Ciocca Dealerships expands south into Philadelphia

Quakertown-based Ciocca Dealerships has expanded again. 

The dealership has opened Ciocca Subaru of Philadelphia in the Gray’s Ferry neighborhood of the city. 

The 175,000-square-foot, five-story dealership will hold more than 600 vehicles and will have 90 service bays, a 40-car showroom and three lanes that will hold 18 vehicles. 

This latest dealership brings Ciocca’s total number to 25 stores carrying 17 brands, including the recently acquired Cadillac, Chevrolet, Buick GMC and Corvette dealerships in Atlantic City, New Jersey. 

“We are very excited to announce the company’s expansion into the Philadelphia market,” said dealership owner, Gregg Ciocca. “Everyone is excited to become involved in the community and meet our new customers and team members in the city of Philadelphia. The energy and growth in this area made this an exciting opportunity to add to our family of dealerships.” 

Giant opens e-commerce fulfillment center in Philadelphia  


The Giant Company’s new Giant Direct E-commerce Fulfillment Center opened in Philadelphia this week. PHOTO/PROVIDED

The Giant Company’s new Giant Direct E-commerce Fulfillment Center opened in Philadelphia this week, allowing the super market chain to serve more customers in Philadelphia and begin serving customers for the first time in southern New Jersey. 

The 124,000-square-foot facility works hand-in-hand with Giant Direct, the company’s online grocery store. The facility stocks more than 22,000 products that can be ordered online, bagged by a team of Giant employees and robots and shipped to homes. 

The fulfillment center has more than 125 employees, which is expected to double during the holiday season, according to a company statement Monday. It is part of a growth strategy for Giant that has seen it go from one Philadelphia location in 2018 to 10 by the end of 2023. 

“Starting with the introduction of our GIANT Heirloom Market format in 2019 followed by the opening of our Philadelphia flagship Riverwalk GIANT in March and three more new stores across the city still to come this year, The GIANT Company has been laser-focused on how we can best serve Philadelphia families,” said Nicholas Bertram, Giant Company president. 

Along with expanding its Giant Direct services throughout Philadelphia, the new facility allows Giant Direct to service a number of New Jersey towns including Camden, Cherry Hill, Gibbsboro and Haddonfield. 

Giant introduced its Giant Direct brand in Feb. 2019 with the opening of its first e-commerce hub in Lancaster. The grocer now has over 150 pickup locations with 90% of customers across its footprint having access to online grocery ordering. 

Rite Aid focuses on remote work in upcoming headquarters change 

Rite Aid’s headquarters in Cumberland County. PHOTO/Markell DeLoatch –

Rite Aid, headquartered in East Pennsboro Township, Cumberland County, plans to relocate its headquarters to Philadelphia as part of a new focus on remote work. 

The national drugstore chain said this month that it will be reimagining its workplace model to do away with office spaces and instead focus on “in-person collaboration and company gatherings” at a new headquarters in Philadelphia. 

As part of the move, Rite Aid plans to open “regional collaboration centers” across the country that will allow its teams to work together when needed. Rite Aid hasn’t announced where these hubs will be located but has confirmed that one will be in the midstate. 

The move to this remote work focus was spurred by an internal survey among Rite Aid’s corporate associates, which found that a vast majority preferred working from home, according to a Rite Aid press release. 

“We’re changing our business from the inside out, and our reimagined workplace is the latest exciting step toward the future of this company,” said Heyward Donigan, CEO of Rite Aid. “We believe in remote work, and as we lean into it for the long term, we are investing in a physical footprint that will facilitate its best version. We’ve heard directly from our associates that teams want and need to meet in-person, and we think we’ve found the right balance between the flexibility of remote work and the power of on-site collaboration.” 

The pharmacy chain currently plans to locate its new headquarters to Philadelphia’s Navy Yard district. The new location would feature space for teams across Rite Aid’s various businesses, including Rite Aid retail, Elixir, Health Dialog and Bartell Drugs. 

“This is about building a reimagined workplace, where our associates have the flexibility they prefer and also have innovative, modern and new spaces that demonstrates a new Rite Aid,” said Brad Ducey, senior manager of external communications at Rite Aid. 

