April 5, 2016 / I loved reading Jimmy Moyer’s story about Downtown Allentown in The Morning Call last week. He is a local-grown businessman and the owner of Jimmy’s Barber Shop, which opened a second location at 619 Hamilton Street last summer. In the article, Moyer recalled childhood trips downtown in the family’s ‘54 Ford to buy school clothes from Hess’s and Leh’s. He ends his tale with a triumphant return to the new downtown, not just as a consumer, but as an entrepreneur as well.
Moyer’s is one of nearly 30 small businesses that have moved into the Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ) since September 2014. These companies are helping strengthen and define the modern day Downtown Allentown neighborhood in amazing, organic ways. People are coming together, learning from each other and expanding their businesses every day.
Small businesses are not small potatoes in this economy.
According to the Small Business Administration (SBA), there are almost 28.5 million small businesses in the United States, and these companies employ over 50 percent of the population. Since 1995, small businesses have been responsible for creating over 65 percent of the net new jobs in this country too. Here in Pennsylvania, small businesses have definitely been key to the state’s well being. They employed an estimated 2.4 million workers in 2014 and accounted for 47.3 percent of the private sector workforce. And, small companies make up a whopping 98.2% of the state’s private employers.
These numbers illustrate why small businesses are vital to the national and local economies, but there’s more to it than just numbers. When it comes to local communities, small businesses provide a priceless network of support, ideas, fellowship and stability that benefits everyone. Because, no matter how high tech or digital our world becomes, relationships still matter. When businesses build relationships through real human contact within their communities the effect is powerful.
Where gemstones and smoothies live in harmony.
Another one of my favorite stories from the small business community here in Downtown Allentown brings together a very unlikely pairing: Sorrelli Jewelry and Johnny’s Bagels & Deli. The two are neighbors on the 600 block of Hamilton Street, and the jewelry store employees are regulars at the deli. One day, Sorrelli’s Taylor Yandle and Kandy Phillips mentioned to Johnny’s manager “L” that one of their favorite-flavor smoothies (peanut butter banana) was not on the menu. Intrigued by the request from his regulars, L took it upon himself to create the smoothie on the spot and taste test it. Long story short, it was such a hit that “The Sorrelli Smoothie” was added to Johnny’s menu. It’s such a kick to see the sign at the counter every time I run in for a sandwich. As a local businessperson myself, seeing this camaraderie makes me feel at home somehow. Judging from the full tables at Johnny’s every lunch hour, I believe I’m not alone.
We aren’t just a few blocks of urban development, we are a community.
The distinction between a set of street addresses and an authentic and energized community is essential in urban revitalization. Addresses are GPS identifiers, but communities are where people live out their lives. Neighborhoods are where people want to be, and where they want to make things great because they take ownership of their location. When local business owners get involved with revitalization, they can provide the kind of insight even the power of Big Data can’t match. They are our best embedded reporters.
Take, for example, how Easton Yoga Allentown came to be. The story goes that Alicia Rambo Wozniak, owner of Easton Yoga saw the opening of Greenmouth Juice Bar & Café’s second location on the ArtsWalk and was attracted to the up-and-coming neighborhood. New businesses were popping up and established ones were sprucing up. Businesses and people were moving into the area. Through talking with Greenmouth owner Sarah Hinsch, whose Easton location is a neighbor to Easton Yoga’s studio, Wozniak learned of a need for a dedicated yoga studio in Downtown Allentown. This type of trusted B-to-B communication turned out to be a catalyst for her company’s expansion with a new studio on North Tenth Street.
Because of these two neighboring small businesses, Downtown Allentown residents and employees will now have a fantastic new yoga studio at their disposal. While they are going to or from the studio, they can take advantage of the dozens of restaurants and stores in the vicinity, and they can share their satisfaction and excitement for the revitalized neighborhood with people in their business and social circles. Circles that are expanding every day, just by virtue of their belonging to this unique energized community.
Your big pitch to bring your business to Downtown Allentown
could be awarded $15,000!
The Retail Mosaic is an organic public/private partnership that supports new retail business growth in downtown Allentown. It is a competition for the most serious business-minded people, with the goal of encouraging new retail concepts that will:
- Open up within the targeted areas of the Upside Allentown program area
- Employ Allentown residents
- Fill and rejuvenate storefronts in the downtown neighborhood
The Retail Mosaic will provide a financial award of up to $15,000 and a network of reduced-rate and/or pro-bono assistance by professional support services typically needed by entrepreneurs.