People often speculate as to why Bethlehem now is a destination, while, too often, Allentown is considered a place to avoid. The long answer will not fit within this short post, but here may be a few reasons. Bethlehem had two downtown's, on both sides of the river. While downtown Allentown certainly was the premier shopping area for the Lehigh Valley prior to the malls, it may have become a victim to over-planning. In the late 60's, early 70's, Allentown attempted to compete with the suburban malls by building a canopy on Hamilton Street. The viability of Hamilton Street was extended for a few years, but the magnetism of Hess's could well have been the reason. Bethlehem also built a pedestrian mall on Broad Street, but the historical quaintness of Main Street remained. Although the commerce in its southside business district languished, the architecture remained. By the time Allentown removed the canopies in the late 90's, the architecture of its buildings had long been bisected and altered. As historical became chic, Bethlehem profited from having done less in the past.
It's southside business district is a time capsule, architecturally unchanged since the turn of the last century. It now is becoming a mix of boutiques and bistros in a fashionable historic setting. Last, but not least, Bethlehem benefited from consistency of developmental leadership. While Allentown has had a succession of Economic Directors, Tony Hanna, with benefit of his institutional memory, has led Bethlehem for many years.
Shown at the top is pop up photo matches from the 1930's, promoting Julian Goldman's Fine Clothes For The Family on the South Side, East Third Street. Also shown is Tony Hanna, along side of the former Goodman Furniture Store.
reprinted from April 1, 2020
ADDENDUM JUNE 1, 2023: Because of the NIZ, Allentown's former mercantile district has transformed into an urban office park, complete with new company housing for the office workers. Like an office park owned by one entity, downtown Allentown is now also essentially owned by one person, and it looks it. I do not believe that Allentown can ever again become a destination, it simply has no atmosphere.