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Remember: Emmaus VS The West End Theater District (Main Street VS 19th Street)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Emmaus VS The West End Theater District (Main Street VS 19th Street)

It is unfair to draw comparisons between the recent surge of developments in Emmaus with the lack there of in Allentown. As of the most recent census, it would be much more logical to compare a smaller area or district of Allentown to the entirety of Emmaus. A little over 11,000 people live in Emmaus whereas a little over 106,000 people live in the city of Allentown. Emmaus is about 3 square miles; Allentown 18.

I do however think that a direct comparison between Main Street in Emmaus and the West End Theater District of Allentown is in order. Both areas have main street revitalization programs in place but Emmaus has the edge here in time, having started their program in 1995 which was a few years before the 19th street revitalization program began.

So, where to start a comparison?

Let’s start with coffee shops. A good coffee shop can be a catalyst for artistic, cultural, and community growth for an area. A coffee shop is a place where over time day to day interactions become magnified as the edifices for a familial community of local residents. People learn each others names; get to know each others families and eventually the coffee shop crowd becomes a family unto itself.

In Emmaus, there are currently 5 coffee shops listed on their Main Street Program website; 3 of which are directly on Main Street itself, 2 of which (Mas Café and King Koffee) offer open mic nights. The other coffee shop is inside of a cycling store.

In Allentown, there is one currently operating coffee shop on 19th street, The Hava Java. There is a picture of it on the West End Theater District website but no mention of it. It does not currently offer an open mic night or a performance night of any kind and up until recently it had a notification on its front door from the city that said that the store wasn’t up to code.

Edge: Emmaus (by miles)

How about theaters? A theater is a great place for a community to be exposed to culture and serve as a destination spot for a night out. A theater can also serve as a showplace for local talent in film making and even for musical performances.

In Emmaus, there is no theater on Main Street. The theater is a few blocks down and shows big studio Hollywood movies at a cheaper price once the have finished showing in the major theater chains.

On 19th Street, Civic Theater stands as an example of theaters for the entire Lehigh Valley. In addition to showing independent films, Civic has a long standing reputation for Community Theater and theater classes for children. Civic has even, in recent years, expanded to include a second screening room across the street so that there is always something being performed or shown.

Edge: 19th Street(by a mile)

What about shopping?

Without listing the many varied shops in Emmaus, I’m just going to go ahead and give this one to them. There isn’t really a comparison. 19th street does boast two successful jewelry shops and an excellent and standard setting optical boutique as well as a designer handbag store but Emmaus has so much more retail development; it is an unfair comparison.


19th street has one of the best local tattoo parlors in The Quillian as does Emmaus in Mind’s eye. I have had work done by Heather at Mind’s Eye and can speak personally for how well they do work. Steve at The Quillian has set a standard for Tattoo artistry in the Lehigh Valley and many friends arms, legs and backs can speak for it.

Edge: 19th Street

It would appear to be a tie but in truth it is no tie at all. Emmaus is leaps and bounds past 19th street in development. I did not draw comparisons between restaurants and bars because on 19th street there is only one restaurant currently. Salvatore Ruffino’s pizza is a fantastic Italian restaurant but Main Street in Emmaus offers not only an Italian restaurant but an assortment of other dining destinations and bars.

Main Street in Emmaus doesn’t become a ghost town at 5 every night either. Unless there is a major Civic production, 19th street is perpetually a ghost town after 5. I have seen more recently a fuller crowd at Hava Java past nightfall but 15 people a ghost town still makes. No one walks the street and before I hear about the coming streetlights, please see an earlier post on this blog about them.

I can hope that the West End Theater District decides to take a field trip to Emmaus to see how it is done so that they can legitimately challenge Emmaus as a destination spot in a few years. It is going to take a lot more than some yellow banners to get that done. I have lived here on 19th street since 1993 and from 2002-2007 worked at the lonely coffee shop.

I know my street. I have hopes that the West Side Diner starts some growth but as of now the unifying revitalization committee has yet to produce enough forward thinking ideas that would offer significant change. Bi-annual festivals increase visibility for a day. You can give a man a fish but….

And, seriously, with Muhlenberg a few blocks away there is a constant refreshing bank of new consumers for 19th street that has yet to be seriously tapped.

Thank god the Auto Zone was stopped. Commerce/TD Bank is bad enough.

I have many ideas regarding what should be done on 19th street. What do you think needs changing so that we can rival Emmaus? Share your ideas as comments.



Anonymous capri said...


Just a quick point:

Emmaus is a participant in PA's Main Street Program - a program that gives 5 years of funding for revitalization and also includes paying the salary for a full-time Main Street Manager (Peter Lewnes is Allentown's Main Street Manager for the 7th Street business corridor north of Hamilton Street). Emmaus has had a Main Street Program for quite some time now. 19th Street is not a participant that I could tell:

Having a full-time salaried professional working towards downtown revitalization and encouraging development is really a whole different ballgame than what the West End Theatre District has going on (a ragtag group of enthusiastic and well meaning business owners & residents who agree on almost nothing and all have other things in their lives that require their attention above and beyond the revitalization and/or development of their neighborhoods, to say nothing of the difference in professional skills someone working for the Main Street program has compared to say, someone who runs a small business selling purses for a living).

So although I think that Emmaus' downtown does provide a great "example" to follow in looking at revitalization models, I don't think they are quite comparable.

