A Very Reading Christmas, right down to the tree!

This month, some very special preparations for the holidays in Reading are in full swing, with the usual parades and the annual tree-lighting ceremony on the agenda, but also a unique nod to last year’s “Charlie Brown Christmas tree”, which was featured on news stories worldwide.

The annual holiday parade will take place next Saturday, November 21st at 9:00 am. It will begin at the intersection of Penn Street and 11th St, and proceed down Penn until 2nd St. In the event of rain, the parade will be postponed until the 28th of November at the same time and location.

This year’s tree, a 25-foot concolor fir, is already standing tall and proud in Penn Square. Its official lighting ceremony will be held the night before the parade, Friday November 20th, at 6:30 PM. The tree itself was donated by two Berks County residents, Barb and Pat Emmett, the owners of Godfrey’s Welcome to Dogdom in Brecknock Township, and is considered by many to be a significant improvement over its predecessor.

Whatever happened to that ugly tree, anyway? The fate of the tree, which sparked a nationwide debate over whether it was too ugly to display or the perfect way to remind us of the true meaning of Christmas, was influenced by Luke Schultz, a foreman in the city public works department, and Steve Weber, a carpentry instructor at the Reading-Muhlenberg Career and Technology Center.

Both felt that last year’s tree did a great deal to bring positive publicity to Reading, and Schultz, a former student of Weber’s, thought that his teacher could help commemorate the tree in a very special way. So, with the help of the students in the carpentry program, Weber fashioned the wood from the “ugly tree” into a commemorative bench that will be featured in this year’s holiday display.

The city itself has given a nod to the 2014 viral news event by putting up a doghouse, constructed by the Public Works Department, resembling Snoopy’s own residence, as part of its holiday display. The doghouse was placed at the corner of Fifth and Penn streets, representing the Charlie Brown story of which last year’s tree became symbolic.

This Saturday, don’t miss your chance to witness the incredible Reading 120 Cycling Competition!

Planning a trip to Reading for the weekend, or just looking for something to do in the Berks County area? You absolutely cannot miss the Reading 120, a grueling 120-mile cycling competition playing out across the Reading area on Saturday. Those of you who have been following us for some time will remember we briefly touched on this event earlier this year, when we discussed Pretzel City Productions and their efforts to bring business and tourism to the City of Reading.
Bikers preparing for the Reading 120 face unique obstacles
Poised to become the greatest single-day road race—or Classic—in all of North, South, and Central America, the Reading 120 will host racers from across the world, including Mexico, Guatemala, Finland, Sweden, Holland, France, Canada, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, and our own United States.

Starting out with a tour of 75 miles of beautiful Berks County farmland, and culminating in laps around Reading that include five climbs up Mount Penn, this race holds the distinct honor of being one of only seven International Cycling Union, or UCI, races in the entire USA. UCI races must all be sanctioned out of Switzerland, and to hold UCI status signifies the very highest standard of race quality, attracting competitors from around the world.
Bikers preparing for the Reading 120 face unique obstacles
Spectator info regarding the race’s route, the best vantage points, parking, and event times can be found on the official website here. Along with the race itself, there will also be a salsa dancing event by the finish line, children’s races and other programs for the little ones, handcycle races, and plenty of delicious food and drinks. A full list of events can also be found on the Reading 120 site here. Whether you’re excited to watch the race to beat all races, or you just want to dance at the finish line, Reading is the place to be on Saturday!

Pretzel City Productions brings the party to June with Berks Country Fest

If you’re not already familiar with Reading Eagle’s new venture, Pretzel City Productions, they’re the folks that brought us the amazing Fire + Ice Festival in January of this year. This month, inspired by the Berks Jazz Fest, one of the city’s most popular annual events for the past 25 years, Pretzel City Productions brings a new type of music festival to the city: the Berks Country Fest.

Pretzel-City-Productions-Logo-ColorPretzel City Productions was the brainchild of executive director of circulation and promotions for the Reading Eagle Company and president of WEEU 830 AM, Dave Kline. Kline believes that the City of Reading could experience its own renaissance, fueled by events like this month’s Country Fest, January’s Fire + Ice Festival, and the Reading 120, a 120-mile cycling event sanctioned by the Union Cycliste Internationale, the Switzerland-based governing body of sports cycling, which takes place on September 21st.

As Kline stated in this speech earlier this year, “We have a lot of great hotels here, a lot of great places to put on shows and tons of venues. […] We’re going to be showing people all around the world how awesome Reading and Berks County is, and we’re going to bring them here as tourists.”

