Not only did Shift4 Payments Inc. have an initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange this morning, it became the first company to get to ring the bell opening the NYSE since the COVID-19 crisis shut down the trading floor.
“This was a great symbol for our company, and also I think for our country… Our country is healing,” said Jared Isaacman, founder and CEO of Shift4.
Isaacman launched the company 21 years ago out of his parents’ basement at the age of 16. He said his first investor was his grandfather who gave him $10,000 to help start up the business.
It was his grandfather, Seymour Isaacman that told him that being on the NYSE was the pinnacle for any business and made the IPO Jared’s top goal since he started.
The company made the IPO of 15 million shares of the stock, which was listed as “NYSE:FOUR” on the NYSE, at $23 per share.
Isaacman purchased $100 million of the stock keeping him as the largest single shareholder in the business.
By midday the stock was selling for $34 per share, a slightly more than 48% increase.
Isaacman said the company, which makes point-of-sale ordering and payment processing solutions, primarily for restaurants, originally had a target date of mid-March for the IPO, but stopped the process when the COVID-19 crisis hit.
He started seeing improvements in the nation’s economy and decided now was the time to make the IPO.
Isaacman said he’s excited to have “a lot more shareholders” to answer to and to use their investment to strengthen the company’s balance sheet so that they can take advantage of any growth opportunities that may present themselves in the future.
His largest private equity investor to date was Searchlight Capital, which invested in the company in June 2016 and helped it to expand to its current size.
The company’s most recent product launch was in direct response to the shutdown of restaurants during the COVID-19 crisis.
With restaurants only being able to offer takeout and delivery – something many of them had never done before – his team adapted Shift4’s SkyTab point-of-sale ordering and payment system so that it could be quickly adapted for restaurants using the technology for the first time for delivery and takeout and launched the product SkyTab Takeout.
Now that the IPO is complete, Isaacman said it’s back to business.
“Putting the IPO together was fun, but it was also a big distraction,” he said. “We’re going to keep this big growth engine going.”
As restaurants in the Lehigh Valley prepare to offer dine-in service outdoors as the region moves to the yellow phase of the COVID-19 reopening plan, some cities are helping out by creating new spaces for diners.
Previously, restaurants could only offer takeout, although some with outdoor seating, such as the Shelby in the Hamilton Crossings, and Ringers Roost in Allentown, were allowing customers to eat their takeout on site.
Now, all restaurants able to offer outdoor dining will be allowed to have table service, with tables spaced six-feet apart. Staff should also wear face masks, offer disposable single-use menus and institute other protocols meant to stem the spread of the virus.
It’s a bit more challenging in downtown areas where restaurants may have limited capacity to place tables far enough apart, or have enough room to justify offering the outdoor dining at all.
The Lehigh Valley’s major cities, Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton are helping restaurants’ increase outdoor seating capacity by shutting down streets during dinner hours and adding wooden parklets to parking spaces in front of the eateries.
“The COVID-19 pandemic and the requirement to socially distance have had a huge negative effect on a number of business units including bars and restaurants,” said Allentown Mayor Ray O’Connell in a press release. “We want to take positive steps to allow these establishments to rebuild their businesses and it is our intent to try to make it as easy as possible.”
He noted that all existing restaurants, bars, and cafes with a valid certificate of occupancy from the city may apply for a Temporary Outdoor Seating Area permit, and if granted will be allowed to add outdoor seating.
Allentown is among the cities closing streets to accommodate the space the restaurants will need.
The city will close some street blocks on Fridays from 4 p.m. until 10 p.m. and Saturdays from noon until 10 p.m.
Hamilton Street will be closed from Church Street to Seventh Street, from Seventh Street to 8th Street and from 8th Street to 9th Street. South Lumber Street will be closed from Maple Street to Hamilton and S. Hall Street will be closed from Maple Street to Hamilton Street.
Bethlehem will be closing some of its streets from 4 p.m. Thursdays until Sundays at 7 p.m.
It is closing Walnut Street from Main to mid-block east; Adams Street from Second to Third and Fourth to mid-block south; New Street from Fourth to mid-block south and First Street from Founders Way to East.
Parklets will be installed on Main Street between Walnut and Market; Broad Street from New Street to mid-block; Fourth street from Vine to mid-block east, New Street to mid-block west and Vine Street in the angled parking south of Fourth Street.
Easton is also planning street closures, but has not officially designated any areas until it gets more feedback from which businesses will be requesting the temporary outdoor seating. Areas are being considered in the Central Business District, West Ward, South Side and College Hill areas.
