MOUNT CARMEL - A borough businessman purchased two abandoned and blighted properties on South Oak Street to expand his business and make the downtown area a little nicer.

Art Catino said he "took a plunge" by spending at least $100,000 to demolish and renovate the two buildings - at no expense to taxpayers.

Catino, who with wife Maria owns and operates Catino's Candy and Gift Shop and Catino's Italian Specialities, is already the owner of 9-11 and 13-15 S. Oak St. The building in which the gift shop is located was originally owned by his father, who opened Little Bear Market in 1949.

With the purchase of 17-19 and 21-23 S. Oak in recent months, Catino now owns 100 feet of frontage on the block and intends to expand his business over the next few years.

Last year, the couple created Catino Vino, which supplies wine kits to help novice wine enthusiasts create homemade wine.

The building at 21-23 S. Oak St. will headquarter the wine supply shop, and the empty

lot that was once 17-19 S. Oak St. will be fenced off until Catino can invest in constructing another building as a refrigeration unit for grapes, which could take as long as five years to build.

Catino Vino distributes fresh grapes and wine grape juice from California, Chile and Italy to customers across Pennsylvania.

'Too far gone'

Catino said he's heard criticism for tearing down the former Dondero building, which once sold newspapers and magazines at 17-19 S. Oak.

It wasn't for lack of trying to fix it, he said, but the 125-year-old building was in such disrepair that it wasn't cost-effective to remodel it.

There were animals living in the building, the floor was warped from water damage, the pipes and electrical system were broken beyond repair and a tree was growing through the building, Catino explained.

"It was too far gone," he said, noting 68 tons of material were taken from the property.

Catino will be working with Landscape Services, of Locust Gap, and Rock N Block Materials, of Ranshaw, to fence off the property.

"People might not see the Dondero building when they drive by, but hopefully it will look really good," he said.

Second property

About the time Catino purchased the former Dondero building, the owner of 21-23 S. Oak St., which formerly housed Workman's Supply Company and Dowd Marketing, asked Catino if he would like to buy that property, too.

Although he originally declined, Catino soon learned it would cost less to demolish 17-19 S. Oak St. property and buy 21-23 S. Oak St. than it would cost to renovate 17-19 S. Oak St.

Catino purchased 21-23 S. Oak St. two months ago, and has been renovating it to accommodate the needs of Catino Vino.

Two blighted or vacant properties will now have new purpose without any expense to taxpayers, Catino said.

Catino will be working with Smith Contracting, of Kulpmont, Mostik Brothers, of Mount Carmel, and Ed Fegley, of Bloomsburg, to make the outside of the Catino Vino building presentable. The plan is to paint it the same beige color with green trim as his main building.

Moving forward

The downtown isn't what it used to be, Catino said, so he is attempting to adjust by marketing not only to borough residents, but regional residents as well.

"You can't live in the past," he said.

Borough Mayor J. Kevin Jones praised Catino's action on Oak Street.

"It's good for the community and it didn't cost us anything to do. The borough wasn't stuck paying for it," he said, which is rare in cases of razing blighted properties.

The downtown area is "holding its own," Jones said, "but we'd still like to see a few places filled."