Sara Hailstone, Allentown's Director of Community Development, was expecting to meet with several business owners concerned about being relocated by the hockey arena. Instead, she was confronted by a conference room full of merchants and several of their representatives. She started the meeting by questioning the presence of the Morning Call reporter, Matt Assad. Several merchants said they requested his presence. Hailstone got an earful from merchant after merchant, complaining of everything from poor communication by the city, to alleged outright intimidation by the strawbuyer, Summit Reality. She conceded that the City is the undisclosed buyer, and agreed to proceed with more respect for the merchants. I'll leave more details of the meeting to Assad's coverage, presumedly tomorrow. I'd like to mention an irony that only an old timer, like myself, can appreciate. Over the years we have invested untold $millions on Hamilton Street. We put up the canopies, we took them down. We have reconfigured the parking spaces endless times. We have created a Parking Authority that charges meter rates as if we were a destination. We burdened the merchants with endless regulations concerning their signs and their security gates. At the end of all this, what we essentially have, are those that were in the room today. Save for them, we would have no downtown. We have rewarded their lifetime of work, loyalty and investment with deceit and threats.
UPDATE: Matt Assad's article in today's paper pretty much tells the story of the meeting, but softens the tone present. Assad must maintain some working relationship with Hailstone, I do not. The merchants were very annoyed by tactics utilized by the city agent. A Korean daughter spoke of the pressure inserted on her father, and the effect on his blood pressure and health. A hispanic woman told of her 11 year old sister being harassed on the phone by the strawbuyer. She even wondered aloud if their minority status encouraged the disrespectful attitude. As the merchants revealed their resentment, Hailstone's body language and replies stiffened. Sam Hong, of New York Fashion, would like the Mayor to visit his store. Although two stores wide, and a major merchandizer on Hamilton Street, Pawlowski has never visited. Considering that he has been Mayor for 5.5 years, and Community Development Director for 3 years before that, perhaps he's not coming.