Lehigh Valley Boroughs Experience Growth in Downtowns
By Colin McEvoy on January 18, 2023
Editor’s Note: This story is the second of a four-part series exploring investment in the Lehigh Valley’s downtowns. A previous story highlighted Easton.
The cities of Allentown, Bethlehem, and Easton are known for their vibrant downtown neighborhoods, but the Lehigh Valley is fortunate to have equally exciting downtowns experiencing growth in several smaller municipalities across the region.
Municipal officials at these boroughs say their downtowns are thriving. Some are seeing an uptick in business openings and growth following slowdowns caused by the COVID-19 crisis. Others say the growth never stopped, even during the pandemic.
Rehabilitation of former commercial buildings is leading the way in Bangor, a borough in the Slate Belt of northeastern Northampton County that has about 5,000 residents. Since 2021, there has been more than $1 million in real estate transactions in downtown Bangor, with over 9,000 square feet in rehabilitated commercial space proposed and over 16,000 square feet in rehabilitated residential space proposed, according to Bangor Borough Manager Stephen Reider.
“I would say in the past year we’ve seen significant growth and investment in the downtown as compared to the COVID years, and even the years leading up to COVID,” Reider said. “Before COVID there was some momentum, but this year things have really ramped up.”
Several vacant or underutilized properties are being developed by investors, Reider said. Huratiak Homes is developing two buildings previously occupied by Bank of America and Fidelity Bank into high-end apartments with ground floor restaurants or commercial spaces.
Huratiak Homes also purchased another vacant downtown building on Broadway and will develop four residential units and a first-floor restaurant there, Reider said. Retro Builders is also developing high-end apartments on Market Street, in a building that had been destroyed by a fire several years ago, which is being rehabilitated for commercial mixed use.
In Bangor’s South Side neighborhood, the building previously occupied by Heard’s Meat Market, which closed in the past year, recently reopened as a Frutimex grocery and convenience store. Additionally, the new owner of the former Renee’s Cafe is rehabilitating that building for commercial and mixed use, Reider said.
Start-up businesses owned by women is a noticeable trend in downtown Nazareth, a borough in Northampton County with about 6,000 residents. It has seen about 17 new businesses open downtown in the past 18 months, more than half of which are women-owned, according to Nazareth Downtown Manager Lisa Surma Borick.
Some of these new women-owned businesses include A.M. Bakery, Adobe Home Decor, Beauty Unleashed, Flicker Music Studio, Nazareth Foot & Ankle/Healthy Fit Feet, Verve Salon, and Visionista Wellness Boutique. Some others are run co-operated by married couples, including Carera Organix, The Farm & Table, and Rodman’s Clock Shop.
“A wide variety of businesses have been opening up, and these new businesses are probably generating more foot traffic than the ones previously in those spaces,” Borick said. “That to me looks like progress.”
Several public improvement efforts are underway in the borough. Five downtown businesses have taken advantage of matching facade grant funds from Northampton County’s Grow NorCo program, and the Nazareth Center of the Arts is helping others source funding for public art efforts.
Jenny Swanker, who became the president of the arts center about 18 months ago, has increased the amount of gallery showings, concerts, poetry, film, and children’s programming for the community, Borick said. The center also recently completed a new mural on the side of its own building.
The borough has also coordinated with businesses on “Sip N Shop” events, in which downtown businesses stay open late and offer prizes, and concerts or arts offerings are provided for visiting customers.
“We’ve gotten great response from people coming out to see what’s happening and checking out shops they don’t normally go visit,” Swanker said.
Emmaus Borough Manager Shane Pepe said the borough had been bracing itself for possible business closures and revenue losses during COVID-19. Instead, he said, activity in the Lehigh County borough that is home to more than 11,000 residents never slowed and the borough has very few vacant storefronts left at this point.
“Development in our borough never slowed down during COVID,” Pepe said. “In fact, in the last four years we’ve seen more business activity in our community than we’ve seen in the last four decades.”
A Grandpa Joe’s candy store just opened at 304 Main Street, the owners of Dave’s Deli opened a new restaurant in Emmaus called Morty’s, a new Wawa was built in the borough during the pandemic, and construction on a new Turkey Hill is about to begin. New eateries are coming to strip malls on Chestnut Street, including Wing Shop and Capo & Co. Keg-Cork-Kitchen.
Several new housing developments are also currently underway, Pepe said, including The Fields at Indian Creek, which will have more than 200 houses; The Towns at South Mountain, which includes 48 townhouses; a townhouse development off North 6th Street being built by Wesley Works; and Phoebe Ministries’ senior living apartments at the old Rodale corporate offices.
“And of course, our local brew pubs have been one of Emmaus’ big success stories in the last two years,” Pepe said. “Business has really exploded at Yergey Brewing at the old BB&T bank building, and it’s really boosted the downtown traffic flow.”
Food lovers will find a variety of cuisines and one of the region’s newest locations from a well-known coffeehouse chain along the Main Street of Hellertown, a Northampton County borough with about 6,000 residents.
“Hellertown’s Main Street is thriving with eating establishments for all tastes and palates,” said Cathy Hartranft, Hellertown borough manager. “From your morning coffee and baked goods, nutritional smoothies and bowls, authentic Hungarian, Chinese street food, Thai Noodles and artisanal pizza, there is something for everyone to enjoy.”
Hana & Nana Coffee opened at 501 Main Street, in the building previously occupied by Mike’s Kids’ Doggie Shop, a popular breakfast and lunch restaurant that closed in 2021 after operating for more than 35 years.
Billiards Service and Sales, which sells new and used pool tables, opened in the former RCMoore Vintage and Millinery clothing store at 1561 Main Street. ML Gallery & Co., a nail salon specializing in nail care, foot care, and detailed nail art, opened its doors following an August ribbon-cutting ceremony held by the Hellertown-Lower Saucon Chamber of Commerce.
Several new stores opened in the Shoppes of Hellertown plaza, including Good Guy Vapes, Advance Auto Parts, and a Starbucks that had been highly anticipated for almost two years. Good Guy Vapes opened in a former phone store, Advance is in a space once occupied by National Auto Stores, and Starbucks is in what had been a Bank of America branch.
Other new Main Street business openings from the year included La Kang Noodle Bar, Realty Outfitters, KH Promotions, Rosie Revolution, and Millbrook Homecare Partners, which moved from Water Street to its new location at 1422 Main Street.
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