The Berks Country Fest runs from June 15th-21st, providing you the perfect opportunity for Father’s Day plans, and celebrates the diverse musical genres that embody the melting pot of America, including country, acoustic rock, Americana, folk, bluegrass, jazz, world and orchestral music. Major headliners include Ruthie Foster, Mary Fahl, Bill Staines, and Mexican guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela, as well as a variety of local bands and musicians. There are loads of great events going on for the duration, and it all starts with a kickoff on June 15th at 3PM, at local favorite restaurant, The Peanut Bar.

In addition to these special performances taking place throughout the festival, there will be two free concerts featured as well. The Common Chords Concert for Unity & Peace will be taking place on Saturday, June 20th, along Reading’s Restaurant Row; and the Reading Pops Orchestra with special guest Dave Cullen will perform Music of America, their annual Father’s Day concert, at Cacoosing Meadows Park in Sinking Spring (bring your own lawn chair!).

The full schedule of events, as well as tickets to purchase, are available from the official Berks Country Fest website: http://www.berkscountryfest.com. We hope to see you there!

Iconic Reading: The Pagoda, Yesterday & Today

One of Reading’s most iconic landmarks, the Pagoda can be seen for miles beyond the city limits, regardless of season, a mountaintop sentinel of sorts, keeping watch over the city. It’s even been featured in at least one major motion picture! However, despite its prominence, many people are unfamiliar with its history, or are unaware of the myriad of activities and events that are currently offered there. Whether you’ve never seen it up close, or you’ve visited plenty of times, there’s lots to do at the top of the city!

Originally intending for it to serve as a luxury resort atop Mt. Penn, and more importantly, cover up the damage his quarrying operation had done to the mountainside, William Witman, Sr. commissioned the Pagoda in 1906 for $50,000. The Pagoda was designed in the fashion of a battle castle hearkening back to the Shogun Dynasty in Japan, complete with an antique bell, cast in Obata, Japan, in 1739. Construction was completed in 1908; however, because of an unfortunate series of events involving bank foreclosure and Mr. Witman being denied a liquor license, he never actually opened it.

In 1910, the Pagoda and its 10 acres of surrounding land were deeded to Jonathon Mould, a local business owner, and his wife, Julia, who proceeded to sell the property to the City of Reading for the grand sum of $1. Since then, it has undergone repairs and restoration twice, once in the late 60s, due to fire and weather damage, and again for its hundredth anniversary in 2008-2009.

Currently, the Pagoda is open from 12-4pm on Saturdays and Sundays. The Pagoda Café on the first floor offers free WiFi, along with snacks, hot & cold drinks, locally brewed sodas, Berks Hot Dogs, and other treats. The second floor offers a 20’x30′ room that can accommodate up to 50 people, which is available to rent for meetings, small weddings, or parties. The top floor, of course, features the observation deck, and the famed Japanese bell.

On the first Saturday of every month, the Pagoda Writers meet in the café from 1-3pm, and just last week, the city held Groundhog Day at the Pagoda. Twice a year, in June and August, the Blue Mountain chapter of the Sports Car Clubs of America hosts the Pagoda and Duryea Hillclimb Races. There’s also plenty of volunteer opportunities, if you’re looking to give a little something back!

For a full schedule of upcoming activities and information on rental rates, tours, and volunteer opportunities, visit the Pagoda website at www.readingpagoda.com. All images (except antique bell) property of photographer Justin Jermacans, who has an entire series of gorgeous Pagoda pictures worth checking out.

Stay frosty at the hottest event this season: the Reading Fire + Ice Fest!

Free up your schedules for this weekend, because the Reading Fire + Ice Fest is the place to be! The event, brought to you courtesy of the Downtown Improvement District, runs from Friday, January 16th, to Sunday, January 18th, and offers a wide array of indoor and outdoor activities that everyone can enjoy. Not only will there be a 5-alarm chili cookoff and a Snowfall Ball at the historic Abraham Lincoln Hotel, but the streets will be filled with live music, salsa dancing, interactive ice sculptures, an ice bar, as well as an ice-carving competition.

