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Old buildings revived, renovated for modern businesses

COURTESY OF ALEX RUOZZI Rendering of the ground floor of downtown Allentown’s Klein Building, which is being renovated to become the home of RB Collection.

With increasing momentum, old buildings across the region are being resurrected to accommodate modern businesses.

While Bethlehem’s SteelStacks is a well-known example of this trend, there is “no shortage of redevelopment success stories in the Lehigh Valley,” according to Colin McEvoy, Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. director of communications.

Today, renewal projects range from recently completed to still-a-concept.

As a result of renovating an area now called The Knitting Mills, the VF Outlet moved into the former Designers Place building in West Reading last May.

At the visionary end of the spectrum: how to revive the Neuweiler Brewery in Allentown continues to be discussed.

“Our office is a big proponent of saving existing buildings and finding new ways of adapting these structures,” said Joseph N. Biondo, design principal at Spillman Farmer Architects in Bethlehem. “Buildings of a certain era tend to be built with higher quality materials such as rare hardwoods and wood from old-growth forests that no longer exist.

“A century-old building has far greater charm than its brand-new counterparts. … The warmth of the materials [including] old brick details resonate with people. … Older buildings are just more interesting.”

Biondo estimated that adapting old structures to meet contemporary requirements accounts for about two-thirds of Spillman Farmer’s business. Easton’s Silk off 13th Street is one of Spillman Farmer’s projects; its redevelopment is now partially complete.

NAME RECOGNITION

Exposed brick, high ceilings, stunning beams and a great deal of charm are among the features that have drawn business owners to Silk, a former textiles manufacturing plant.

Pioneering businesses that occupy these long-empty spaces need to overcome the obstacle of persuading clients to visit a place that was, in recent memory, desolate.

One strategy to solve this problem is to incorporate the name of the new area into the name of the business. Employing this approach, Jason Hoy paired Australian slang for food with the area’s name to create Tucker Silk Mill, a café with a distinctive Aussie sensibility that is part of Silk.

Hoy relocated to the United States from Australia; his Tucker Silk Mill menu boasts specialties from his home country.

COVERED PARKING

After many years in the hair industry, Jo Ann Piserchio moved from Los Angeles to Easton to open Salon at Silk.

She considers the location to be “second to none, being the only full-service hair salon at Silk and free covered parking right outside the door.”

Given the potential for bad weather in the Northeast, covered parking is a valuable benefit for a hair salon.

‘RIGHT SPACE FOR ME’

Not all business owners at Silk hail from far away or use “Silk” in their business’ names. In 2007, J Taylor Design opened in the owner’s Nazareth home.

A decade later, while seeking more room for his website/marketing design firm, J Taylor “got the chance to look at Silk Mill, [which] hit a number of my goals and felt like the right space for me.”

Taylor emails a map to prospective clients to help them find his company. He believes that “an advantage to moving to a repurposed space, especially this one, is that there is a bit of a buzz about the area.”

PERFECT FIT

Like Silk, the renovated Klein Building in Allentown will contain commercial and residential units. Whereas Silk will feature a variety of businesses when completed, the Klein building will focus on one commercial entity.

The Ruozzi Brothers Collection, a business devoted to classic cars, opened in Breinigsville in 2011. When its waiting list for repairs and consignments grew, it became clear that the company needed more space.

“A restored old building is perfect for our business considering that we restore classic cars,” said Alex Ruozzi, a co-owner with his brother Al. “… Also, the location in front of the America on Wheels Museum makes the Klein building a great spot.”

WORTH THE INVESTMENT

A distinguished ground floor will encompass the classic car showroom, the lobby for the apartments, the RB Collection office and a small coffee shop.

Expecting their move to be completed this October, the Ruozzis share the enthusiasm expressed by other business owners who occupy renewed spaces.

Although Alex Ruozzi acknowledged that it might have been “cheaper just to demolish and [construct] a new building,” he said that “in the end, we’re sure it’s worth it.”

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