Rite Aid doesn’t expect to see any layoffs as part of the move to Philadelphia and instead is actively hiring and looking to grow its corporate team of 700, according to Ducey. 

The move will allow Rite Aid to occupy a smaller headquarters while still encouraging face to face communication with its associates through the collaboration centers. The remote-work-first attitude will also allow the company to more easily recruit talent no matter their location, said Jim Peters, COO at Rite Aid.  

“This transformation of our workforce brings Rite Aid into the modern era of work. We can recruit the best talent regardless of their location, and we can give our corporate associates the freedom and flexibility that today’s workers crave,” said Peters. “Our new headquarters and collaboration centers will have a unifying effect on our enterprise and serve as an important space for our teams to be together when needed.” 

Rite Aid operates 2,500 retail pharmacy locations across 17 states. It was founded in Scranton in 1962. 

Rite Aid has yet to announce a timeline for its move out of its current headquarters at 30 Hunter Lane, East Pennsboro Township, or what it intends to do with the space. 

If the pharmacy chain does plan to sell the property, any potential buyer would find a modern, well-kept workplace with easy access to downtown Harrisburg, said George Tyson, president of East Pennsboro Township’s Board of Commissioners. 

It’s a great facility, strategically located and surrounded by areas in the midst of development or in the cusp of development,” said Tyson. “Those properties have been snatched up because of the proximity. People that know the area know how strategic it is.” 

Tyson said that Rite Aid has been a great neighbor to the region during its decades in Cumberland County but given the number of significant changes that the business has undergone in recent years, such as its selling of 1,932 Rite Aid stores and three distribution centers to Walgreens in 2017, it was not surprising that the company had plans for a change in headquarters. 

There has always been some awareness that the changes with Rite Aid were probably not finished,” he said. “Given the landscape of the business they are in and previous transactions, we knew that continued changes were going to take place we just didn’t know what they were.” 

Yuengling Lager gets official with Philadelphia Phillies

A 12-pack of the specially branded Philadelphia Phillies Yuengling Lager. PHOTO/SUBMITTED

In a year that has already seen the Pottsville-based brewer promote a new light beer and partner with a celebrity chef, Yuengling is stepping up to bat with another major promotion.

As a sponsor of the Major League Baseball team the Philadelphia Phillies since 2017, D.G. Yuengling & Sons has now signed a deal with the team to be the Official Lager of the Philadelphia Phillies.

In its new multi-year partnership with the team, Yuengling will also be rolling out new, limited-edition Phillies Yuengling Lager cans emblazoned with a retro Phillies logo.

The special Phillies Yuengling Lager cans will be available on shelves in 12-pack cans in select markets, or at Citizens Bank Park in 16-ounce cans.

America’s oldest beer will also have a larger presence at Citizens Bank Park including a new, experiential bar area in right field called Yuengling Party Pavilion featuring Yuengling’s core products.

“As an ‘Official Lager of the Philadelphia Phillies,’ we not only get to celebrate our Pennsylvania roots, but we also have the ability to bring unique, customized experiences to Yuengling and Phillies fans, whether in-game or at-home,” said Wendy Yuengling, chief administration officer for Yuengling in a release.

Yuengling will also extend its partnership with Philadelphia Phillies’ pitcher and brand ambassador Aaron Nola. The brewer said Nola is the first active MLB player to have a partnership with a beer brand. That partnership will include public appearances and fan meet-and-greets.


1,500 net jobs lost in October: study

While economic indicators remain high for the U.S. economy as a whole, the central and southeastern Pennsylvania regions have been beset by tumultuous global trade and a weak manufacturing sector for the last year and a half, according to a recently published study by analysts at RKL, with an office in Spring Township.

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“Though the U.S. economy has demonstrated remarkable resilience in the face of a weakening global economy, a slumping U.S. manufacturing sector and political turbulence domestically and abroad, central and southeastern Pennsylvania have not fared quite as well,” according to RKL’s analysis.

In coordination with Sage Policy Group of Baltimore, RKL analyzed 10 metro areas in central and southeastern Pennsylvania: Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, Chambersburg-Waynesboro, Gettysburg, Harrisburg-Carlisle, Lancaster, Lebanon, Reading, York-Hanover, Philadelphia and Montgomery, Bucks and Chester Counties.

