Downtown Allentown sees growing interest from banks and credit unions

People First Federal Credit Union held a ribbon cutting at its new downtown Allentown headquarters in May. PHOTO/SUBMITTED –

For many years community activists have been calling downtown Allentown a banking desert, but that is rapidly changing. 

With a combination of economic revitalization in the city center and a push through the Bank On Allentown program to bring financial access and literacy to the city, financial institutions are returning to the downtown. 

While ESSA Bank & Trust has had a branch in downtown Allentown since 2018, more recently two of the Lehigh Valley’s credit unions have opened branches in the downtown. 

People First Federal Credit Union opened its new headquarters and solutions center at 26 N. 6th St. in May, joining First Commonwealth Federal Credit Union, which opened a location at 840 W. Hamilton St. In February of last year. 

“Allentown had been neglected for so long,” said Howard Meller, president of People First. 

He said that he has been with the credit union for two years and opening a branch in the downtown became one of his top priorities when he took over his post. 

“I thought it was really important to be downtown,” he said. 

People First had been headquartered on the city’s south side. The credit union was founded as the credit union for Mack Trucks and the location was close to the manufacturing facilities there. But the credit union expanded its services to all community members many years ago. 

He said relocating to the downtown just made sense because it gave a greater number of people access to the credit union’s services with the large number of people living and working downtown. 

First Commonwealth Federal Credit Union opened its downtown Allentown branch in February of 2021. PHOTO/SUBMITTED –

Donna LoStocco, president and CEO of First Commonwealth, said her credit union was also motivated by the growing number of residents in the downtown, who she said needed easier access to banking services. 

“We have our largest branch at 450 Union Blvd. It was extremely busy all the time, so we were looking for a second location to ease that,” she said. 

With all of the economic development activity and population growth in the downtown, the Hamilton Street spot seemed ideal. 

But, like People First, her credit union’s involvement in the Bank On program motivated the move. 

She said part of the mission of a credit union is to serve the needs of the members, and residents of the downtown have a significant need for banking services. 

LoStocco noted that nationally 5.4% of U.S. residents are currently unbanked, meaning they have no savings or checking accounts at all. 

In Allentown, 15.9% of the population is unbanked. 

She said studies have shown that it can cost families up to $40,000 over a lifetime because of the excessive fees charged by many alternative financial service companies like check cashers or payday lenders. 

With these same people also being low income, LoStocco said the credit unions are committed to helping them save money and improve their finances and credit through outreach and education. 

She gave the example of one client, who moved to Allentown from another country and had no credit whatsoever. 

After working with First Commonwealth’s financial advisors, that individual now has a credit score of 750. 

Meller said to help those residents who may be new to the country, People First has bilingual staff at the downtown location, so they can better help those who don’t speak English as their first language. 

Other banking institutions are also keeping their eye on Allentown. 

Bucks County based Penn Community Bank is opening its first branch and business center in the Lehigh Valley market in Allentown later this year.   

While the branch will be located outside of the downtown at 3090 Tilghman Street, president and CEO Jeane Vidoni said the move is part of the bank’s interest in the downtown. 

“There is a concerted effort in serving all levels of socio-economic communities,” Vidoni said. “All banks are looking to serve these markets in a meaningful way.” 

She said that while many banks are eliminating branches, mostly because of redundancy from mergers, the Lehigh Valley is a good region for her bank to grow. 

“The Lehigh Valley represents a market that still appreciates local banking,” she said, and she believes Allentown is a great place to start. 


People First opens solutions center in downtown Allentown

People First holds a ribbon cutting at its new solutions center on North 6th St. In Allentown. PHOTO/SUBMITTED –

People First Federal Credit Union has opened a new solutions center at 26 N. 6th St. in Allentown.  

A Ribbon Cutting Ceremony was held May 19.  

Located on the corner of the ArtsWalk and 6th Street, the Center is in walking distance for downtown residents and businesses. 

“We are striving to make our diverse suite of banking and lending products as accessible as possible for the community, and we are very proud to add this location to our growing list of access points,” said Howard Meller, CEO of People First. 

The Center, designed to provide a modern approach to financial services, will be staffed with four professionals under the leadership of Marc Knox.  

“As a relationship-based financial institution, we are committed to helping the Allentown community find the right banking solutions that support their unique goals,” said Meller. “In addition to providing bank products and state-of-the-art technology comparable to any big bank, our core strengths remain in the personal attention, competitive pricing, local decision making and exceptional service.” 

