“Honestly, I’ve met some of the greatest people I’ve ever known here. And I don’t see that ever changing.”
Jake Humphreys learned early that the people are what makes NEPA so special. He came of age in a close-knit Kingston neighborhood – riding bikes, hanging at the playground, shootin’ hoops, being a typical kid. In his teens, he spent most of his time restocking shelves, taking inventory and helping customers at the family business – Humphreys’ Bootery and Bags. There was a slower pace to this life – one he’d temporarily reject in a quiet act of youthful rebellion.
As a bit of maturity smiled on him, so did the inclination to explore. The Wyoming Valley West grad followed an affinity for music (i.e., his friends’ rock bands) from local shows to trips around the U.S. He came back, went to King’s, played a little golf, studied a little accounting. And, before the ink dried on his diploma, he was off to Baltimore to begin a career in Public Accounting.
Charm City’s lure only lasted a few years. So, too, did the prospect of spending the better part of each day behind a computer. Short trips back to NEPA became more frequent. Time outside, time with friends and family – more requisite. Soon, he came home and took over day-to-day operation of the store. Yep, full circle. He even went all Hallmark movie and bought the house he grew up in. Swoon…
We caught up with Jake in his homey, little office at the back of the store. He carried on and on about his amazing customers, and often instinctively interrupted the conversation to help a few. Eventually, we turned his attention from shoes and onto life’s pressing inquiries, like Why NEPA?
How long have you lived in NEPA?
All my life, I guess, except for the two years that I was away in Baltimore. So, up until 2013, when I graduated from King’s, then I took an accounting job in Baltimore and I came back home right in the beginning of 2016. And that’s about it. I’ve been here since.
What do you love about your town?
Kingston is truly just an easy place to live. No matter what you want to do – you know, if you want to take the dogs for a walk, there are countless places to do it. You can go down to the Levee Trail. You could walk through Green Acres or one of the parks. The people are amazing here. And there are all these new little businesses and restaurants always opening. There’s always something going on around you. It was a great place to grow up, too. It was always a safe town. I would be out all day with my friends – skateboarding, or playing basketball at the park, or just trying not to get into too much trouble (laughs). The Kingston/Forty Fort area was our home base, you know? It was always easy to find something to do and to have fun and feel safe.
What’s your favorite NEPA restaurant?
Oh, do I have to pick just one? Man. This is a tough question. Ok (pauses)… Recently… Ok, I’m trying to think of the places that we’ve been going to the most. Yeah, lately we’ve tended to frequent Breaker Brewing and Margarita Azul a lot. And I’m not a vegan or vegetarian, but my girlfriend, Tina is a vegetarian and we’ve been getting a lot of takeout from Umami Gorilla. I gotta’ say that I’ve been really loving that place lately as well. So, uhh… (pauses) let’s see. Favorite restaurant (whispers). Alright, at the moment, I’m going to have to say Breaker Brewing. I’ve never had a bad meal there. It’s always a great time – great atmosphere, great beer, great food. What more can you ask for?
What’s your favorite thing to do in NEPA?
I love being outside. I love camping and hiking. Recently, we’ve been into exploring the Frances E. Walter Dam out on kayaks. It’s kind of a hidden gem in my opinion. It’s just so big and there’s just so much to see. Every time I’ve been there this summer, I’ve seen multiple bald eagles. You can always find a new spot to explore there. It’s incredible. Of course, I love all of NEPA’s greatest hits like Ricketts Glen and Frances Slocum. And we’ve even started going out to World’s End. We just always want to be outside. Especially as fall approaches, if I have an excuse to sleep outside, I take it.
I also enjoy getting out to check out the local music scene as well. You know, a lot of the great venues here are still surviving the pandemic, and I think it’s important to support them and the bands. I go to places like Karl Hall and The Hive and there is a lot of great music coming out of this area. And I hope more people can eventually get back out there to hear it.
What’s next for you?
What’s next for me is trying to build Humphreys’ Bootery and Bags. Fortunately, for me, it’s in an amazing place right now, but that doesn’t mean that we can stay complacent. I’m always looking for the next brand, or the next great product from our regular partners. I’m looking forward to getting our name out there to different groups of customers — whether it’s people who’ve lived here their entire lives, or new people just moving to NEPA. They might not even know that there’s this little, family-owned shoe store in the shopping center in Shavertown. You know, our mission of supplying the people in the area with a comfortable pair of shoes or an accessory that they’re going to love and cherish for the next ten years – that’s been my goal this past year, and it will be well into the future.
Where do you see NEPA heading in the future?
That’s another tough question (laughs). I think, over the past 18 months that we’ve been affected by COVID, as bad and as tragic as that’s been for so many, I think it’s also shown us how to look for the light at the end of the tunnel. For NEPA, I think it’s been about taking that step back to look closer at the local businesses. We’ve heard that a lot from so many customers. You know, they’d come in and say, “Oh, I could have bought this online, but I wanted to do my part to help this local business survive.” And that kind of push in the area has really made the difference when I think of where NEPA is heading. It’s given people the chance to go out and start up that small business they’ve been dreaming about. And it’s given them the chance to really take their dreams to that next level. I love seeing that. I love seeing all the new things happening around here now. It’s bringing people back to this area. They’re working remotely and opening restaurants and shops. It’s just awesome to see that kind of movement and growth in the area.
My best answer on this one is Why Not NEPA. It’s one of those places that when people come and visit here, or spend some time here, they love it. You know? When you go and show someone something new here that they didn’t know about, or haven’t seen before, they’re always just blown away. I’ve introduced a lot of people to their new favorite spots. There’s just so much to do within a pretty close proximity. If you like the city scene, you can go to New York and Philadelphia easily. If you love being outside, you can pretty much do that anywhere here. Honestly, I’ve met some of the greatest people I’ve ever known here. And I don’t see that ever changing. There’s something about this place, you know? People like to help each other. They go out of their way to try that new restaurant, or to shop at that small business. That’s something I’ve always loved about Northeastern Pennsylvania. And I hope it never stops.