Over the past six months, these regions have added an average of 2,200 net new jobs per month, a 44 percent slower growth rate than 2018, according to RKL’s report. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the region lost 1,500 positions on net in October.

Major metropolitan areas have generally seen the highest rates of job growth, reflecting a nationwide trend of “disproportionate levels of job growth in major urban areas,” in part because of their “broad appeal to millennials,” the study reports. From October 2018 to October 2019, Harrisburg, York and Lancaster exhibited “anemic” economic growth, 0.2%, -0.1% and 0% respectively, compared to Philadelphia’s 1.5% job growth during the study’s 12-month period.

The Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton region follows this trend, with a 0.3 percent increase in job growth from October 2018 to 2019. The central and southeastern part of Pennsylvania as a whole has enjoyed a low rate of unemployment, with most counties coming in below the 4% unemployment mark.

What jobs have been added lately have been concentrated in education and health services, according to the study, which noted central and southeastern Pennsylvania are home to “a number of large and expanding medical systems.”

At 16,949 jobs added from June 2018 to June 2019, these sectors added more than triple the quantity added by the next sector—professional and business services, which added 5,234 jobs during the same 12-month period.

Bagging the Ban: Pennsylvania bars municipal plastic bag bans until impact is studied

(Getty Images) The state of Pennsylvania won’t allow municipalities to place bans on single use plastic bags until the impact of such a ban receives further study. –

If any Pennsylvania municipalities were looking to ban the use of single-use plastic bags or packaging, they won’t be doing so this year.

Gov. Tom Wolf signed a Republican-backed bill to essentially bar any local municipality from enacting bag bans for at least one year to allow time for studying the impact of such bans.

The measure, which was part of a larger tax bill, was seen as a direct response to a proposal in the city of Philadelphia to ban single-use plastic bags and tax reusable bags.

Reaction to the move has been mixed, with environmental groups in the state unhappy at what they see as a delay in their progress to lessen the impact of plastics pollution.

Ezra Thrush, director of policy for PennFuture, a Pennsylvania environmental group, was disappointed by the move.

“We think that the plastics build out is the single biggest problem with pollution,” Thrush said.

He said with the increasing push for cleaning waterways, municipalities are looking for ways to deal with the plastics issue.

“We think it’s important for municipalities to have the power to enact their own ordinances,” he said.

Thrush acknowledged the fact that plastics manufacturing is a large and growing industry in Pennsylvania.

But that may just be the reason legislators are hesitant to jump into ban territory so quickly.

The Washington, D.C.-based Plastics Industry Association said Pennsylvania is seventh in the nation for plastics production and the industry directly employees 48,900 people in the state. So there are jobs at stake when looking at bans or taxation.

“I do understand their point, but there are bags in waterways, trees and fields causing harm to the habitat,” Thrush said. “Plastic is becoming a big concern.”

State Rep. Gary Day (R-Lehigh) said no one is disputing that plastics pollution is becoming a problem.

He said the state just wants to take time to study the issue and understand the benefits and drawbacks of plastics bans – or perhaps to find a better way.

He noted that he has a plastic straw manufacturer in his district, Fuling Plastic USA, in Upper Macungie Township, which he has been discussing the issue with.

“This might not be the proper solution,” he said of proposed bans.

“We want to make sure we have a plan that is workable and then ask if you ban something, what will you replace it with?” he said.

To be sure, some stores have already been getting along without relying on single-use plastic bags, among them ALDI, which has a number of Greater Lehigh Valley grocery store locations.

“We have never offered single-use plastic shopping bags, and we’ve always been conscientious of our environmental impact, consistently encouraging people to bring reusable grocery bags,” said Bob Grammer, ALDI Center Valley Division vice president.

He said customers usually adapt pretty quickly to the ALDI bring-your-own-bag system and become fans. He notes customers save money by bringing their own bags, and so does the store.

“By reducing plastic use in our stores, we save the supply chain money,” he said.

Day noted that like plastic bags, there has also been a push to ban single-use plastic straws, because they are often not recycled, and speaking with Fuling, has shown him there can be options to all-out bans.

Fuling had suggested that recycling could be improved rather simply with some basic changes among partners along the supply chain, Day said.

