly frame artifacts, or things that people don't want to get destroyed by light or the elements, or things that people want to display, such as accomplishments. That's mainly what comes through the door."

Marsico says that when people choose to frame something, it's usually not only to properly preserve it for themselves, but for generations to come.

"They're often getting it framed for the purpose of passing it down," she says. "It's usually family photos, which we can restore. And they may have never seen those photos whole, as they originally were. With all of the digital advances, we're able to restore things to their original form. A lot of the photos from this area are from the flood (of 1972), so they have a lot of mold damage, or they've faded, and we're able to bring 99-percent of them back. We've had people cry at the counter, because it's the first time they're seeing their ancestors."

Marsico says all sorts of other items arrive at the store for framing every day. One recent job involved a collection of vintage soda cans. Another included World War II memorabilia. And some come from the world of sports.

"I'm a huge sports fan, so all of the sports memorabilia that comes in, I'm always excited about," she says. "We had a Derek Jeter signed photo come in that was of him touching the sign in the Yankee clubhouse that reads 'I thank the good Lord for making me a Yankee.' I've always loved that photo. That was for the Misericordia University golf tournament, and it came right from Yankee Stadium."

Though Vgogh's primary focus is custom framing, it also still hosts a few exhibits each year.


"Originally, we were going to be an outlet for a lot of local artists, but there's not a big demand for fine arts in the area," says Marsico. "But we still host two large exhibits. Usually there's a July show and a show that runs from November through the first of the year. We've hosted everybody from the Colored Pencil Society to the Wyoming Valley Art League and a lot of the well-known local artists."

Marsico, 28, and her son, Noah, live in West Pittston. She says Vgogh has a staff of seven, including two full-time framers, and adds that word-of-mouth and referrals have been her best form of advertising. Being located on Wyoming Avenue, where thousands pass by each day, has also been helpful. She says she still gets great satisfaction when customers come in to pick up their items and marvel at how nice they appear after being properly framed.


"That's the rewarding part," she says. "And that's a new experience every time."


Info: (570) 371-7766 or www.vgoghgallery.com



























Chic Chic Marketplace opens storefront in Forty Fort

Freshly catered foods, local farm products make the business a unique one-stop shop  

By ALAN K. STOUT
NEPA’S BEST BUSINESESS

Jessica Zielen and Megan Mould have been cooking together for years. It is one of their great passions. And through their business, the Chic Chic Marketplace, they not only get to cook and cater every day, but they also help other local food vendors sell their products. It’s a perfect combination for the two friends and business partners, and with a recent move and expansion to a new location on Wyoming Avenue in Forty Fort, the future is looking bright.

The first incarnation of the business was founded nearly 10 years ago, when Zielen began cooking soups at home and selling them at area businesses. Such work earned her the nickname “The Soup Chic,” and she eventually also started selling her soups at farmers’ markets. Later, with a former business partner, she launched a private catering business, working out of Kingston, and she also ran the food cafĂ© at the Wilkes-Barre YMCA. Through it all, she realized that what she loved the most was cooking and meeting other vendors at farmers’ markets. Working with Mould, the two launched the Chic Chic Marketplace, which combined their own catering services with a distribution service for other local food vendors. Foods - which were ordered online through the business website - were either delivered directly to customer’s homes or could be picked up at Chic Chic’s kitchen, which was located in Kingston. Eventually, as the business began to grow and it found itself working with about 25 different vendors, the need arose for an actual storefront, or a true marketplace.

Thus, the recent move to Forty Fort.

“It was working as a concept, but we realized the missing piece of the puzzle was having the actual storefront, where people can come in, see the products, and ask questions about the products,” says Zielen. “We also wanted to be a more visible part of the community, because a lot of times, I think we were just out of sight, out of mind. Even though people were interested in us and liked the concept of what we were doing, it just seemed inaccessible to them in some way, or abstract.”

Such is no longer the case. With its new location at 970 Wyoming Avenue in Forty Fort, the Chic Chic Marketplace is now exposed to plenty of drive-by traffic every day. And though orders can still be placed online, customers can now stop in to see the products for themselves.

“The website is still up,” says Zielen. “You can still order everything through the website and set up for a delivery or a pick-up, and we still have many customers that do that. But, also, you can now just stop in at anytime and see what we have in house.”

