Delmont Mayor Sanchez checks out public concerns in supermarket
Amid the soft beeps at the cash register and the flow of shopping carts rolling by, Delmont Mayor Gill Sanchez answers questions about stop signs, commercial zoning permits and dogs.
A woman who would rather not go to a public meeting and put her name on the record wonders if her neighbor has too many dogs in violation of an ordinance and asks what Sanchez can do about it.
Turns out, there is no ordinance. Sanchez asks if she would like him to look into it, but she declines and strolls away, pushing a cart full of groceries.
Every Thursday, Sanchez spends a few hours bagging groceries and fielding questions about the borough in the Shop 'N Save on Athena Drive. The quirky “office hours” have proved to be his most effective approach to engage residents, he said.
“I found people don't want to talk in a formal setting,” said Sanchez, 57. “Now that the word's gotten out, I know there's people that come in to talk.”
Sanchez, a Manhattan native, spent more than 30 years working in photography and sketching portraits. He happily made the transition from a borough of about 1.5 million people to just 2,600 in Delmont, where he decided to settle with his wife, Patty, a district manager for a national mattress manufacturer.
His interest in local government was kindled when he heard people talk about the borough's 180-year history with pride, and he jumped at the chance to run for mayor in 2010.
“Part of the reason I got involved is I feel more people need to get involved and give back to their community,” Sanchez said, wearing jeans and a button-down collared shirt with rolled-up sleeves as he bagged groceries.
A white name tag identifies him as the mayor, yet some people who pass through register 2 have no idea who he is.
Some people did not know Delmont has a mayor, Sanchez said.
One woman scolded him for taking too long to bag her groceries while he chatted with another customer about a zoning ordinance, he said.
The first six months of his term, Sanchez opened his office door and sat behind a desk waiting for people to stop in with concerns. After two months, though, the hype had dwindled and he mostly sat alone in the office paying bills or doing other mundane tasks to pass the time.
“It's a public office, so you should be in the public eye,” Sanchez said. “I thought this was a better way to meet people.”
Sanchez chose the Shop 'N Save because it's the largest meeting place in town, he said. And he wants to drum up business for the borough's only grocery store, which reopened after a two-year hiatus during an ownership transfer.
Salvatore Vecchio, 82, chatted with Sanchez about his grandchildren as he waited for his groceries to be bagged. At first he didn't realize that Sanchez is the mayor and joked, “He did a hell of a job stacking my cart.”
“People can talk to him as they go by,” Vecchio said. “If they have complaints, they can tell him.”
Jen Zimmerman, 27, of Export said she did not realize Sanchez spent time in the grocery store to meet residents.
“It's definitely a good way to get to know the people in your town,” Zimmerman said. “And he can see problems for himself.”
Sanchez makes an effort to introduce himself to people as they check out. When it gets busy, he hops between registers; he straightens stacked carts when foot traffic slows.
It's at the end of those registers where he's explained why stop signs cannot be placed on state roads and how to apply for a commercial zoning permit. And he's squashed a lot of rumors going around town.
Lately, people have asked when Carney's Corner restaurant, a landmark that was destroyed in a fire in November, will be torn down and where a new gas station will be built.
“Compared to sitting in my office, this is much better,” Sanchez said. “When they realize who I am, they bring stuff to me.”
Amanda Dolasinski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6220 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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