Not all restaurants will be having outdoor table service. In Allentown, for example, three businesses in the Downtown Allentown Market, which opened in September will be offering takeout, but not table service. Its anchor, Chef Robert Irvine’s Fresh Kitchen will not be reopening because of an alcohol licensing issue.
In Bethlehem, Jumbar’s said that it is putting four tables outside for its customers to use, but it will continue to operate as takeout only.
After previous parking app provider MobileNow abruptly went out of business May 19 because of the COVID-19 shutdown, three cities in the region have found a new provider for the service.
Allentown, Bethlehem and Reading signed an agreement with ParkMobile, a company that already provides parking app services for cities such as Philadelphia, Lancaster and Harrisburg.
Besides the convenience of being able to reserve parking and pay through the app rather than with coins, the company said municipalities have been encouraging the use of such apps as a contactless payment solution to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“We understand the importance of having a contactless payment option in our cities right now so we moved very fast to find a replacement to MobileNow,” said John Morgan, executive director of the Allentown Parking Authority in a release. “ParkMobile will be able to get our cities and running very quickly so all of our residents and visitors can safely and conveniently pay for parking.”
To pay for parking, a user enters or scans the zone number posted on the existing MobileNow stickers and signs around the meter. New ParkMobile signs will be coming but the numbers will remain the same.
The app can also be used to reserve parking for events such as Reading Royals hockey games at the Santander Arena in Reading.
On the heels of announcing plans for the Linden Street Commons project, City Center Investment Corp. will have two more buildings before the Allentown Neighborhood Improvement Zone Authority board Wednesday night.
ANIZDA oversees and manages the development and revitalization of downtown Allentown.
The company unveiled photos and some details of the plans at a subcommittee meeting Monday night.
City Center is developing projects at 932 and 950 Hamilton Street in the city, which will have a mix of apartments, retail and office space.
The building at 932 Hamilton will be a six-story, 99,000-square-foot building with red brick and bronze accents. It will be a mixed use commercial project featuring open concept office space.
The structure at 950 will be five stories. It is designed with red brick and a mix of vertical and horizontal siding. It will house luxury apartments and retail.
Other projects under development by the company include a project at Ninth and Hamilton Streets called Cityplace, which will include more affordable apartment units.
Most of the apartments City Center has developed in the downtown to date have been more high-end, luxury apartments.
The newest tenant at Allentown’s Bridgeworks Enterprise Center is the Lehigh Valley’s first kosher winery. It’s also the only kosher winery in Pennsylvania and one of only a few in the Northeast.
But Kevin Danna, owner of Binah Winery, said he’s part of a growing trend in the industry to change the image of kosher wine, which he said has unfortunately been associated for too long with sweet, lower quality wines, like Manischewitz.
“We’re here to break that stigma,” Danna said.
Such wines are generally used for sacramental purposes and just aren’t meant to be premium wines, but there is nothing in the process of kosher wine that would make it taste any different than traditional wines.
“You can’t tell the difference when you’re drinking kosher wine from other wines,” he said. “It’s more about the ritual, religious part.”
Making a wine kosher means selecting ingredients, such as yeast, that are made in accordance with Jewish dietary laws. The wine can also only be made by those who keep a kosher lifestyle.
Apart from that, he got his winemaking skills the traditional way. He began experimenting in wine making in his basement with his friends back in 2014.
“It was bad,” he admitted.
He enrolled in winemaking school and had an apprenticeship at Pinnacle Ridge Winery near Kutztown before leasing his own vineyard outside Easton last year to grow and bottle the grapes. Space for bottling at that location was limited however, and he knew he couldn’t grow his business without more space.
He was unable to find anything that fit his upstart winery budget until he was introduced to the Bridgeworks, which had everything he needed, including a meadery, microbrewery and micro distiller.
“Since I’m a winery, I kind of complete the circle,” he said.
The new winery also received financial support in the form of $165,000 in low-interest loans from the Allentown Enterprise Zone and the Allentown Revolving Loan Fund, programs that are part of AEDC’s Urban Made initiative.
The move changed his business model slightly; instead of growing his own grapes, which was labor intensive, he operates as an urban winery, purchasing his grapes from other growers in the region. He ultimately wants to use all local grapes to give his wine distinction, but he said the grape supply is very low now, impacted by the spotted lanternfly and other issues and most vineyards locally don’t have enough grapes to supply him.
His sales structure remains the same, he sells mostly direct-to-consumer in 40 states with what he said is about a 50/50 split between kosher Jewish customers and regular wine enthusiasts, which is his goal.
