Sep 8, 2016

Allentown's History A Thing Of The Past

As I've been studying up on Allentown's former merchants, I keep thinking of the radial population shift experienced by this city in one generation. While most the merchants of 1930 were at least 3th generation Allentonians, the new residents, mostly Hispanic, are almost all recent arrivals. Interest in local history is so small that even the local historic society concentrates on topics of national interest, such as Abraham Lincoln.

Talking of Lincoln, this population shift has had political consequences.  Pawlowski, who hails from Chicago,  was not unlike the carpetbaggers who went south after the civil war.  I believe that we are in a historic void, between the old Pa. Dutch culture, and the new Hispanic population, which has not yet risen politically.  And, like the south after the Civil War,  the opportunists are making hay.

postcard above,  Hamilton Street 1930


Dave said...

One of the major differences between the Allentown of the 1950s, and the one today is the sheer difficulty of opening a physical business for an entrepreneur. In earlier times, basically, one had to get a business license, pay the fee, rent a storefront and stock it with goods they made or purchased from wholesalers. Then the customers would flock in and you'd be going to the bank with your earnings. The stack of forms today and sheer amount of government regulations make that quite difficult today.

Setting up a business on the web, however is pretty much a matter of getting a domain set up with email, buying some e-commerce software, designing a website, and you're all set. Given the choice, e-commerce is much simpler and you don't carry the overhead of a physical location.

Now, there is an article today in the paper about the Lehigh Valley (and I dislike using that term) turning into a trucking and logistics hub in the future.. the "Inland Empire" which exists to the east of Los Angeles. Right now we have two invasions, one being that of warehouses.. they're springing up everywhere like mushrooms in a meadow.. and two, the large influx of low-skilled workers, which is exacerbated by a public school system that teaches to the lowest common denominator for reasons I am not going to get into.

If Allentown is going to become a warehousing and logistics hub in the future, it's a great place to rent space for your e-buisness. And you don't even have to live here in the area!! You can be anywhere you have an internet connection.
After all, your goods all can't fit into your storage room or second bedroom. You can rent space in one of these warehouse farms around Allentown, and contract out the receiving from the producers and the shipments out to customers, all online, all from your home, wearing your pajamas, and have a telephone for people to call you. Places like Wetherhold & Metzger, or the stores in the postcard you used as an illustration today, well, they're rapidly turning into historical icons of the past.

I suspect that's going to be a big part of Allentown's future.

Dave said...

And also, which I forgot to mention, we have the new Allentonians, the low-skilled workers, which will be needed to stock the warehouses, operate the forklifts, prepare the shipments and load and unload the trucks with merchandise.

Now they will need the service sector, buying shoes and clothes, food, rent apartments.. all of that. However we're not talking about the Allentown of the manufacturing era. We're talking about a much poorer city than we had before. But then, in the more distant future, perhaps some of these warehouse workers will become e-commerce entrepreneurs. And join the middle and upper middle class. We'll see.

doug_b said...

My observation as an ex-Allentonian: Allentown is a perfect example of the old adage: "No good deed goes unpunished."

There were so many good qualities: Compact, easy to walk many places, independent / high quality stores, diverse goods, good paying blue collar jobs, serene / beautiful parks, caring people, residents and merchants managed the town.

Today it's the antithesis. Job's are gone. Buy shoes on Playgrounds instead of parks. Corporatism everywhere. Corrupt governance exported from Chicago - 700 miles away. PA Dutch replaced by invaders wanting entitlements and services.

Allentown has been turned completely upside down.

As Gertrude Stein said about Oakland, CA: "There is no there, there."

George Ruth said...

Who's worried about 'poor people' in Allentown? There won't be any after The Chamber is looking to impose a $2 an hour 'raise' to those people. No we can expect a flood of people abandoning their stoops for all those new highly paid jobs. With a Chamber like that who needs Democrats?