Also, there are things to consider in terms of what kind of business community the 19th street theatre district can support - can it support a coffee shop, obviously yes. Can it support 5? (there are actually 6 coffee shops on Chestnut Street in Emmaus, that I can think of offhand: True Blue, Cafe 29, King Koffee, Mas Cafe, the place in the bike shop, and Perk). I don't think the WETD can support even 2 coffee shops, much less 5, at least not until some other development takes place. Emmaus' 11,000 residents are by and large in a pretty upper-middle-class income range, whereas the households in the neighborhoods adjacent to the WETD are much more mixed income.

May 25, 2009 at 1:37 PM  
Blogger Andrew Kleiner said...

Thanks for the insight Capri. Last I knew from the meetings is that 19th street was in fact a Main Street grant participant and they had been allotted 2.5 million dollars. As far as the businesses 19th street can support; the price range at Blink and Boutique to Go is astronomical in comparison to the mean income of the surrounding area. I'm not sure they could charge those prices outside of Philadelphia or New York. The businesses on 19th street no longer reflect the character of the street whatsoever whereas I do believe that many on Main St in Emmaus do. As far as coffee shops are concerned, due to poor management an no visibility, I don't believe 19th street currently can support one coffee shop. I wrote the comparison to directly start a discussion because I haven't seen a real/ healthy one exist about 19th street in a very long time.

May 25, 2009 at 2:35 PM  
Blogger Andrew Kleiner said...

What do you want to see done down there Capri?

May 25, 2009 at 2:37 PM  
Anonymous Capri said...

down there meaning here in Emmaus, or on 19th Street?

May 25, 2009 at 6:50 PM  
Blogger Andrew Kleiner said...

I meant on 19th but if you have Emmaus commentary, I would be interested to hear it.

May 25, 2009 at 7:00 PM  
Anonymous Capri said...

hmm for some reason I cannot post my comment here. I'll email it to you.

May 25, 2009 at 8:52 PM  
Anonymous Capri said...


I want the daycare gone & a mixed use building appx the same height as Civic Theatre to be constructed in that space. More residential opportunities above the street level would boost the "foot traffic" on 19th street. For that matter, I'd also like the craptastic gas station on the corner to peace out & be replaced by something better, but its pretty difficult to build on the site of a former gas station, so.... maybe a pocket park?

I'd like to see the fence on the backside of the Fairgrounds property removed, and some street-facing storefronts go in there - ideally these could attract some merchants like Vegan Treats (previously rumored to be looking for a new / another store front in the LV area), Another Story, who needs to move from his off-the-main-path location, perhaps a gallery/jewelry type store along the lines of a C. Leslie Smith - I'm naming specific businesses but it is just a great space to have good retail stuff going on. An art supply store and/or print space would be pretty excellent also, but I think that's mostly just a pipe dream.

My main point about the Fairgrounds is that having that space be developed would go along way towards connecting the restaurants/bars like Stooges and Ringer's Roost to the WETD and also it would help to connect those small retail spots like Sign of the Bear and Haika's and that little strip mall with the chinese place where Abe's Deli used to be (still is?).

I would like to see Civic branch out in what they use their spaces for - movies & plays are great, but their locations lend themselves nicely to matinee concerts or readings -also the lobby of 514 should be an art gallery that is open all the time. Not that I'm trying to tell anyone how to run their business or anything.

May 25, 2009 at 9:26 PM  
Anonymous Capri said...


The block between Allen & Tilghman is much more troubling. Presumably one of these days that car dealership goes, so that's a good possible spot for something... what that something is, I'm not sure. The whole block is a very weird amalgamation of businesses and residential properties. I think if the WETD did get a PA Main Street grant, they need to look into doing a facade project on that block ASAP because the only thing that can save it from being a mood-killer is to try to get things to look more "belonging". I think the Quillian DOES belong on that street - and I'm not as opposed to TC Salon as the rest of the universe, and I'm okay with the walk-in hair place, too, but I can't even think of what else is even open on that block, and certainly all of it could benefit from a more uniform signage/facade theme.

My final big change would be to open up the building where Lafayette Ambassador is / Ruffino's Grille and the Karate Place were so that there would be some interface with the alley facing Civic - this could be a porch or outdoor seating for the restaurant space, or building some new internal walls and knocking out some exterior brick to make smaller storefronts with windows & doors facing the alleyway - something that would reorient that third of the block with multiple "facing" sides - hopefully this would connect the next block over where Allentown Appliance & the clothing shops are. Speaking of businesses in need of facade help - Allentown Appliance is a great business that needs a major facade overhaul - same goes for that constantly-closed looking fitness equipment shop, which, for all I know, is actually closed. Isn't there a florist on that block, too? Hello!

I guess the overarching theme of this comment is "I think the WETD already has a whole lot of great businesses that need to be better connected and look more like they all fit together into a single neighborhood rather than just haphazardly dropped into a 4 block radius."

Things that I don't think are wise uses of money:
Trees, Benches, "Historical Streetlamps" or other such projects sometimes found in redevelopment neighborhoods. Let streets be lit by businesses that stay open after dark, and let people stop to sit in cafes or restaurants or parks, and allow trees to be a fundraising project.

May 25, 2009 at 9:27 PM  
Blogger Andrew Kleiner said...

Capri for the win! Great Post. Thank you. I agree 100% with everything you said. I'll add my thoughts in a bit.

May 25, 2009 at 9:30 PM  

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