"I honestly think NEPA invites you to be successful. Of course, you have to want it, but we’ve got everything here to make it happen."
Throughout law school, Attorney Jamie Anzalone entertained the idea of becoming a high-powered Philly lawyer. He landed a few internships in the city. He made the rounds, hustled and networked, but found himself drained. Soon, simple, ordinary things seemed compounded by the unnecessary complexities of traffic and train delays.
He wanted more from his career, from his social circles, from the self-serving, surface-level connections. Young Jamie simply wanted what the city was unwilling to give — time. The law kept him sharp and success was imminent, but it was music that stirred his soul. That and one particularly remarkable beauty from Baltimore. Suddenly, this life, and all that he wanted to fill it with just wasn’t a big city story.
Jamie’s father, a notable NEPA lawyer in his own right, convinced him to come home. “You can do so much more here,” he told him. Jamie knew that all along. Luckily, the promise of a new, 14-screen theater was just enough to sell his Charm City sweetheart on starting a new life in NEPA. And that, we can assuredly say, is where the story begins. Yes, there’s more – a pair of darling daughters, a big Italian family, a little rock-n-roll and Harry the Cat – but you’ll just have to read on.
We caught up with Jamie at the popular family practice in Wilkes-Barre. His radiant positivity cut through the gray of a January Tuesday and he boldly took on that daunting query – Why NEPA?
How long have you lived in NEPA?
I’ve officially lived in Northeastern PA for 18 years – that’s growing up here and going through high school. Then, I left for four years to attend Lafayette College and three years at Penn State Dickinson School of Law. And then I came back home at age 25, and I’ve been here ever since.
What do you love about your town?
I love the accessibility of Northeastern PA. I love that anything you need to get accomplished, in an efficient manner, could easily happen here if you put your mind to it. In my line of work, if I need to go to a courthouse, I can get in there and get what I need quickly. If you need to go to a doctor’s office and the grocery store, you can do it all quickly. We’re not dealing with mass transit and unbearable traffic here. We don’t have to pass a hundred stops to get to where we need to go. I feel like, here, you can get a lot accomplished in a single day. In places like Philly or New York, everything seems to take so much longer. I just love the accessibility and the efficiency of getting things accomplished in a single day.
What’s your favorite NEPA restaurant?
You know, I’ve read a lot of the different responses people have given to this question in previous interviews and I’ve learned about so many great restaurants. And I think NEPA does have a lot of great restaurants and that’s what makes this one tough, but my first one will have to be my Aunt Nancy Medico’s place, Rikasa, in Pittston. And that’s not just because of the family relationship. I think the food is off-the-charts delicious. And then, if I could offer another one, I’d say Bar Pazzo up in Scranton. They just give you an experience there that feels very “outside the area.” You know, like a big city feel even though you’re still in Scranton.
What’s your favorite thing to do in NEPA?
When I first came back to the area at 25, I was playing music live, singing and writing songs at different local bars and clubs. We used to hang out at the Jazz Café all the time. This was all pre-kids, of course. And then that materialized into forming a band, which I still have the privilege of playing in ten years later. So, my favorite thing to do in NEPA is performing with the guys and getting out there and enjoying ourselves. And, right alongside that, I love going to different shows with my wife. Man, I feel like it’s been like a hundred years since we’ve seen live music. I miss that the most through all of this. Those are the things that I truly love to do. That’s my passion outside of law. Again, that just shows you how blessed we are in Northeastern PA to have the ability to do something like practice law and play live music and it doesn’t take up all your time like it would in a larger city. Like I said, it all comes back to that efficiency and accessibility here.
Now, you can’t give us all that without throwing the name of the band out there.
(Laughs) Ok. We’re called County Lines. We play a mix of original music, New Orleans style music, The Grateful Dead, The Band. We also like to throw in some obscure John Prine and Johnny Cash covers. You know, it’s got that kind of feel to it.
What’s next for you?
What’s next for me is two daughters going through the middle part of grade school and eventually into high school, which is a wonderful and scary thought all at the same time. And my wife and I hope to grow along with them and guide them as they experience these moments. We just want to make sure we’re there alongside them in a world that’s changing so rapidly – almost by the day (laughs nervously). Professionally, what’s next, is that we want to continue to grow our law practice, and to make sure we keep up with the changing world we’re all living in. it seems that every day tends to bring on new challenges, and I think it’s important for us to be able to change and progress along with the world around us. We don’t want to ever end up “behind the times.” Despite how great it may have been in the past, we have to move forward, and I hope to always have the ability to do that.
Where do you see NEPA heading in the future?
Obviously COVID has changed everything in terms of progress that was being made here. But I think we’re going to eventually get back on track. I think Luzerne County was going in a great direction with events like Rockin’ the River and the success of our Farmers Markets and other festivals. I see a lot of that continuing to progress. I think we’ll continue having more of these amazing outdoor events. Certainly, the pandemic has opened our eyes to the need for things like that. I also think Pittston has set a fantastic example of what other NEPA communities should follow. If you drive downtown, that Main Street is gorgeous. It’s art. It’s vibrant. It’s alive. I would like to see other communities follow that model. And I do think it’s going to happen. Take Rockin’ the River. For me, that’s a huge step in the right direction for both Wilkes-Barre and Luzerne County. It brought people together in a cultural way that was safe and fun and a little bit different. I hope more of that continues. And I think that’s the direction we’re heading, we just have to keep it going.
Well, the first reason is an easy one, and that’s family. I grew up in a very big Italian family, and fortunately, a lot of that family came back to NEPA as well. A lot of cousins that are my age moved away and ended up coming back, which I never thought was going to happen. I don’t think any of us did. So, when we sit around with friends on a Saturday, eight to ten of those friends are cousins. To me, that’s a rare thing. None of my friends who were in Philly, or New York, or out west have that. We’re blessed to have this nice, big family of people who get along and have kids all around the same age. So, that’s an easy answer to Why NEPA. Obviously, there’s plenty of opportunity here if you’re looking for it. I happened to be in a good position, so it was a no-brainer for me. But I think that opportunities exist here, again, because of the way we can be so efficient and how everything is so accessible and how much can be accomplished in a single day. And, of course, networking is much easier here than it is in a bigger city. You know, nine times out of ten, you find that you have a connection with somebody that you’re trying to work with or get into business with. You know them from high school, or grade school, or you happen to know someone in their family. I honestly think NEPA invites you to be successful. Of course, you have to want it, but we’ve got everything here to make it happen.