Then and Now is an ongoing photographic series from Keystone Crossroads, looking at historical images and photographs of today from Pennsylvania cities and towns.

Reading, Pennsylvania has a storied and industrial past. Perhaps best known to outsiders as the backdrop of John Updike novels or for lending its namesake to the once booming Reading Railroad and the desired property on the Monopoly game board.

Once a hub of industry, Reading boasted 700 manufacturing businesses, producing hundreds of goods from hosiery to hardware. At the city’s peak, more that 111,000 people called Reading home.

But like many Pa. cities, as plants and manufacturers closed, unemployment rose and population declined.

By 2010, Reading was considered to have the highest poverty rate in the nation according to the U.S. Census Bureau and was added to Pennsylvania’s list of distressed communities.

Despite its struggles, there has been movement to spur development and revitalize Reading’s downtown.

Last year department store executive and philanthropist, Albert Boscov, broke ground on a $56 million hotel across from the Santander Arena and submitted one of two proposals to redevelop five vacant buildings at Penn Square, the heart of Reading's downtown.

The city approved Boscov's nonprofit Our City Reading Inc.'s proposal to re-purpose the five buildings into retail space and live-work units, but only after the developer had withdrawn his bid.

Reading Managing Director Carol Snyder said the city has been in contact with Our City Reading Inc. and hopes that Boscov reconsiders developing the properties.

"We are looking for this to be one of the key anchors for our Main Street revitalization project," said Snyder. "We don't want it falling into the wrong hands."

Snyder expects to come to an agreement with Boscov within the next month.


Archival images courtesy of the Historical Society of Berks County Museum & Library, Reading, Pa. and the Library of Congress.