The ribbon cutting ceremony included the unveiling of the first winning artwork of its annual Mural Arts contest. The contest was open to all Lehigh Valley residents with the intention of recognizing and encouraging the artistic talent in the region. Submissions were reviewed by a committee made up of People First board of directors and members of Allentown Mural Arts and the Allentown Arts Commission. 

The winner, Sarah Karess, is an Allentown-native graphic designer and artist who is actively involved in the arts community. The winning artwork will be displayed for one year in the People First windows. In celebration of the opening, 

People First to move headquarters to downtown Allentown

People First Federal Credit Union,currently has its headquarters on Downyflake Lane. PHOTO/FILE –

People First Federal Credit Union, which currently has its headquarters on Downyflake Lane in South Allentown, is moving to downtown Allentown.

The credit union, which began as the credit union for Mack Trucks and has been serving the Lehigh Valley for more than 70 years, is moving its corporate headquarters to Five City Center at 740 Hamilton Street.

The credit union will retain its branch location on Downyflake Lane with teller and lending services as well as the drive-through and ATM services.  The branch will be renovated and upgraded.

In a press release, People First said it had been experiencing significant growth recently, including adding membership in Carbon County and Warren County, New Jersey and needed a new office for the approximately 90 employees working in its headquarters.

The credit union will be located in a 24,801-square-foot space on the third floor of the Class A office building.

In addition to moving its headquarters, People First will open a new branch in downtown Allentown at 26 N. 6th street directly across from Miller Symphony Hall. This will be People First’s eighth branch location in the Lehigh Valley.

Howard Meller, the credit union’s president, said People First has been becoming more active in the downtown, including becoming the first financial institution to provide financing to students in City Center Investment Corporation’s Real Estate Lab, which teaches downtown Allentown residents how to invest in real estate and manage properties.

People First expects to make the move in November.

Real Estate Lab grads get financing from People First

Jon Strauss (Director of Real Estate Lab), Margaret McConnell (People First), Ibrahim (Abe) Abbakar (Lab participant), Jonathan Mieses (Lab Participant), Ryan Kinnon (People First), Sean Roth (Lab participant) PHOTO/SUBMITTED/ Brennan Long

The first graduates of the Real Estate Lab in Allentown now have access to capital.

The free program teaches downtown Allentown residents how to invest in real estate and manage properties in their community.

Now People First Federal Credit Union of Allentown is providing financing for those graduates. It is the first financial institution to do so.

“Access to friendly financing is so critical for first-time investors,” said Real Estate Lab Program Director Jon Strauss. “We appreciate People First stepping up and being the first financial institution to finance our graduates. By doing so, the participants are developing the bankability necessary for success in the industry. We want to make sure more people have access to do the same.”

The Real Estate Lab was launched in January 2020 by City Center Investment Corp., the real estate development company responsible for much of the revitalization in downtown Allentown, and Lafayette College’s Dyer Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

The Real Estate Lab offers several free programs at no cost, including a 10-week First-time Investor Program, a Real Estate Entrepreneurship Access Program and an Investor Club. Participants are taught how to acquire, rehabilitate and manage real estate.

The lab had nine graduates in its first year. Three of those now own and manage their own investment property.

People First adds 2 to its executive team

Allentown-based People First Federal Credit Union has made additions to its executive team.

The credit union, which serves more than 75,000 members in the Lehigh Valley, named Candido Amorim as its new chief retail officer.

Amorim, who brings more than 20 years of financial service experience to the position, will focus on member service, branch transformation, and growth. In his previous roles with the credit union he implemented new technologies and processes to provide better service.

He will lead all retail operations, including People First’s seven branches and its call center.

“The only reason we are here is to serve our members and Candido has shown his commitment to service,” said Howard Meller, president and CEO of People First.

The credit union has also named Steve Kunkel its new chief of risk. Kunkel brings over 25 years of operations, risk and compliance experience from other financial institutions. In this role, he will work to enhance the risk mitigation strategies to manage fraud, compliance and other risks throughout the organization.

“Managing risks protects our members and we are here to serve our members,” he said. “Steve’s background and expertise makes him a natural fit for this role.”

People First Federal Credit Union is a federally chartered and insured credit union that has been serving the Lehigh or Northampton Counties for more than 70 years. It has more than $730 million in assets.