Learning of Phil Rudy’s death on March 2nd, 2017 was a shock to us all. At the age of 68, Phil was taken to the hospital after feeling sick when he was at Circles. He passed away that day, leaving behind a legacy in a deli and emporium that he ran for 32 years.
Phil created a community through the character of his store, and he added so much to that character.
I remember the first time I saw Circles. My mother parked her van outside the building and I immediately noticed a John Lennon shirt in the window (you can still see it in the image below).
I also remember chuckling to myself thinking about the name: Circles on the Square.
Well, I didn’t forget it, but it wasn’t until a few years later—when I was attending college right down the road—that I visited the deli for the first time and learned that the same sense of humor that drew me to them when I was younger was abundant inside.
I became a regular customer during my internship on the square and, no matter how long the line was at the deli, I was never annoyed or bored. Reading the sandwich names alone was entertainment enough, but the store is also filled with silly cards, refrigerator magnets, and other trinkets that never failed to put a smile on my face.
Circles was born in 1985 by two friends who attended Wilkes University (then called Wilkes College) in the 1960s. They wanted to break free of the corporate world and work for themselves. Needless to say, they were successful.
The friends were Phil and his business partner Steve. Though Phil was from Michigan and Steve from New York, the two chose Wilkes-Barre as the location for their deli.
They funded the deli themselves and sourced a lot of the interior from the old Lackawanna Hotel, including the oven and famous salad bar. That salad bar, in fact, was the area’s first of its kind and debuted in 1985.
These two sure loved Wilkes-Barre. On the FAQ section of their website, a question asks “What is there to do in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.?” The beginning of their answer reads:
“I assume you mean besides visiting the amazing deli and emporium in question, eh? “MORE EVERY DAY” is my pat answer! Music, theater, sports abound. History lurks around every corner…”
They led the market in the local sale of Boar’s Head meats and cheese and the bread they use for their sandwiches is from NYC. They do all their other baking in house, and their daily selection of soups are all homemade. If it’s baked-on-premises, it is noted as “b-o-p” on the menu.
Their motto is “good food and fun stuff,” and that’s just what you’ll find inside. They were honored in 2008 by the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce for their commitment to the area, and that commitment is something we will always remember and cherish.
They’ve created a timeless location in Downtown Wilkes-Barre and we will always remember Phil. Every time we visit Circles, he will be in our thoughts.
Featured photo provided by Patrick Gensel.
Kayleigh is a content writer with a BA in technical writing/literature and an MA in creative writing. When she’s not at work writing, she’s at home writing, reading, or binge-watching television shows… for research, of course. A big do-it-yourselfer and crafter, Kayleigh loves testing out projects and gifting them to friends and family—all in preparation for when she owns her own home one day and decorates with her own personal creations. Her work has appeared on The Writing Cooperative and as an Honorable Mention in East Meets West American Writers Review.