For example, many fast food restaurants use plastic forks, straws, lids, bags and other plastic items. The items are often made of different kinds of plastics so they can’t be co-mingled for recycling.

If all plastics materials were made out of the same recyclable material, it would be easier for restaurants to enact recycling programs to keep those items out of the landfill, Day noted.

“I think politicians get a bad rap when they rush to ban something without looking at the impact,” Day said. “Plastics do impact the environment when disposed of in an irresponsible way. But there may be other ways to deal with the problem.”


Friday is last trip to Philly for Trans-Bridge

Downtown Skyline of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at twilight in USA –

Trans-Bridge Lines of Bethlehem has announced that it is ending service to Philadelphia effective July 1.

The last run between the Lehigh Valley and Philadelphia will be on Friday, June 28.

Trans-Bridge had picked up the extra service earlier this year after Bieber Transportation Group closed, ending its service to the city.

Trans-Bridge said in a memo to its customers that its goal had been to help former Bieber commuters with reliable service to Philadelphia.

However, passenger counts were low, with some trips attracting as few as two passengers. There were never more than 17 passengers.

The company said with no possibility of receiving any kind of subsidy for the runs, it was not financially feasible to continue them.

The company said any passengers with unused tickets to Philadelphia can use them with Martz Trailways of Wilkes-Barre or Fullington Trailways of Lewisburg through a cross-honoring system that Trans-Bridge operates with those companies. A $5 surcharge will be charged for commuter book tickets, because those tickets are discounted.

According to their websites, Martz has stops in Allentown and Quakertown, while Fullington has stops in Allentown and Jim Thorpe.

Trans-Bridge said it will also offer refunds to anyone holding tickets to Philadelphia after July 1.

Ripples seen from $500M Philly-area biotech project

A rendering of the Discovery Labs at King of Prussia project in Upper Merion Township, which officials expect will have an impact on the Lehigh Valley. – Submitted –

A platform company based in Radnor is redeveloping the home of a pharmaceutical giant into a massive co-working center for life sciences companies in the Philadelphia market.

The $500 million project could prompt opportunities for Lehigh Valley companies.

The Discovery Labs, a company formed by MLP Ventures, announced the project last week at BIO 2019, a biotechnology conference in Philadelphia. The company envisions creating others like it around the world.

While the campus is open for business and Discovery Labs is signing leases, renovation work is still in progress on some buildings.
Once completed, it will offer than 1 million square feet of co-working space near the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Montgomery County.

The developers are branding the entire project The Discovery Labs at King of Prussia.

Some see benefits to the Lehigh Valley market.

The relatively low-risk, low-cost model of co-working could allow Lehigh Valley biotech firms to participate in a neighboring life sciences ecosystem without surrendering the quality of life they currently enjoy in the valley, said Matthew Tuerk, vice president of economic development and marketing for Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp.

“And if Discovery Labs ends up churning out lots of startups, Lehigh Valley is well-positioned to offer them a home as they grow and seek some of the amazing benefits of locating here, such as great infrastructure, central location and skilled workforce,” Tuerk said. “We are part of a larger ecosystem around the biotech industry in general.”

The Lehigh Valley has numerous resources for entrepreneurs, including schools such as Lehigh University and Lafayette College, which churning out creative innovators and research, Tuerk said.

Furthermore, organizations such as Ben Franklin TechVentures, the Pi Center in South Bethlehem and Allentown Economic Development Corp.’s Bridgeworks Enterprise Center, offer services and homes to startups, Tuerk added.

In addition, Lehigh Valley companies that provide services to the life sciences cluster may benefit from additional investment in surrounding communities, he said. Companies like Fisher Clinical Services, Sharp and AmeriSourceBergen already employ hundreds of people in the Lehigh Valley, Tuerk said.

“I think Lehigh Valley companies can certainly benefit from some of the startups likely to be housed in the Discovery Labs building,” said Christopher Molineaux, president and CEO of Life Sciences Pennsylvania, a trade association based in Wayne. “We have so many small companies across the state of Pennsylvania; 52 percent of them are companies with 10 employees or fewer.”

He cited a 2017 study commissioned by Life Sciences PA that found there are about 2,800 life sciences companies across the state, encompassing those in pharmaceuticals, medical devices, biotechnology and diagnostics.