Store hours are Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.  Products include several varieties of eggs, poultry, milks, meats, yogurts, cheeses, breads, coffees and many more.  There are also natural homemade beauty products.


“What we’re trying to do is make an old-fashioned corner store,” says Zielen. “You can come to us and you can get the basics, but you can also get some really unique products. And it’s all local, just like it would have been 100 years ago. It’s an old concept that we’re trying to update. And in addition to all of these unique products, we also cook fresh every single day.”  

A new catering menu at the Chic Chic Marketplace is posted to its website each week. For those interested in specific items, pre-orders would be placed by Sunday for distribution or pick-up on Wednesday. Customers may also simply visit the store at anytime to purchase items on that week’s menu, though an online pre-order will guarantee you the product you’re interested in. So far, Zielen says that less three months after opening the storefront, business has been brisk and things are going well.

“The best part of it is that it’s a true representation of what we’ve been trying to do for so long.” she says. “Before this, the only thing that we were able to do was to try and talk and explain, whereas  now people come and see it and say, ‘OK. Now I get what you’ve been trying to do. I see the products.’ And they’re curious, and they’re asking questions. It’s just a really good space to interact with people and get those conversations going.”   

Zielen says that both she and Mould not only find running their own business to be very fulfilling, but they also enjoy – through their store -helping other area businesses succeed.


“We’re trying to do something different,” she says. “We’re trying to source local. And we’re trying to provide you with a really good, wholesome, cost-effective meal. I’m passionate about it. And when people come in and ask questions - ‘What is this product, and why should I buy it?’ - and I get to explain it to them, and then I see the wheels turn in their head, and I see it click, and I see that they understand why it’s so important to support these people in our community and keep these good things in our community – that’s very satisfying.”      



On the web: www.chicchicmarket.com     
























Torony’s Giant Hot Dogs honors family tradition

 Roberta Torony and Gary Okun 

Plains business, established in 1952, is now in a new location

By ALAN K. STOUT
NEPA’S BEST BUSINESSES

If you visit Torony’s Giant Hot Dogs today, a sampling of one of their legendary foot-longers probably wouldn’t taste much different than it did some 64 years ago. And that is exactly how its owners and customers like it.  

The business, which is owned by Roberta Torony, Jeanne Torony and her husband, Gary Okun, was first opened by Torony’s parents, John and Eleanor, in 1952. It was originally a stop-and-go shack-style establishment, located on Highway 315 in Plains. And it quickly became one of the most popular hot dog stands in the region.  

“It was the year they got married,” says Roberta. “And they were seasonal. They typically opened from the week after Easter until the last week before the first snow fall, sometime between Halloween and Thanksgiving. And we did that for many, many years.”

In 1997, Torony’s moved to East Main Street in Plains, not far from the side entrance to Mohegan Sun Pocono, near Eddie’s Diner. It remained there for 19 years. In May of this year, it relocated to 1325 N. River Road in Plains, inside the Tuft-Tex Complex. Roberta says shifting locations has never been a big issue for the family, especially since the hot dog business is such a big part of their lives.
     
“It was always kind of part of our blood and part of our culture,” she says. “We grew up with it.  I can remember back, as early as maybe nine years old, we were always there. We were always family. Our earliest job was pouring soda. As time went on, it was always the four of us.”



Changes to road structures in Plains helped facilitate both the 1997 move and the more recent one. But change can have its advantages. For one, with plenty of indoor seating, Torony’s is now open year-round. And it’s busier.

“It’s rekindled a knowledge of our business,” says Roberta. “I think when we moved to East Main Street, we faded a little bit. We didn’t have that impulse stop. When we were on the highway, it was very easy. The lights would be on, the shudders would be open and the stools would be out, and that was a clear indication that we were open. Now, I’m graced with hearing a lot of stories that go back to the old shack. People will come in and say, ‘My mom and dad took us there when we were kids.’ ”

Okun, who married into the business in 1985, agrees.

“Now, we’re more centrally located,” he says. “Before, we were up on one side of Plains. Now, we’re more towards the center, and we’re closer to a lot of people on the other side of the river, so it brings a lot more people in.  We’ve also regained that impulse stopper. A lot of people will see the sign and pull in.”    