“I don’t want to be known for making just excellent kosher wine, but for making excellent wine,” he said.
The local Jewish population has been very supportive, but he doesn’t plan on opening a local tasting room. He noted most tastings occur on Saturdays, the Jewish Sabbath, and he needs to remain closed to be observant. He is hoping to get into Pennsylvania liquor stores and area grocery stores and is building his inventory to tap that market.
In his first year he made around 1,000 cases of red, white and sparkling wine. He’s up about 50 % over last year and hopes to have his inventory doubled by next year.
“Sales have exceeded expectations so far,” he said. So he hopes the growth will continue and he’ll help grow the reputation of kosher wine as fine wine in the Lehigh Valley.
There will soon be a new president and CEO at Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network in Allentown.
Its board of trustees has named Michael Spigel to the position. Spigel currently services as president and COO of Brooks Rehabilitation in Jacksonville, Florida.
He will start in the position Aug. 3.
Spigel replaces Gary Schmidt, chair of the board of trustees, who has been serving as interim president and CEO since 2018. Schmidt will continue to serve as board chair.
“Good Shepherd conducted an extensive national search to find a leader with the experience, expertise, passion and purpose befitting a world-class rehabilitation network,” said Schmidt in a release. “Most recently, Michael led a post-acute network with a continuum of care and growth trajectory that closely mirrors that of Good Shepherd, having grown from a mid-sized hospital with regional recognition to a large, nationally recognized provider.”
Spigel had been with Brooks Rehabilitation since 2004. Before that he worked at the RehabCare: Group in St. Louis, Missouri.
Spigel earned his master’s degree in Health Administration from Chapman University in Orange County, California, and his bachelor’s degree in Physical Therapy from the University of Maryland.
Good Shepherd is a not-for-profit health-care network founded in 1908. It has a staff of 2,100 that treats patients at more than 70 locations in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
A little over two years ago, Katrina Marshall took a big gamble.
She had been working at Artistic Toys & Promotions in Allentown for about 12 years and loved her job. Starting out as a receptionist she was promoted to a number of roles within the company and became a vital part of the process of selling custom promotional stuffed animals to corporations and organizations around the country.
But the owner of the company, Jim Socci, had lost passion for the business and was looking to sell it. He warned her that if he didn’t find any suitable buyers, he might just shut it down.
Marshall couldn’t bear to lose her job designing and selling stuffed Teddys and other dolls, so she asked Socci if she could buy the business. “It seemed far-fetched, but I’d run every department,” she said. “I told him ‘I think I can do this,’ and he said ‘I think you can, too.”
So, she and Socci worked out a deal for seller financing, with the agreement she would obtain financing to buy the business from him outright after two years.
She spent the first year of her ownership cutting costs and focusing on where her margins were. In the second year she started growing her customer base from the longtime, repeat customer base the company had built up over the years.
“I had a very profitable two years, so I only needed a small loan to buy him out,” she said.
Lehigh Financial Group of Allentown helped Marshall obtain a loan from First Keystone Community Bank in Bethlehem. The loan not only paid off Socci, but gave Marshall funds to expand the business, which had been growing under her leadership.
She plans to hire a handful of employees in jobs ranging from design and sales to production and warehousing.
Artistic Toys will also be moving to a new, larger facility in Nazareth. The new facility will provide nearly 17,000 square feet of space for the company’s design, sales, production and warehousing space, as compared to the just under 12,000 square feet of space they’re using in Allentown.
Marshall, who is a mother of five in addition to running Artistic Toys, said she is eager to see the company grow and to take on new clients.
She said it’s an exciting industry to be in, helping companies come up with customized stuffed toys to promote their business or cause.
The companies come to Artistic Toys with their ideas. Her artists design a single sample toy, often with the help of Marshall and the rest of the staff.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s the art department or accounting, I lean on them for ideas,” Marshall said.
The company does work for a number of high profile clients, including the Ellen Show. They’ve also designed Snoopy dolls for Met-Life and stuffed Spam cans for Hormel Foods.
“Anyone looking to brand their company,” she said.
Marshall said it’s hard to pick her favorite out of the promotional toys Artistic Toys has made over the years. “I get so involved in the design of each one. They all become my favorites,” she said. But if she had to call out a couple, a stuffed yellow duck in scrubs might be one of her favorites. Besides its scrubs, Chemo Duck, as it is called, has a bandanna and comes with a matching bandana that the child it’s given to can wear once they start losing their hair.
It also has a tube and chemo port, that can be hooked up to the chemo machine so the patient and the doll can “go through chemo together.”
