HONESDALE, PA — Every few years or so, the Borough of Honesdale—a quaint valley town, somewhat inconspicuous under the shadow of the Pocono and Catskill Mountains—gets a bit of …
HONESDALE, PA — Every few years or so, the Borough of Honesdale—a quaint valley town, somewhat inconspicuous under the shadow of the Pocono and Catskill Mountains—gets a bit of attention from some sharp-sighted travel writer, blogger or vlogger. Sometimes as a rural oasis for vacationers, other times an untapped hotbed of innovation and industry.
Most recently, the borough got a nod from Philadelphia Magazine which dubbed it a “town that accidentally got cool,” a “sleepy” community ripe for revitalization by “a bunch of young, entrepreneurial cool kids.” For all its charm and potential, however, Honesdale does have its share of drawbacks, the article noted as a disclaimer; topping the list was the town’s “brutal” winters.
In a community that relies so heavily on second-home owners and tourists during the summer months, it can be easy to overlook the fact that, in winter, Honesdale’s flavor does not grow barren with the leafless trees, nor does the hustle and bustle of its locals wane like the fleeting sunlight. In fact, as anyone who lives in or around here probably knows, the romanticism of winter is essential to the town’s history and lore.
Lyricist and composer Richard Smith was born in Honesdale at the beginning of the 20th Century. In 1934, he composed the lyrics to the holiday classic “Winter Wonderland,” which any local will contend was inspired by his memories of playing in the snow at Honesdale’s Central Park across the street from his childhood home.
Smith’s home now serves as a bit of a historical landmark. Along with being the “birthplace of the American railroad,” residents are happy to consider their hometown a true winter wonderland about which hundreds of artists from Bing Crosby to Lady Gaga have sung.
And so, it makes sense that the Greater Honesdale Partnership (GHP) borrowed Smith’s alliterative title in naming its post-Thanksgiving weekend encouraging locals to “shop small, shop local and shop safe” for the holidays. The weekend was kicked off by a virtual lighting of the star atop Irving Cliff and tree in Central Park. The Honesdale High School choir accented the event with a performance of, what other tune but, “Winter Wonderland.”
The following Saturday, people were invited downtown to take part in some winter wagon rides and holiday-themed train rides, watch a blacksmith and chainsaw carver in action and take socially distanced photos with Santa Claus. In between, the GHP encouraged visitors to make a dent in their holiday shopping lists at the bevy of Main Street shops.
Olivia Santo, who runs the Main Street shop Gather, said that this is a vital time of year for local retail businesses.
“The holiday months are the busiest months of the year; you’re going to do a big portion of your sales those months, so it’s a really crucial time that we’re in right now,” she said. “It’s January, February, March where it really slows down, so you hope you have a really good holiday season and that gets you through the beginning of the year… there’s a lot riding on the holiday season for a lot of local business owners.”
Fortunately for the town’s shopkeepers, Santo said that both residents and visitors alike see the value in shopping small.
“Honesdale is a really great place to own a business in… I’ve been seeing an outpouring of support this year from people wanting to shop small. It’s really amazing.”
Beyond their willingness to support neighbors’ businesses, Honesdale-area residents also share a sense of duty to help any neighbor that needs it getting through this time of year. The community’s charitable efforts are many and far-reaching during the holidays.
Wayne County Community Foundation Executive Director Ryanne Jennings calls it a “culture of giving,” something that “doesn’t exist everywhere.” The community foundation supports local nonprofits and charities year round. In 2020, feeding families financially affected by “the virus” has been a focal point. Since the pandemic first shut things down in Pennsylvania, the community foundation has been working with local nonprofits, county officials and area businesses and producers on the Wayne County Emergency Food Relief Fund. Continuing today, the fund has raised well over $200,000.
“It’s been extremely humbling to see the number of people who are donating everywhere from $5 to thousands of dollars to be able to help support our community,” Jennings said. “We saw a significant uptick in donations right around the time that the federal stimulus checks hit people’s mailboxes, and a lot of people donated either the full amount or a big chunk of that.”
The Cooperage Project, a vibrant nucleus of community collaboration located downtown, has essentially pivoted from event space to food pantry since the pandemic hit. Still a key partner in the emergency food relief effort, director Arrah Fisher said that working with the county’s Area Agency on Aging providing area seniors with Thanksgiving and Christmas meals has been a specific undertaking during November and December.
“Seniors, as we all know, are most at-risk for COVID-19... some folks aren’t able to see family for multiple reasons, so this is a way to still kind of have that special meal,” Fisher said.
The Cooperage served 75 seniors with Thanksgiving meals this year, and Fisher is hoping to reach more for Christmas. More information is available at www.thecooperageproject.org or @thecooperageproject on Facebook.
Toy drives are another holiday tradition around here. The Wayne County Children’s Christmas Bureau forms connections throughout the community to ensure “every kid is guaranteed a gift on Christmas morning;” Wayne County’s Victims Intervention Program is running an “adopt-a-family” program, allowing residents to supply a family’s holiday wish list; and the Zipper Junction Project’s annual Holiday Toy Drive has been revamped this year as the Holiday Donation Drive—another COVID-19-inspired pivot.
The spirit of the holidays is hard to miss in Honesdale. If you have the chance, take an early evening, post-snow-flurried stroll down Main Street—the local shops beckoning you in with their elaborate window displays, the Tennenbaum-trimmed light poles blinking out red and green through the night—and the words of Dick Smith are bound to lilt in your ear.