In addition to hot dogs, Torony’s also offers, hamburgers, sandwiches, sausages and chicken dishes. The hot dogs, which they buy from a meat-packing plant in Rochester, come with a signature taste that dates back several decades.

“We try to stay consistent,” says Roberta. “Our hot dogs have always been foot-long, and we’ve always had a hot dog with a casing. They’re not boiled or skinless. It’s a better quality hot dog. It’s pork/beef. Consistently and quality are really high on our list of priorities.”

“And the thing that really separates it is the chili,’ adds Gary. “It’s a homemade sauce that her mother developed back in the day and we keep it going. It’s the same.”



Menu items other than hot dogs are also prepared with care and a sense of tradition.

“We try to keep things as true to the original as we can,” says Roberta. “Our sausages are home made. We get the pork butts ground for us, and I do the patties myself. I season them and make them. And our fries are fresh cut. There are no preservatives at all.”

Torony’s is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Okun says it’s the customers that he enjoys the most about the business, adding that he likes to joke that some come into the restaurant just to chat with him. Roberta also enjoys seeing familiar faces, and new ones, come though the door.

“Our customers are like  family,” she says. “You get to know them. And you get to know their extend families. They become a part of you. And so when you get to see them, and they become regulars, it’s like having a visit from a friend.”

(For more information on Torony’s Giant Hot Dogs, call (570) 822-1067. They can also be found on Facebook.)




























Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Rebennack's Appliance: A west side tradition



Kingston business, under new ownership for past 11 years, continues to grow

By ALAN K. STOUT
NEPA’s BEST BUSINESSES

Rebennack's Appliance in Kingston has been fixture in the community for decades. It is a place that, for several generations, dating back 70 years, people have gone to find all of their appliance needs. For the past 11years, however, the business has been under new ownership. And in that time, it has not only continued on, but has actually grown considerably.

Rebennack's, which was once a family business, is now owned by Jim Broda, a 35 year-old native of Pittston. He says when he first purchased the business 11 years ago, he saw it as a good opportunity, and so far, that has proven to be true.

"I was 25, and I worked at one of the distributors, and I used to deliver appliances to Rebennack's," says Broda. "At the time, I was starting to buy real estate, but I delivered appliances as my full-time job, and at some point, I realized Rebennack's was about to close, because the owner was about to retire. I went in and made them an offer."

Broda says that after some wheeling and dealing, an agreement was made. And over the past years 11 years, he has not simply carried the torch of a long-standing west side business, he's expanded it and made it grow.

"I've just worked at it, and now we're a couple-of-million-dollars-a-year company," he says. "We went from displaying about $30,000 (worth of merchandise) on the floor to close to $200,000. I own my own building, my inventory and my trucks. That's where we're at, almost 11 years later."

Rebennack's employs between six to nine people, depending on the season. Its inventory includes washers, dryers, stoves, dishwashers and smaller specialty appliances. Broda often puts in long days, but he's not complaining. In fact, he says the success of the business has helped him pursue other interests.

"It's a challenge, which I do enjoy, " he says. "It's neat owning something that you can take care of. I have different financial goals from when I started. I'm
getting heavily into investing – retirement funds and a lot of things, and this is supporting that. It's a challenge every day to come in and hit numbers to feed my investments."

Broda, of course, has become an expert on all appliances. Have any question about a product? He'll know the answer.

"I'm here every day, seven days a week, whether it's for a couple of hours or 12 hours," he says. "I know the products in and out. I go to all of the seminars regularly, from here to Chicago to all of the major hubs, where we go right to the (manufacturer's) main facilities. About 90-percent of our floor is 'Made in America.' And that's easy to do with the Whirlpool family, as they have about five brands under them. We display about 200 pieces on the floor. We have almost 50 refrigerators on display and probably 30 washers and dryers.”

 Interestingly, only about a year after Broda bought the business, a Lowe's opened only about a mile away. And though that could have spelled doom for a smaller, locally owned and operated company, Broda says it's been a blessing.