Discovery Labs also could be a site for the investment companies attracted to startups, Molineaux added.

“To be able to put a lot of those companies together in one site allows for a lot of information exchange,” Molineaux said.

The ingredients

The Discovery Labs project essentially combines two office campuses, one for GlaxoSmithKline, a large pharmaceutical company, and an adjacent one called The Innovation at Renaissance Campus.

Existing tenants include GlaxoSmithKline, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Thomas Jefferson University, Tosoh Bioscience, Crown Castle and MedRisk.

New features at Discovery Labs will include IQ Connect, an incubator that will operate through a partnership with The Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center, which is based in Buckingham Township.

The 100,000-square-foot incubator is under construction and will open within a few months. It will bring together researchers and entrepreneurs, along with experts in human resources, venture capital, investment banking and other business services to pursue discovery and development of scientific, life sciences, tech-enabled industrial, and venture and consumer products.

Audrey Greenberg, CFO of Discovery Labs, said the timing is good for a project like Discovery Labs.

Big pharmaceutical companies are getting out of research and development and unloading their physical sites, she said. They are focusing more on marketing and sales while reducing their need for R&D space.

Research and development, meanwhile, is shifting to smaller startups, which are using technology to speed up innovation in such areas as gene therapies and new health care products, Greenberg said.

“That’s attracting venture capital,” she said.

Since 2013, total U.S. research funding for the life sciences industry from venture capital sources and the National Institutes of Health increased 44 percent between 2013 and 2018, according to statistics from The Discovery Labs.

Community First Fund expanding executive team

Expecting a record year for lending and more growth, the Lancaster-based Community First Fund has been adding staff and restructuring its executive team.

The nonprofit economic development organization recently hired Michael Carper, the former CEO of the Housing Development Corp. MidAtlantic, to be its chief credit officer.

Community First Fund also contracted with a finance expert from Chicago to serve as CFO until it hires someone to the post full-time.

“We’re adding and growing dramatically,” said Dan Betancourt, the organization’s president and CEO.

Community First Fund provides financing for small businesses, affordable housing projects and nonprofit organizations located in low-income communities and serving disadvantaged groups, including Latino and African-American entrepreneurs.

And the need for services is rising.

The organization, which started out serving Lancaster, now covers 15 counties in Central Pennsylvania, the Lehigh Valley and suburban Philadelphia. Its staff has grown from 20 to 40 over the past five years and it is making more direct loans to businesses, with volume rising from about $10 million to $30 million in the past three years.

The nonprofit also has opened new loan offices in Allentown and Philadelphia where it would like to add more people to expand lending.

“We expect to go deeper into markets we are in,” Betancourt said.

But depth, he said, requires a bigger team. That starts at the executive level.

In addition to adding new execs, the nonprofit has made some internal promotions.

COO Joan Brodhead was recently named senior executive vice president and chief strategic initiatives officer, while senior vice president of lending James Buerger was elevated to executive vice president and chief lending officer.

Community First also has hired staff to work under each of the C-suite executives.

Opportunity knocking

The growth comes at a time when Community First has been positioning itself as a go-to resource for investors and developers interested in the federal opportunity zone program, in which investors can get a tax break on capital gains by investing in projects in qualified distressed areas, dubbed opportunity zones.

The investments typically will flow through what are known as qualified opportunity funds. Community First has been working to develop such funds, which could work in combination with other state and federal incentives.

Among the most notable of those is the New Markets Tax Credit program, a federal tax credit program operated by the U.S. Treasury Department that helps support large urban redevelopment projects.

Community First did not get any credits this year but hopes its clients still can take advantage of the incentives.
“We plan to work with clients and try to help them find an allocation through another organization,” Betancourt said.

And it has snagged other kinds of funding. Community First recently received a $1.5 million federal grant from the Treasury’s Capital Magnet Fund, a grant program that helps finance low-income housing projects.

Betancourt said the plan is to use that grant as seed capital in the form of low-interest loans to support developers who receive Low-Income Housing Tax Credits from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Authority in Harrisburg.

Community First, meanwhile, will kick in $4.5 million of its own funds, bumping the total to $6 million. Betancourt said he hopes to be able to help finance about 400 affordable housing units across the organization’s footprint.