These dolls are given out at hospitals around the country and Marshall is proud to know they brought comfort to many children during a difficult time.
She is also proud of a stuffed avocado character she created for food maker Wholly Guacamole. When she got the contract for the dolls she and the customer weren’t quite sure what they wanted or how to create it, so the journey to come up with a product that ended up being so unique and adorable was quite an accomplishment.
Marshall works with most of her customers that way, sharing ideas and trying to help them come up with original ideas, or make the ideas they have come to life.
Sari Wiaz, of Wize Choice Creations of Chicago, said the help she received from Marshall and Artistic Toys has been a big part of her company’s success.
“I feel like I owe a lot to Katrina,” Wiaz said. “She’s not just my manufacturer and sourcing agent. She’s someone I rely on for ideas. I don’t think I could have been as successful as I was if it wasn’t for her guidance.”
Wiaz said Artistic Toys helped take her from a single, simple product idea, Baby Paper – a crinkly, stuffed cloth – and grew it into a business with NFL-licensed products and new ideas on the horizon.
“If there’s a way to do it, she figures out a way to get it done,” Wiaz said.
Marshall has also received a great deal of public recognition for her work at Artistic Toys.
She received the 2019 Woman of Color Achievement Award from the Women’s Presidents Organization.
The 39-year-old Marshall was also named a rising star by PPB Magazine, the trade publication for the promotional products industry.
Editor’s note: Interviews for this story were conducted before the coronavirus pandemic arrived. Artistic Toy, like every business, was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and did temporarily close operations. As of April 30, the company is maintaining a small skeleton crew at its manufacturing facility to fulfil orders. The majority of the staff are working remotely from home.
While downtown Allentown may not seem as bustling as normal right now during the COVID-19 crisis, that doesn’t mean plans aren’t in the works for even more growth.
City Center Investment Corp., which has been behind much of the redevelopment efforts downtown, has unveiled plans for a new project that will include 250 apartments, retail space and live/work lofts.
Linden Street Commons is being proposed for a two phase construction project at Seventh and Linden Streets by the Allentown’s LANTA Transportation Center.
The project will include reconfiguring the current transportation center to accommodate for the new buildings, but the developer said in a presentation to the Allentown Planning Commission that the project was being done in partnership with the Allentown Parking Authority, which manages the transportation center and that it would create a safer and more aesthetically welcoming bus landing.
That work would involve widening the street for two-way traffic and creating a center island designed to be a communal stop. There would also be new, modernized shelters and improved lighting as well as new hardscape and landscape design.
City Center said the first phase of the construction would add 154 apartments to the south side of the project. Phase two would add 96 apartments.
Apartments would be made up of studio, one bedroom and two bedroom units.
Residents would have an enclosed courtyard between the two buildings that make up the Linden Street Commons.
The project would also have five live/work lofts on Hamilton Street and would bring what it described as “prominent” retail to the corner of Seventh and Linden.
Demolition work is beginning at the former Allentown State Hospital on Hanover Avenue in East Allentown.
Troy Thompson, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of General Services, which oversees the property, said the initial job conference was held Wednesday. That’s the official first step of the project and work can now begin.
Thompson said the initial work will be securing the site and prep work to the interiors and exteriors of the 44 structures on the more than 200-acre property.
“The campus has a lot of older building and asbestos is an issue,” he said.
He noted that passers-by won’t be noticing a lot of changes initially.
“You won’t see a building coming down anytime soon, even though the work is beginning immediately,” Thompson said.
The entire demolition project, which is being managed by Neuber Environmental Services Inc. of Gilbertsville, is expected to take around 540 days, which sets an estimated completion date of November 2021.
The demolition will cost about $12.7 million.
The demolition of the historic buildings on the property does not come without controversy. There were numerous protests and petitions and even a lawsuit seeking to save the buildings, some of which were recently featured in M. Night Shyamalan’s 2019 film, “Glass.”
The buildings had stood vacant since closing in 2010 and the state was not able to find a buyer for the property.
The state decided the property would be easier to sell if the aging properties on it were demolished and the property was sold as green space.
After the buildings are demolished the state Department of General Services would begin the bidding process for developers who seek to purchase the property.
A committee was established by the state to oversee the bidding process so that the proposals are chosen for the impact they will have on the community as well as the dollar amount of the bid.
Local developers and elected officials have suggested uses ranging from light industrial to apartments.
Steph Raymond is an executive with extensive experience managing transmission, substation and distribution operations as well as related new business ventures. In her current role as vice president of distribution operations for PPL Electric Utilities, Raymond oversees field operations and is responsible for leading the planning, engineering, construction, operations and maintenance of the company’s distribution grid.