"My workers said to me 'What are we going to do?',' and I said 'Keep working.' That all we could do," he says. "When Lowe's opened their doors, the first day, we were checking the doors to make sure we didn't forget to lock them, and picking up the receiver to make sure there was a dial tone. There was no business that day. It was dead. Not a single call. Not a single footprint coming through that door. The next day, which was a Sunday, we were over-inundated, and that's when we started extending our Sunday hours. People were going to Lowe's, and coming to us with model numbers and prices, and we were beating them, and they were buying on the spot. Lowe's helped fuel our business. It brought the Gateway and Narrows Shopping Centers back, and it brought business back to Wyoming Ave."

Broda, who lives with his wife, Kim, in Plains, says he truly appreciates his customers and that the business had led to many
friendships.

"We have people that just stop in regularly to chit-chat," he says. ""Almost all of my personal friends have come from the business, from all walks of life."

















Wednesday, April 20, 2016



Pine Hill Lodge noting 45th anniversary under same ownership


Restful Mount Pocono facility is located in the center of many Pocono attractions


By ALAN K. STOUT
NEPA’s BEST BUSINESSES

For a place with such a rich history, Pine Hill Lodge is certainly not a place focused on the past. It is all about making new memories for families and friends.

The stately and charming three-story home, which was built in 1875, continues to serve as a restful getaway retreat for hundreds of people each year. And with 16 rooms, including 11 bedrooms, visiting groups often range from family reunions to church outings. George Bostany, 83, purchased the lodge in 1971 and is thus celebrating his 45th anniversary of owning and operating the facility. Bostany, a native of Brooklyn, said he has always enjoyed Mount Pocono.

“My parents came here when I was 17 or 18,” said Mr. Bostany. “They used to rent a place not far from here. This was back in the ‘40s. And I loved this place. It was different from Brooklyn. It was really country then. And I guess I got used to it. Later, with my wife and my kids, we started coming up on weekends and staying at different hotels and motels. That’s why we picked the Poconos. I knew the place.”

Bostany said Pine Hill Lodge was first brought to his attention by his late father, who knew that his son was interested in the area and had seen that the home was for sale. He was 39 years old at the time, he had four children, and he aspired to having a “nice country life.” And so, he bought it. From 1971 to 1978, he commuted between Brooklyn, where he owned a television repair business, and Mount Pocono, where he oversaw the lodge. Finally, in 1978, after selling the family home in Brooklyn, he purchased a home in Mount Pocono not far from the lodge, took a job as a technician at the Tobyhanna Army Depot, and relocated his family.

“I liked the size of it,” said Mr. Bostany, when asked what first appealed to him about the lodge. He added that he’s always enjoyed repair and restoration work and that maintaining the facility has been a welcome challenge.


George Bostany purchased the Pine Hill Lodge in 1971
“Keeping it alive, and renovating it, and to bringing it back to how it was originally was nice,” he said. “It’s been a good life for me.”


Bostany, a veteran of the Korean War, lost his wife of 53 years, Marlene, in 2014. He has four grown children: Christine Nafash, Lisa Butowsky, George Bostany and Donna Bostany. After 45 years, he said he is now open to the idea of putting the lodge on the market and selling it to the right buyer.

“I‘d like to find a family to buy it, or someone that would like to continue doing this,” he said. “Someone could run it as a bed and breakfast, or convert it into six- family apartment, or a restaurant, or buy it as an investment. It’s also ideal for someone to just continue doing what I’m doing.”

Pine Hill Lodge is a member of the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau and the Monroe County Historical Association. It is located 30 minutes from Scranton, 50 minutes from Wilkes-Barre and 90 minutes from New York. It can accommodate up to 23 people overnight and up to 30 in total. It is rented to private groups only, so those groups that stay there have the entire facility to themselves. In addition to 11 bedrooms, there is also a large living room with a stone fireplace, two dining rooms and a large fully-equipped kitchen. And for now, despite the possibility of a sale, it’s business as usual and bookings for summer getaways have begun. To note its 45th anniversary under the same ownership, special rates are being offered.


George Bostany and his daughter, Donna.
Bostany’s daughter, Donna, who currently assists him with bookings, said that as more and more attractions continue to be developed in the Poconos, Pine Hill Lodge continues to be a perfect place to visit.

