Oct 20, 2009

Main Street Program

This past Saturday, long time Allentonians could only shake their heads reading the news. Because of budget cuts in Harrisburg, plans
"to launch a Main Street Program on Hamilton Street that would duplicate the rejuvenation of neighborhood businesses along Seventh Street"
have been postponed. Of course, in the bizarro world of Allentown 2009, it's sad that the Administration hopes Hamilton Street can do as well as Seventh Street; sadder still, is that our "leaders" don't know what they did or what happen. There are all levels of business in retail. Someone once noted that there are more quarters in the world than dollars. Hamilton Street, up to few years ago had viable businesses in the 700 Block of Hamilton Street. The Lanta transfer stops provided an continuous customer base for merchants, although not upscale, they provided the goods those passengers wanted. The Family Dollar Store was one of their most successful outlets in the country. Rainbow Jeans had a half dozen clerks. Pawlowski, encouraged by a few others, decided that the bus people had to go, to provide the atmosphere for the gentrification they envisioned. In response to protests organized in part by this blog at the time, Pawlowski claimed the decision was Lanta's alone. In reality, Lanta was induced to do this by the Allentown Parking Authority, controlled by the Administration. Almost overnight sales plummeted forty percent on Hamilton Street. Rite Aid Drug Store closed their Hamilton Street store. (they since reopened because of a building problem on 7th Street.)

Meanwhile, about eight years ago, a viable Hispanic business district started developing in 500, 600, and 700 block of Seventh Street. This occurred because rents were more reasonable and parking more available than on Hamilton Street. Although Allentown started a Main Street Program there a couple years ago, it was not responsible for the revitalization that occurred. The program has dressed up some facades and given some grants, but clearly the dynamic in place is the growing Hispanic Community cultivating their own merchants.

Allentown can make Hamilton Street all that it can be, in this era, by simply returning the buses. I know that they would prefer a different answer, but they will not find it in another Main Street Program.

The image shown is part of a watercolor by Karoline Schaub-Peeler


Looking To Escape said...

Meanwhile, about eight years ago, a viable Hispanic business district started developing in 500, 600, and 700 block of Seventh Street.

New facades are nice, but how much money are these merchants making? I have noted in the past these places were hardly packed with people. Are they just getting by or are they very profitable? This matters because tax revenue is tied to income.
On the issue of the buses, I have seen more people on the buses going to the Lehigh Valley Mall than walking on Hamilton (or 7th) mid day.
Hamilton is user unfriendly, Allentown is user unfriendly. The other day I did see the trolley (I thought it may have been scrapped) that was in active use years ago. Maybe it's time to bring it back and let it run a circuit, say from 4th to Linden to 15th to Hamilton back to 4th, then the same route back. Have a minimal charge, say 25 cents.

Katie Bee said...

I believe that the main street program was instrumental in revitalizing the 7th street corridor. Since the main street program works closely with business owners and residents, it can appear to the naked eye that it's the community doing it all on its own, but the new streetlamps, trash cans, planters and facades were all facilitated by the Main Street program. Of course, it couldn't be done without the street's business community, but don't discount it.

A similar program, Elm Street, is also active in Old Allentown. Looking at 7th Street and Old Allentown, I can only hope that Hamilton Street would get something like this, at least to give the business owners of the street some sort of collective voice.

michael molovinsky said...

katie, i appreciate your comment, but respectfully disagree. this post was meant as no offense to PL, he's done a nice job. back in 05, before he knew about allentown, i spoke and wrote about the emerging Hispanic business district. at that time i commented that it occurred despite the city's "gateway" efforts, not because of it.

it's inconceivable that hamilton street has been reduced to even considering the need for such a program.

fyi, as far as a voice, when the merchants protested to the city about the lanta changes, nobody listened.

if you take the grant given to the brew work, or even going now to the new restaurant at butz's, it's 10 times more than PL ever got.

a large part of the problem on hamilton street comes from city hall

dick nepon said...