LVB: As a utility, PPL is obviously a life-sustaining business, but how much has the COVID-19 crisis impacted your operations?
Raymond: The pandemic has completely changed both where and how we work.
Our goal remains to provide residential and business customers with safe, reliable service while ensuring that our employees are safe. We achieve this goal during these unprecedented times by complying with directives from the governor’s administration, the PA Department of Health, the CDC and other authorities.
A compelling example is how we rewrote procedures to ensure safe and quick restoration of power during storms while social distancing and wearing masks in the field and overseeing much of the logistics remotely. I’m immensely proud of everyone at PPL for their dedication, resourcefulness and can-do spirit during this public health crisis. Our customers depend on us and we’ll continue to deliver for them.
LVB: How has the pandemic impacted the overall utility industry?
Raymond: Like PPL, electric utilities across the country have adjusted to continue to serve their customers, while maintaining social distancing and other pandemic-related safety measures. This includes taking steps to limit personal interactions with customers.
There is also a tremendous amount of collaboration across the industry in sharing best practices so we can learn from one another and continue to provide our customers with the service they need and deserve.
LVB: People’s incomes have been hit hard and many are having a hard time paying their bills. Has PPL offered more support and outreach to its customers as a result?
Raymond: Absolutely. A few things have already happened here. The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission in March ordered a moratorium on service disconnections for non-payment. We supported that move and we also have suspended late fees on bills until further notice. The PPL Foundation donated $500,000 to PPL Electric Utilities’ Operation HELP fund to increase the resources available to at-risk customers during this time. Operation HELP assists customers with energy bills, but grants are not limited to electric bills. We also sought and received PUC permission to increase the eligibility for Operation HELP grants to be able to assist more customers.
The foundation also donated $300,000 to a dozen agencies providing COVID-19 relief efforts across central and eastern Pennsylvania, including the Harrisburg, Lancaster, Lehigh Valley, Poconos and Susquehanna Valley regions.
LVB: Do you think any of the changes PPL has implemented during the pandemic will continue post-coronavirus?
Raymond: It’s possible. Adjusting to working during a pandemic means we have real world experience serving our customers under unprecedented conditions. As a company, we’re always looking to improve, and we’ll certainly apply lessons learned from the COVID-19 crisis.
The Lehigh Valley Health Network, in partnership with Lehigh County, is relocating its Allentown COVID-19 testing site to the Old Lehigh County Courthouse on Tuesday.
Operations will begin May 11 at the historic courthouse, 501 Hamilton St., Allentown. Hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The Assess and Test Center is located on the first floor and is accessible through the rear of the building. Signage will direct patients where to go for COVID-19 testing.
“COVID testing remains a critical part of continuing to reduce the spread of the virus as more areas start to reopen,” said Dr. Jennifer Stephens, Chief Medical Officer at Lehigh Valley Physician Group. “With COVID-19 still in our community, we want to make sure that we remain vigilant by identifying positive cases and ensuring those patients get the care they need, or recover at home, without further spreading the virus.”
Individuals are sent to LVHN COVID-19 Assess and Test locations in a number of ways, including by their primary care provider, if they have been pre-identified as having symptoms of COVID-19 when seeking care at a LVHN or LVPG location. Patients can also secure a telehealth video visit with a provider or complete a questionnaire-based assessment at LVHN.org. Over-the-phone COVID-19 screening with a nurse is available at 888-402-5846.
The Assess and Test Center that was located at the Family Health Center, 1730 Chew St., Allentown, was temporarily moved to 401 N. 17th St. recently when the Lehigh Valley Physician Group re-opened the Family Health Center along with more than 50 practices and select ExpressCARE locations in the region May 1 as part of the pandemic recovery efforts.
The Lehigh Valley Health Network alerted Lehigh County’s Emergency Management Agency about the need for a new testing location in Allentown. The Old Courthouse facility, destined for a major renovation, was made available for LVHN.
The Allentown Health Bureau and Allentown Fire Department are extending the license and permit periods of food and childcare establishments with licenses or permits due to expire this month.
Food establishments with licenses expiring in March, April and May have been extended to June 30. These businesses should continue to adhere to the food code, practice social distancing and follow Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s directive restricting food sales to take-out and delivery only.
City childcare establishments with a health license and fire permit expiring in March, April or May are also being extended to June 30.
Fire department inspections include checks of exit signage, smoke detectors and fire extinguisher installation and testing. Facilities are also required to have an approved fire safety plan.
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