Main Body

Chapter 3: Commerce and Industry

Historical Commerce and Industry

According to Theresa Guiles, a longtime resident of the Northwest section, Reading as a whole was an industrial and manufacturing town throughout its history. Northwest Reading was no exception, as evidenced by the GoggleWorks (former site of T.A. Willson Spectacle Works), the former Dana Corp site, the Lauer and Barbey breweries, and, by far the largest business in Northwest Reading historic or present, Carpenter Technology. Guiles’ own family had owned Mike’s Tavern on Exeter St. from its beginning in 1920 as a grocery store before the end of Prohibition until its sale to Pete Cammarano in 2010, who continues to operate the tavern (T. Guiles, personal communication, March 8, 2017).

Throughout its history, Carpenter Technology purchased large portions of land within the neighborhood as it expanded. Just one block away from Mike’s Tavern is the Carpenter Employee Relations building, which Guiles recalls used to be residential homes. Across the street from the tavern and her house is the Carpenter Laboratory, which used to be the Riverside Fire House (T. Guiles, personal communication, March 8, 2017). One of the first purchases Carpenter made in its expansion was the House of Good Shepherd, a Catholic school for “wayward” young women, and was famous (or infamous, depending who was asked) for its architectural design reminiscent of a French gothic cathedral. The land was bought in 1970, and the cathedral was demolished three years later (Go Reading Berks, 2014).

Much of the Carpenter facility was built by the famed Reading architecture and engineering firm Muhlenberg Brothers, as was the Berks History Center and parts of the T.A. Wilson building (H.H. Robertson Company, 1921; Splain, 2006).

Current Commerce and Industry     

Site of Dana Corp., demolished after Dana closed the plant in 2010

When looking at the neighborhood from a satellite view, the most prominent feature within the Northwest Reading neighborhood is Dana Memorial Park (as labeled by Google Maps) along Clinton Street. This was the site of Dana Corp., and was demolished after Dana closed the plant in 2010. This area was more recently under construction as a water treatment facility before the builders went bankrupt and were forced to abandon the property. (T. McMahon, personal communication, March 13, 2017) One can still see the incomplete girders for the foundation of this proposed building construction right next to the Olivet Boys and Girls Club’s swimming pool. However, much of the area is completely barren otherwise. Satellite views of this acreage show a large patch of sand and gravel in the midst of natural greenspace.

As of this writing, the City of Reading has proposed a number of projects in order for businesses to open in this area, such as the Schuylkill Avenue interchange, which would make the area more accessible from roads. There is currently no way of entering the area except through a detour on the Schuylkill River Trail, as it is fenced off from the rest of the neighborhood (Go Reading Berks, 2013).

When Dana Corp. left Reading in 2010, much of the land in the Northwest section of Reading now belongs to Carpenter Technology, the fourth largest employer in the city as a whole. With employment of about 2,300, Carpenter Technology is currently the leading employer and industry within the Northwest Reading neighborhood (Greater Reading Economic Partnership, 2016).

Most of the major employers are located outside of the Northwest Reading boundaries. In fact, the Northwest neighborhood mostly has small family owned shops. Sofrito’s Gastropub and Mike’s Tavern are well-known to both neighborhood residents and nonresidents. Sofrito’s, a small pub situated on the street corner of a residential neighborhood, has 80 reviews on Yelp, the most out of any other business located in Northwest Reading (Yelp, n.d.).

Bodega or Hispanic convenience stores at W. Douglass Street and Schuylkill Ave.

There are a number of “bodegas,” or Hispanic convenience stores, in the area, including Olivares Grocery and Tavaies Grocery Store on N. Front St., Dominican Grocery on Greenwich St., La Antilla and Janina (pictured) on W. Douglass, Ralph’s Food Market and La Macorisana on Oley St., Misael Deli on W. Oley St, among them. Almost all of them are family-owned, and employees are often family and friends in the area. (A. Garcia, personal communication, March 13, 2017)

There are also a number of hair salons in the Northwest Reading area that contribute to the local economy. These are also Latino family-owned and run, usually by women. Examples include Maggie’s Dominican Hair Salon located on W. Greenwich St. and D’Clase Unisex Salon on Schuylkill Ave, both founded and operated by Dominican women Maggie Buros and Angela Sosa, respectively. (A. Sosa, Personal communication, May 5, 2017; M. Buros, Personal communication, May 5, 2017).

Sun Rich Fresh Fruit, a fruit processing facility, and Hydrojet, an industrial machining and prototyping company, have been recent industrial additions to Northwest Reading, having both initiated manufacturing facility construction in 2007 (“Resolution 17 – 2007,” 2007; “Resolution 74 – 2007,” 2007). Our City Reading credits Al Boscov and their organization as the main entity responsible for bringing them to the Northwest Reading neighborhood (Our City Reading, n.d.).

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A Portrait of Life in Northwest Reading by Penn State Berks is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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