Ice-carving competitions are few and far between, so the City of Reading is very lucky to be able to present one for the enjoyment of all in attendance at the Fire + Ice Fest. The ice providers for the event are the good folks at Sculpted Ice Works, a group of incredibly talented individuals, all certified by the National Ice Carving Association, located outside of Scranton, PA. From their website:

Sculpted Ice Works creates wedding ice sculptures, seafood displays, color logos in ice, ice luges, ice bars, live ice carving demonstrations for any event, team building courses, custom designs for photo shoots, fashion show backdrops, hanging sculptures and more.

The full schedule of events can be found online at http://www.readingfireandicefest.com/events.html. Sponsors of the Fire + Ice Fest, including Destination Realty, will also have their logos (or iconic symbols from their logos) carved in ice and displayed during the event, so keep an eye out for us while you’re enjoying all the festivities! We look forward to seeing everyone there!

“Two-Tree” controversy shows there’s something for everyone in Reading

As many of you are well aware, Reading recently made its way into the national news scene again with the arrival of the city Christmas tree. The tree harvested from a city park for Reading’s annual tree-lighting ceremony was deemed by many residents to be “too ugly” to put on display, but because it was too late to do anything about it, the tree-lighting ceremony was held anyway.

In response to the protest from residents regarding the “ugly” tree, the city received a donation of a second, more “aesthetically pleasing” tree to replace the first one, only to be met with more protests from those who had gone fond of the so-called “ugly” tree. These protesters thought it would be going against the spirit of Christmas to take down a tree because it wasn’t “pretty” enough; after all, if it worked for the kids in Charlie Brown, shouldn’t it work for our city?

So, now the city of Reading has two Christmas trees. The original tree still stands in its place in Penn Square, and the more visually appealing tree stands at the entrance to the city, giving both sides a tree to meet at for their holiday festivities that suits their tastes. Though it may seem foolish to many, this situation is a perfect example of the variety of needs to which the city is capable of catering. The same can be said of the myriad of real estate opportunities available within the city limits: there’s a little something for everyone here.

Investors tend to split into a similar two groups when it comes to commercial properties: some prefer to invest in those properties which are immediately visually appealing and ready to sell, while others prefer the properties that require a little more rehabilitating before going back on the market.

Fortunately, within the city of Reading, there are plenty of both types of investment opportunities currently available. In 2014, multi-unit properties sold for as low as $12,500, with other properties of the same type selling for as much as $299,000. These multi-unit properties (housing anywhere from two to nine apartments) offer a healthy range in sizes: from 1200 to 4400 square feet. At this very moment, there are 80 multi-unit properties on the market in Reading priced between $10,000 and $100,000, and 53 between $101,000 and $1,000,000.

Whether your tastes run to properties that need a little TLC before they can go back on the market, or properties with a quick turnaround; whether you’re a fan of the Charlie Brown tree or the more attractive tree, there’s something for everyone here in the city of Reading.

Reading Awarded Sustainability Certificate, Joins National Sustainability Program

In a move that city officials hope will encourage further development, the City of Reading received its first sustainable community award at the end of September, and will be trying for three others in an effort to compete with sustainable cities across the nation.

To be considered as a sustainable community, the city must demonstrate that it is gaining business rather than losing it, as well as ensure that its first responders are familiar with a national system which controls responses to crises such as accidents, fires, and floods. Overall, sustainability promotes a healthy environment, a strong and healthy economy, and encourages the well-being of current and future residents within a community.

Now that the city has received a sustainability award at the state level, Mayor Spencer and his special assistant, Eron Lloyd, have entered the city into the National League of Cities’ Sustainability Tools for Assessment and Rating Communities (or STAR Communities) program. Mr. Lloyd believes the city has enough points to be designated as a three-star community, and the long term goal is to be awarded the coveted five-star designation in the next five years.

The Pennsylvania Municipal League awarded Reading a Gold Certificate in its Sustainable Pennsylvania Community initiative, and now the city is striving toward receiving the highest award possible, a Platinum Certificate. Sustainability has been a goal of Mayor Spencer D. Vaughn’s since before he was elected, and since he assumed the position, his administration has been consistently working toward it.

Hopes are high for sustainability efforts to bring in foundation money along with attention from developers to the city of Reading, rather than other communities without a STAR rating. Private developers will be provided with incentives to meet sustainability standards, but will not be penalized or forced to meet them, which the Mayor and his administration hope will spur businesses and investors to stimulate further growth and development within the city. Additionally, a number of major foundations belong to the STAR Community program, and are awarding a steadily increasing amount of grants and other assistance to STAR-rated communities. The combined potential of the city’s efforts toward sustainability should prove beneficial for city officials as well as current and future residents and investors.