Berks County offers many recreational opportunities, especially in West Reading. A lively street life awaits visitors on West Reading’s Penn Avenue— but it wasn’t always that way. The area was originally laid out in 1873 to support businesses created to serve railways between Philadelphia and Harrisburg. During this time, the successful West Reading Hotel allowed for new development on Penn Avenue. Changing times of the 1950s and 60s, however, caused businesses to struggle, and the Hotel was eventually demolished in 1964.
West Reading needed to invigorate new life into its main thoroughfare. The Main Street Program, which helps revitalize Pennsylvania communities, was initiated in West Reading in 1999. A lively walkable streetscape with a diverse collection of specialty shops, boutiques, salons, locally-owned restaurants and pubs, and overall entertainment emerged. Unlike the fate of the West Reading Hotel, historic preservation has made the former Salon Department store into the trendy Say Cheese Restaurant and the former A to Z Vacuum Store (which itself was once a car dealership) into the stunning West Reading Motor Club and the Nitro Bar.
Taking inspiration from Reading’s First Fridays on Penn Street, West Reading created its own Second Fridays on Penn Avenue, attracting visitors to the main street for an evening of fun. Street fairs, such as Arts on the Avenue and Fall Fest, also draw in visitors. Because of unique businesses, preserved historical businesses, Second Fridays, and festivals, Penn Avenue is once again alive with vibrancy, which their community should be proud of.
By Richard M. Polityka, Berks History Center Trustee