I said during my short campaign that the best we can do now is be the best latino shopping and cultural district on the east coast. There is an under-served market that we could fill. It would bring people to the area much quicker, and inject more cash and wider spread cash, and engender more business growth than any casino or hockey arena could hope for. It is not yesterday's Allentown, but it is a possible future that seems to me to hold more hope than any other plan I've heard. In fact, I've heard no plan from Pawlowski, other than to pay anyone who will come to town to open anything, and give them tax exemptions and grants in exchange for campaign contributions. Peter L does a great job, despite Pawlowski, but he can only get so much accomplished. By artificially supporting values on Hamilton, Pawlowski is holding back development, so it happens on Seventh St. Eventually, the truth will out, and values will drop to the point that entrepreneurs can afford to take risks. Then Hamilton Street will come back, as a new, probably Latino oriented district.

Too bad Muhlenberg College didn't see fit to create upper level dorms out of the empty buildings and run a shuttle to college. That would have helped the college overlay district and helped the City and Hamilton street would now be full of shops supporting the students, and others would be moving to the area. It would have been a better way to spend the millions sunk into the downtown district.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Nepon: with respect, a few blocks in downtown Allentown will never rival a 'hun forty ninth St. in the Bronx as a leading Hispanic shopping district in the east. And trust me, no self-respecting parent would spend nearly $50,000 a year to send their kid to Muhlenberg just to have them live in what is by virtue of it's designation as a Keystone Opportunity Zone....a slum!

petelewnes said...

Hi all - I figured it best to drop a little line here with my thoughts on 7th's revitalization efforts when it concerns the main street program...when the seventh street development committee was in the pre-main street days, 2003ish I got involved with the group mainly because I became a property owner (I've really been around since 2001) and saw the great opportunity that presented itself on 7th...I called it the American Dream in action...an enterprising immigrant population that seized their opportunity of being able to buy property and get their piece of the american deam pie. My parents were both immigrants and I am a product of their hard work...I grew up in the restaurant business working from 12 years old and have always been involved with helping the community I live and work in...especially when it comes to helping small business owners. The main street program has seen 23 new businesses open during it's tenure with 2 closings (these have been rented pretty quickly). We've gone from a high vacancy rate to about 99% occupancy with new stores looking to open but no locations to put them in. The Main Street program did not get the ball rolling, but it definitely has helped keep it going in this economic climate - not just in grants but in real business growth. We have advertised for businesses to come here and have done prospecting out of the area to expose 7th street to other business communities. Business retention is a major part of the program...the facades, establishing web presence, cafe tables, marketting and on and on help a new business not only stay afloat but thrive...it's the teach them how to fish approach that appears to be working here - success stories range from a hardware store early on reporting that after they received facade assistance their business went up 150% per day to a restaurant stating they had 25 new customers a day over a 2 week period once they were able to have cafe tables. It's also about really helping making the community stronger and proud of it's decision to be committed to center city Allentown. They have in us, a group that makes sure their voice and best interests are taken into account...the main focus has been to help the businesses here get stronger, making the district as viable as possible and let the free market run it's course...Revitalization is many levels and years in the making - we spent a full year working on adjusting zoning laws to allow cafe tables and other items to help our businesses - this was a great partnership with the city of allentown staff and city council...who knows where we will end up but it's definitely good and rewarding work which challenges the merchants we have to work harder to do better and grow.

thanks much


michael molovinsky said...

pete, thanks for stopping by. this post was not to denigrate the Main Street Program or your performance as the manager of said program on 7th st., you have done an excellent job in that capacity and are well regarded for such.

