Easton seeing post-shutdown interest in city storefronts



The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect on the small business community and many mom and pop shops did not survive the shutdown and have shuttered for good.

It’s a problem that has weighed heavy on the minds of those in economic development as they watch storefronts close one by one.

But in Easton, Kim Kmetz, manager of the Main Street Initiative, said she is also seeing something she wasn’t sure she could count on – an influx of new business.

“I was afraid with the business closures there wouldn’t be businesses that would want to come in,” she said.

To be sure a number of valuable Easton businesses are now closed for good or moved out of the downtown, but it’s not all bad news.

For example, Unwine with Art, a gift store and wine bar, closed. Kmetz said by the time she contacted the building owner to see if the Main Street program could help, there had already been two showings of the storefront.

Two hair salons did close, but one didn’t stay vacant long as Sweet Girlz bakery used the opportunity to expand into the former space.

In fact, she said the activity is much stronger than she expected.

“Once we went into the yellow phase I have been starting to hear from people again,” she said.

She noted that three new businesses have opened downtown since the city went green.

One of them, ERA The Vintage Shop at 140 Northampton St., had been all ready for its grand opening just as the pandemic began in March and stores were ordered closed. The closure postponed the grand opening until the beginning of July, but it didn’t stop it.

A new hair salon has also opened. Salon Authentic is at 75 N. Fourth St.

One Source Staffing also opened an office at 11 N. Third St.

Manager Erin Traina said One Source had been looking to open an office downtown even before the pandemic, because they saw it as a growing area where businesses would be looking for staff and people would be looking for jobs.

Since the pandemic, she said the need has grown. As businesses reopen they have new staffing needs and many people who lost their jobs over the last few months are looking for new employment.

“There are struggles on both sides. We’re hoping to bridge that gap,” Traina said.

More new businesses are on the horizon according to Kmetz.

CIAO, an Italian deli and sandwich shop hopes to be open by the end of July at 12 N. Third St.

And, tie dye artist NeNe Pender has signed a lease to open a bricks and mortar location at 15 S. Second St. for TrueHue Creations, where she will sell the tie dyed clothing and gift items that she makes.

Kmetz said she hopes to have news about even more businesses looking to locate in downtown Easton soon.

“Most importantly I think it’s refreshing and uplifting to know there is an interest in theses spaces,” she said.

Carbon Co. eligible for Main Street grants through Greater Lehigh chamber

The installation of bike racks is one possible use for Main Street Lehigh Valley grant money. PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES

Carbon Chamber & Economic Development Corp., is reminding economic development professionals in the county that they are eligible for 2020 Main Street Lehigh Valley Grants from the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

To keep with the chamber’s goal of urban revitalization, the grants can go towards projects that visually enhance downtowns and surrounding neighborhoods. Now in its 13th year, the program is accepting applications through May 31.

Organizations eligible to apply include counties, cities, boroughs, townships; municipal and redevelopment authorities and agencies, and nonprofit 501c3 organizations.

“Projects should meet one or more of the following: be visible within the community; show partnership or collaboration with others; support business retention or expansion; are consistent with the local revitalization strategy; demonstrate geographic diversity; improve existing or develop new facilities; leave a lasting impact in the community,” according to the foundation.

Projects accepted for grants must be completed between July 1, and June 30, 2021.

Organizations must provide at least a 50% match in funds. For example, if $2,000 is requested, an organization must show that it spent at least $4,000 on the project. The foundation noted that $2,000 is the maximum amount an organization can apply for.

Grants will be awarded competitively, and amounts will be based on the number of applications.

For more information, go to CarbonCountyChamber.org

Former Lancaster barber looks to start his own venture in Easton

Nathan Storck is planning to open his new business, The Keystone Barbershop, in mid-March in downtown Easton. (PHOTO/BRIAN PEDERSEN)

After working in the corporate world for many years, one Easton resident is banking on his love barbering to carry him in his new role as the owner of The Keystone Barbershop.

Nathan Storck is planning to open his new business in mid-March in downtown Easton.

Situated in the former Easton House of Jerky at 13 S. Second St., the opening of The Keystone Barbershop represents the fulfillment of a dream for Storck, age 41.

He grew up in the Lehigh Valley but moved to Lancaster in 1999. Storck worked at a popular barbershop therer, The Black Comb, which had eight employees. He recalled being booked with clients up to three weeks in advance. He’s hoping to replicate that success in Easton. Storck and his wife recently moved back to the valley and now live in Easton.

He wants to create a more modern, quieter atmosphere in his new shop, noting that the techniques have not changed much from the barbershops of the 1920s and 30s. He looks to provide tailored haircuts for $25 along with hot and wet shave services.

Storck will be the sole employee, but if business dictates, he plans to hire more employees.

Though he’s only halfway through reconstructing the interior of the space, he’s hoping to have it ready to open next month.

Previously, he worked as an illustrator for two major publishing companies doing a lot of work for medical textbooks, but found his true calling after going to barber school. Having been a barber since 2014, Storck is hoping to share his love of the profession with the community.

“It’s old school, it’s an honest living,” Storck said. “I just like taking care of people in the community. I just like what I do, it’s very rewarding.”

New York City firm reveals renovation plans for Allentown Plaza building

Somera Road Inc. of New York City released its interior renovation plans for Allentown’s Grand Plaza, a Class-A office building it bought in April that had been in foreclosure.

Built in 2002, the building, formerly known as PPL Plaza, is in the Neighborhood Improvement Zone, a tax incentive that spurred more than $1 billion in construction and renovation in downtown Allentown.

Somera Road hired an architect to redesign the interior of Allentown’s Grand Plaza. Here is a view from the eighth floor. (Submitted) –

The company plans to update the interior design first and then rejuvenate the outdoor plaza space in front of the building next year.

“We are in full design mode, finalizing the architectural design,” said Basel Bataineh, vice president of Somera Road. “We haven’t selected a local contractor yet. We are looking forward to working with someone with experience working in the NIZ.”

Somera Road hired ESa, an architectural firm from Nashville, Tennessee, to do the interior renovations. He declined to disclose an estimated cost for the renovations.

Bataineh said the vast majority of the original design is timeless, with some modern features that some designers are putting into buildings today.

“We are really looking to breathe some new life into the building without changing the character,” Bataineh said.

The firm will make some changes to the lobby, upgrade existing office spaces and renovate the 22,000-square-foot-outdoor plaza space fronting Hamilton Street.

Bataineh said the firm wants to activate the space by adding green space, seating, and areas for events and food and beverage options in addition to live music and fitness programs for the downtown community.

“I do think it’s underutilized outside of more marquee events,” Bataineh said.

Having the outdoor space available is a rare amenity for an office building of this type, he added.

He expects to have the interior renovations complete by the first quarter of 2020 and the exterior finishes later.

Overall, Bataineh sees potential for the building to play a role in the ongoing revitalization of downtown Allentown.

“I think the building speaks for itself,” Bataineh said. “It’s in a downtown that has been absolutely transformed since the building was built.”

Downtown Allentown’s revitalization has been similar to the revitalizations of downtowns he has seen across the country, he added.

The building has four tenants – PPL, BB&T, Gold Credit Union, and Bon Appetite café, with more than 200,000 square feet of available space.

JLL is representing Somera Road in leasing the space.