Gables’ history about to write another chapter

From a retail perspective, downtown Altoona never will be the place it was a half-century ago, before businesses’ exodus to the corridor consisting of Plank Road, Pleasant Valley Boulevard and Valley View Boulevard.

However, the downtown has maintained a service character that, while not as vibrant as it could be, still is not stymied by deep-rooted pessimism.

Optimism does reign regarding the downtown’s possibilities, and it is uplifting that the optimism extends beyond leaders here who continue to promote the good things that this area has to offer. Actually, this community and its assets are on business “radar screens” across the United States.

The Gables office building is the latest example of how others view Altoona’s downtown — and Altoona in general — as attractive to established and new enterprises.

Skinner Hill LLC of Johnstown is in the process of buying the Gables structure, a purchase scheduled to close later this month.

While it is not clear yet what all Skinner might have in mind for the building, it is understandable for that company to want to fine-tune its plans before making a major announcement.

A hasty announcement of ideas and plans that might prove unworkable in the end risks eroding public faith in the new owner and venture.

No company wants to start off on such a wrong foot.

One important reality in Altoona’s favor is that the Gables building’s sellers are longtime, well-respected names on the local business front. It is understandable that they would not be willing participants in something that they would judge to be potentially detrimental to the city’s best interests.

The sellers also understand the importance of acting in the best interests of the community that they know and love. That is why confidence can exist that the transaction in question is in good hands.

The 135,000-square-foot Gables property occupies three quarters of a square block between 11th and 12th avenues. Gable’s was a name that brought shoppers to the downtown for generations, because of the quality of merchandise that filled its shelves.

Many Altoona “old-timers” probably wish that Gables still were part of the local retail scene — if not downtown then along the Plank-Pleasant Valley-Valley View business strip.

However, those older community residents realize that shoppers’ preferences change and that the old Gables might be hard-pressed competing with the new ways of shopping as well as the styles and preferences that mark today’s retail scene.

That in no way should be construed as criticism of what existed before.

Whatever happens in the coming weeks regarding the local building’s sale will deliver a message to other entities in Pennsylvania and across the nation — hopefully a good message about the spirit of cooperation and welcoming attitude that exist here.

So far, the buyers have not publicly divulged their identities; that is their right.

Yet, such information is destined to be forthcoming soon as the buyers launch their plans under the umbrella of official ownership.

As is well-known, the Gables building has a lot of history and special meaning for this railroad city. It is to be hoped that history and meaning will be enhanced by what the new owner opts to put forth.

Anyone who loves Altoona believes that the city and its environs are deserving of that.


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