Community First also has rolled out an online application for small businesses looking for loans. Betancourt said this will help the organization process applications more quickly and at a higher volume, hopefully steering some small businesses away from predatory online lenders that charge higher interest rates and fees.

Community First is looking to cut a 60-day application process down to about 30 to 45 days, Betancourt said.

“I think we will be able to work with more clients,” he said.

Dairy godmothers: Specialty cheese biz taps into local dairies

From left, Sue Miller, Stefanie Angstadt and Alex Jones brought together their collective talents to form the Collective Creamery CSA in 2016. PHOTO/SUBMITTED –

Stefanie Angstadt of Oley started making cheese as a hobby soon after graduating from college in 2008.

After a few years she knew it was something she wanted to do full time.

She opened Valley Milkhouse in a former dairy farm in Oley in 2014 and began to manufacture and sell her cheeses professionally.

Not a dairy farmer, herself, she partnered with some small Berks County dairies to buy fresh warm milk “straight from the udder.”

Her cheeses – mostly a mix of softer and aged styles – were a hit.

“We make everything by hand. It’s very good cheese so there is a demand,” Angstadt said.

In fact, demand often outpaced her supply. Nonetheless, she struggled with the logistics of getting the cheese she was making to the people who wanted it.

While around 80 percent of the cheese she makes is sold wholesale to markets and restaurants, profits were much higher on the 20 percent of the product she was selling at her farm stand and the two farmers markets she attends, the Easton Farmers Market in downtown Easton and one in Philadelphia.

“The question was, how do we reach these people who want to buy our cheese without standing there at a farmers market all day – sometimes in the rain – hoping the right people will come buy it?” she said.

Organizing principal

In 2016, as fate would have it, an old friend of Angstadt’s, Alex Jones, a prominent organizer of community-supported agriculture programs in the Greater Philadelphia area, had just left a job with a CSA.

In a typical CSA, a group of farmers connect with a group of consumers who want to buy fresh, local produce. They sell shares of their future crop to the consumers, who then pick up weekly or monthly boxes of the farmers’ latest crops, sharing both the risk and the rewards of the farmers’ season and giving those farmers a more reliable source of income for their farms.

“My job was to buy products from dozens of local farmers,” Jones said.

She was looking to take her CSA skills and use them in a new way.  She thought of Angstadt and another cheesemaker she had met in her old job: Sue Miller of Birchrun Hills Farm in Chester County.

Jones pitched the idea of using the CSA format to develop a new way of selling craft cheese to cheese fans. That led Jones, Angstadt and Miller in 2016 to create the Collective Creamery CSA, based out of Angstadt’s Oley creamery, with Jones as the operations manager and Angstadt and Miller as the two primary cheese makers.

“We thought between the three of us, we could pool our resources and move beyond farmers markets,” Angstadt said.

According to Jones, the trio didn’t invent the idea of a cheese-based CSA. But, she said, “A cheese CSA is still pretty unique.”

Jones said it also makes sense.

“You can get subscriptions for anything today – dog products, beauty products – why not cheese?” she said.

A profitable boost

The Collective Creamery is now heading into its third year. And while it is still just a small part of each of the cheesemakers’ business it is an important one.

By eliminating the middleman, the cheesemakers get more of the profit.

Honey-Bell is a brie-style cheese made by Stefanie Angstadt in her Oley creamery. PHOTO/SUBMITTED –

Angstadt said her profit margin is generally about 15 percent to 20 percent on the roughly $150,000 in gross sales she has in a year. That makes it a challenge to maintain a capital-intensive operation. Anywhere she can improve the profit margin is a boost.

Profits on the CSA vary from month to month, but she said they tend to average at the higher end of her overall profits.

The current CSA package from the Collective Creamery ranges from $180 for a once-a-month pickup of two pounds and four varieties of cheese for four months to $280 for a twice-monthly pickup of one-and-a-half pounds and three varieties of cheese for four months. CSA packages generally run from five to six months. The current package is shortened since the current CSA season has already begun.

Customers pick up their orders at participating locations. Most are businesses that focus on local craft foods and products like farm stands or craft brewers, which support “buy local” efforts.

Having a variety of pickup locations in the region helps the Collective’s members spread their cheese sales farther than they could on their own.

