The sky was the color of slate, rain tapping against the windows. I was seated in the office of Peter Barbey, CEO of the Reading Eagle Company. The organization produces print and online media for the Reading and Berks County region. The room is a page from Mad Men, furnished from a different time when journalists could not conceive of a concept like digital content.
Barbey’s family has roots in the area going back through two centuries. His interest is professional and personal. He is a student of history, politics, and numbers, the perfect combination for a captain of media. We flank a small circular table, issues of Berks Country and Business Weekly framed over Barbey’s right shoulder on the wall.
“Reading is a glass jar city,” he says, picking up an imaginary jar in his hand. “We put all the poverty, addiction, homelessness and other stuff in one spot, flip the jar,” he turns his hand over, ” and say ‘deal with it.'”
Throughout the journey of this book, the Problem in Reading has taken many forms. The list is lengthy and detailed. Industry has fled to the suburbs. The school district is struggling with a lower tax base. Crime increased with poverty. Immigration has changed the face of the businesses and streets.
The deepest issue may be in mind of those under and around the jar. How do we break down walls and heal wounds? How do we have the difficult conversations about race and responsibility?
How do we change the soul of a city founded before the Revolutionary War?
The process will not be easy. It will take men like Barbey with the resources and connections to get the ball rolling, challenge old standards, and usher the city into a new era.
It will take time and, at the moment, time may not be on Reading’s side. The glass walls will shatter when the tide turns. Until then, we stand on the shore and wait, watching the waves crest on the horizon.