Abandoned and forgotten properties are common eyesores in many urban areas, and the potential of a city is often expressed through how those spaces are addressed.
But more than just “addressing” a forgotten nook of the city, neighbors in South Penn transformed a plot of land that was once left to just collect litter and unrealized potential.
Lucky’s Lane is a community space on South 7th Street in Reading that has been utilized for many activities over the last few years.
It takes up the space that once was 339 South 7th St. and is maintained by multiple members of the community, the closest being Jeanette Buchanon who lives next door to the space.
Jeanette, who has been and continues to be a significant community leader, oversees many of the happenings within the South of Penn area, and the event space is one of them.
The space was once occupied by a second hand store that was accidentally destroyed 15-20 years ago and was torn down in 2011 due to non-use.
“It was a storefront in the front, which was Ms. Becky’s — she had a rummage sale in the front, and Ms. Becky lived on Minor Street, her and her husband Mr. Earl. He had two sisters who lived on top of the store,” Jeanette recalls of what the space was before. “The reason why the space is empty now is because maybe 15-20 years ago, it caught on fire. No one was in it anymore at the time, and the city had to eventually tear it down.”
In 2021, the South of Penn Task Force obtained a memorandum of understanding from the city to utilize the space since they saw that it was being put to good use for movie nights.
The South of Penn (SOP) Task Force is a community outreach project focused on increasing home ownership, improving livability and fostering interpersonal relationships with neighbors in the city between Canal and Franklin Streets.
So far it has been the site for myriad events such as outdoor porch concerts, movie nights, reptile shows, cleanups, flower pot painting, and more.
South of Penn neighbor Maria Zabala has been helping with cleaning up at events in the neighborhood for a few years now, starting when movie nights were being held in a parking lot on 7th Street.
For the last several years, she has and continues to help clean up in Lucky’s Lane before events.
She also helped with cleaning during a block party that was also on 7th Street prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jeanette and Maria keep the space clean and welcoming, sometimes enlisting others to join in on the creative placekeeping work.
“We have a weed wacker to cut the grass, but I don’t use that,” Jeanette said with a laugh.. “I get anybody that walks down the street — ‘come cut this grass for Ms. Jeanette!’ and they cut the grass for Ms. Jeanette!”
The community’s response to these events has been positive, and the kids in the community are especially enjoying them.
“I haven’t seen anyone complain, and I hear that everybody likes it,” Maria said.
During canvassing to get the community’s opinions on what they wanted to see in the South of Penn, many neighbors wanted more family-friendly activities in their neighborhood.
With help from Jeanette, Maria, the South of Penn, and other neighbors, they made them happen.
Kids in the community are able to attend these events and activities held right in their community, which not only gives them fun and engaging things to do, but also gives them a space outside of their home or school to do activities.
“The community is starting to bring their kids now to the park, so they’re responding by coming out and participating,” Jeanette said. “We used to have block parties right here on South 7th, but when [COVID-19] hit, they didn’t want us to block the streets off because people needed to park [their cars], so we started taking it to the [Reading Iron Playground], which it was better because it was enclosed and there was more room for the kids to run.”
Jeanette reaches out to her community whenever she needs items for block parties, and many of the neighbors gladly donate and make it a collaborative effort to give back to each other.
“I go to my neighborhood and ask for donations: ‘Can you get juice for the kids? Can you bring me soda? Can you bring me water?’” Jeanette said. “So they’re giving back, especially when we have an event. It makes a big difference when you can go to your neighbor and say ‘look, we’re having a block party. Can I put you down for it?’”
At one block party, Jeanette remembers a gentleman that pulled up in front of Jeanette’s house with a truckload of sodas, waters, and juices to donate.
“I said ‘all this is for here? Ain’t some of this for your house?’ and they said ‘nope. This is all for the block party,’” Jeanette recalled. “ When I say that I need this or I need that, the community is willing to get it for me.”
Even after people lost their jobs and with the recent rise in costs of food and beverages, there were still people that donated despite all of these unexpected barriers.
“I understand when people say they can’t donate because times are hard, but to see that people still — through all of this — are giving back; that’s a blessing,” Jeanette said.
In addition to helping the neighbors of the South of Penn acquire the space, the South of Penn also helps with keeping the space clean through their regular cleanups and through assisting with events in the space.
Lucky’s Lane has only really been used as a community space for a few years now, and there’s so many possibilities as to how it can be utilized to further promote a sense of community in the South of Penn.
Ideas for future events are simmering, including healthy activities. Maria hopes that there are regular health challenges held in both Lucky’s Lane and the Reading Iron Playground nearby.
Jeanette wants to continue to see growth in the community space in the future.
“I hope to see that it gets bigger and stronger,” she said. “More people uniting together, and when you have unity, you have it all. If you have people pulling this way or pulling that way, it’ll never work. We all gotta come together.”
Editor’s Note: This article is a part of “Historias del Barrio,” a series of stories written by local storytellers to highlight community members who have engaged with Barrio Alegría and the South of Penn Task Force, through a strategic partnership with The Wyomissing Foundation, to make positive impacts in their neighborhoods.
By: Ruby Mora