Subscriptions can be picked up in two Berks County locations – Hidden River Brewing Co. in Douglasville and Covered Bridge Farmstand in Oley – and at one location in the Lehigh Valley – Bonn Place Brewing Co. in Bethlehem. Other pickup locations are in the Chester County and Philadelphia areas.

By having a wider client base, the cheesemakers also are able to offer more variety. Angstadt and Miller rotate between the six varieties of cheese, including Angstadt’s Witchgrass, her version of a French Valencay cheese, and Miller’s Clipper, an aged raw-milk cheese.  They also reach out to other cheesemakers in other regions, hoping to include their specialty craft cheeses in the CSA to give customers more options.

For example, Miller is currently working with a sheep farmer to blend sheep and cow milk together to make a creamy Camembert-style cheese with a unique taste.

“Together we can come up with a greater variety,” Angstadt said.

Ultimately, their goal is to turn cheese lovers into die-hard cheese fans.

“We want to cultivate the cheese culture in this area like it is in Europe. We don’t want people to see cheese as a guilty pleasure, but as a food you eat every day,” Angstadt said. “This is a way to grow the cheese community.

“People don’t see fine cheese as a necessity,” added Jones. “When they go to the grocery store they feel they have to get produce and bread … we want them to think of fine cheese like that, not as a luxury.”

Miller sees the craft cheese industry growing in much the same way the craft beer industry has developed and grown, with those in the industry working cooperatively instead of competitively to boost the entire industry by sharing tips and efforts.

“It’s the whole ‘a rising tide raises all ships’ kind of thing,” she said. “We all benefit from a stronger cheese industry.”

Jones said the trio is focused on being a regional leader in the craft cheese industry. They aren’t planning any major expansion. But they are on the lookout for more pick-up locations along their current route and for pockets of cheese lovers who may want to get in on their offerings.

“We have to be lean and use the resources we have,” Jones said.

One secondary benefit to the women’s local craft cheese making is the small boost it gives to the region’s dairy farmers, which Angstadt said are struggling with low prices on the commodities market.

She said there is a dairy crisis across the nation.

According to the National Family Farm Foundation, America has lost over half its dairy farmers in just the last sixteen years, as wholesale dairy prices have dropped to below 1970 prices.

“Because of the quality I demand I pay a premium for the milk,” she said.

Her sources include Spring Creek Farm in Wernersville, an organic dairy farm.

Greg Stricker, a partner in Spring Creek, said he pays special attention to the milk he produces for Angstadt.

“I always try to make the highest-quality milk, but we try to concentrate on making a milk that is higher in protein and butter fat to make her cheeses,” Stricker said.

Stricker said the extra money a cheesemaker like Angstadt is willing to pay represents a needed boost for small farms like his.

Stricker said the higher price helps, in part, to offset low commodity prices.

“It’s a huge benefit to us when a local business like that uses our product,” he said. “It’s essential to find someone making a higher-end product to compete.”

Editor’s note: The caption on the photo of the three women who run the Collective Creamery has been updated to reflect the correct name of the person on the right. An earlier version incorrectly stated Alex Jones’s last name. 

Agreement adds options for Lehigh Valley bus service to Philadelphia

Downtown Skyline of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at twilight in USA –

Trans-Bridge Lines of Bethlehem said it has reached an agreement with two other bus companies to broaden the choices for commuters taking the bus between the Lehigh Valley and Philadelphia.

Lehigh Valley commuters to Philadelphia have had fewer options since the closure of Bieber Transportation Group of Kutztown earlier this year.

The three companies, Trans-Bridge, Martz Trailways of Wilkes-Barre and Fullington Trailways of Lewistown will be cross-honoring tickets so passengers traveling south or north on the Philadelphia route will be able to ride with any of the companies regardless of which bus service they hold a ticket for.

This will give passengers a greater range of schedules to choose from.

According to their websites, Martz has stops in Allentown and Quakertown and Fullington has stops in Allentown and Jim Thorpe.

Trans-Bridge noted that because its commuter-book tickets are discounted, the other two lines will add a $5 surcharge to Trans-Bridge commuter-book ticket holders.

Passengers are expected to pay in exact change. For safety reasons, drivers won’t have cash on hand to break larger bills.