HOWEVER, this blog cannot but help notice certain ironies. City Hall cared little about the Hamilton Street merchants opinion about taking away the bus stops. City Hall cared little about the Hamilton Street merchants when doubling the parking meter rate. City Hall cared little about the Hamilton Street merchants when they made them change out the security gates last year. Now they want Main Street to give the merchants a voice, after they never listened for years? Now they want our taxes(state) for a Main Street Grant after we paid City Hall to grant and help only select recipients for years?

dick nepon said...

to anon 3:36
It could rival it; it is a lot less hassle to go to an Allentown. Already people are coming to Allentown, now. If you visit Providence RI you could see how a college can turn around a downtown. It has happened in many towns. You may complain that it is gentrification, but it does work to raise property values, driving out the element that makes the downtown scary to some. Argue that everyone needs a place to live, but don't tell me it can't happen.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Molovinsky,
Who is PL?

Anonymous said...

Downtown Wilkes-Barre is a vibrant place, probably thanks to Wilkes College, which is right there. South Bethlehem is pretty active, too, probably due to Lehigh U.
Downtown Allentown off-campus housing would encourage the same, while easing west end resident concerns.

michael molovinsky said...

PL is Peter Lewnes who posted here at 10:33 PM. He is the 7th Street Main Street Project Manager

Anonymous said...

TO: 8:02 pm

You have got to be kidding! If a local residential college ever began to think of such an idea, and word got out to the parents of those potential college students, you would see an immediate and preciptous drop in students applying to either Muhlenberg or Cedar Crest. I would imagine that statistics would show, when looked at on a per capita basis, that Allentown probably has the WORST 'serious crime rate' (within the heart of the old center city area), when compared to any other city in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania! The Morning Call has made a good effort to conscientiously ignore and downplay this horrific fact for the last twenty years (since the Los Angeles Times came in here and bought the paper).
Our 'beloved' MC is part of the problem, and the classic 'enabler' in this aspect of Allentown's demise and decline.


michael molovinsky said...

anon 11:21, i agree that the college would not encourage it's students to live in center city. it's one thing when a college is already there, as lehigh is in south bethlehem, but it's another thing for a college, which promotes itself as suburban, to submit it's students to a social experiment.

ironpigpen said...

I thought Muhlenberg College was a liberal arts institution and that liberals love social experiments?

Anonymous said...

TO: 1:32 pm

To say that the 'main street program' was instrumental "in revitalizing the 7th street corridor" is an unwarranted assumption... if I ever did see one. I doubt that very many Allentonians would describe 7th street in those glowing terms.
It is an alien place; almost lawless.... and a bit frightening in what you see as one motors down this thoroughfare towards center city. The shops that are open for business on 7th street are a bewildering array of counter-cultural, 'walk on the wild side', type of places (pawn shops, drug dealing centers masquerading as barbershops, money laundering places for illegal aliens...such as Western Union; there is no police presence which in itelf is scary, plus the vehicular traffic hurtling out of control down 7th street can be characterized by speeding, swerving in and out of lanes; many vehicles are out of compliance regarding inspection regulations for sound violations, windows that are blacked out, etc. It is a frightening place to see and experience, at least for most Allentonians who might venture in to that area from the west end for a 'walk on the wild side'. It doesn't remind one so much of a civilized American city, as it does of a backward foreign country, and a third world one at that.


Anonymous said...

pig pen, john locke and adam smith were liberals. learn the difference between political ideology and approaches to education. they are wildly different.

mm, hamilton street is in bad shape b/c there is absolutely nothing to do. yes, there is an irony in moving the bus stops. standing around and waiting for a bus is actually something to do and leads to commercial activity.

anybody that could help foster something to do gets kudo's in my book. I'd like to see business owners and volunteers emerge before we start talking about hiring a new professional. peter talked about volunteering himself before he started working on 7th. right now, the only person doing that on hamilton st on a regular basis is miriam huertes. where are the other volunteers?

Anonymous said...

Miriam is a paid employee of the Chamber of Commerce, not a volunteer. There are a bunch of volunteers, she has 'organized', but make no mistake, Miriam is a paid employee.

Anonymous said...

Simply amazing that the same crap is going on in Allentown. At this time, it's worth revisiting the thoughts of one of Allentown's great thinkers.