“We see people leaving their crazy/busy lives behind for a weekend and enjoying nature,” said Ms. Bostany. “There’s so much nature here. There’s a hammock, so you can sleep between two trees and take the world off of your shoulders and enjoy the clouds or the constellations. The wrap-around porch is nice for families, and we’re in the middle of horseback riding, fishing, hiking and swimming areas.  It’s a place where families can talk to each other. They cook here, and they’re all under one roof. You know where your kids are. There’s a ping-pong table, and meanwhile people are playing cards in the dining room, or they’re outside at the barbecue. You can make your own fun here on the premises, with shuffleboard, or soccer on the lawn, or the wooded nature trails. There’s also so much antiquing here, and you can go to Mount Airy for the casino, or for comedy shows and bands, or Kalahari for swimming. We’re also in the heart of the ski resort area.

“There are all kinds of things to do.”


(For information on Pine Hill Lodge, call (570) 839-8060. It can also be found on Facebook.)  

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

This story originally appeared in The Pocono Times in Monroe County. It also appeared in the Journal of the Pocono Plateau in Monroe County and The Westside Bulletin in Luzerne County. And it has been shared on Twitter by the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau media page.      
































Saturday, November 1, 2014

Kingston consignment shop goes vintage



New store offers an eye-catching mix of the old and the new


By ALAN K. STOUT
NEPA’s BEST BUSINESSES
November 2014

Cheryl Audrey Lutz and her daughter, Taylor Rebecca Lutz, have always loved consignment shops. They've always had an appreciation for vintage clothing and have enjoyed finding unique items from the past. In time, they became experts on the consignment business, and they now bring that expertise to their own business: C. Audrey & Daughters Vintage & Consignment Shop, which is located on Wyoming Avenue in Kingston.

The shop first opened in August of 2011 in Berwick, but moved to Kingston three months ago. Cheryl, 51, worked in the insurance claims business for more than 25 years, but says that she eventually grew tired of the corporate world. When a store front opportunity presented itself, she thought of her love for consignments and decided it was time for a change.

 "I did some research, and just went out there and dug right in," she says. "Taylor and I both are big proponents of thrift shops, flea markets, estate sales and consignment shops. We predominantly shop for ourselves in consignment shops."

Cheryl says many items from the past have a much longer shelf-life than people give them credit for.

"We've become a society of 'throw away,' and it makes me crazy," she says. "We need to repurpose. We need to take this stuff and reuse it and remake it. If you don't like the way it is, make it something else. If you look at a piece of vintage clothing that's been around since the '50s, the quality of that garment is impeccable. It's going to be around for another 50 years. You don't find that now. You buy clothing now, and you wash it a couple of times, or dry-clean it a couple of times, and it's garbage. And everybody's dressed the same. There's no individuality."

 Taylor, 23, agrees.

 "A lot of older people always tell me I was born in the wrong era," she says with a smile. "But actually, among my age group, vintage is pretty popular. The esthetics, the quality - things just looked prettier then."

Taylor says she enjoys looking for items to place on the shop's shelves.


"I love finding things," she says. "People bring things in on consignment, but one of my favorite things to do is to go hunting for vintage. It's cool to think about who may have worn something, and what kind of story is behind it."

Cheryl, originally from Hanover Township, says that while Berwick was a fine place to first launch the business, Kingston has proven to be a better home.


"Taylor is very much into the vintage side of the business," she says. "That's very much her niche. And there wasn't the demographic for it down there. We had a small group of individuals that are really into it, and we had a great storefront, but it just didn't work. Taylor and I had talked about relocating and trying to find something with more foot traffic, and I was just driving down the Ave and saw this storefront. We came in, and it was pretty much in move-in condition. In fact the color, purple, was what we had in Berwick. We've added some colors and spruced it up a bit, but it was just literally a matter of driving by, signing the lease, and moving in within two weeks. Kingston has been very good to us. It's very welcoming."

C. Audrey & Daughters Vintage & Consignment Shop features women's clothing, shoes and accessories. This includes handbags and jewelry. They also carry high-end furs and vintage framed prints.

"We carry modern fashions as well," says Cheryl. "We recently had an Andy Warhol bag come in, and it wasn't here for one hour and it was gone. If you're looking for something interesting and off the beaten path, especially vintage, you're going to find it here."