Downtown struggles to attract shoppers
HELLERTOWN | Kim Embardino has learned her lesson when it comes to holiday shopping on Main Street.
For her first Christmas after starting up Kim's Kountry Kreations, Embardino stayed open until 8 p.m. on Thursdays. The second year, she closed her doors at 7 p.m. Now, the most she does in terms of extra hours is on Sundays between noon and 4 p.m.
"By 6 o'clock, the place is a ghost town," said Embardino, standing behind her shop counter last week. "There's not enough retail. If they could get more into town, it could be more like Bethlehem."
As holiday crowds flock to the Christmas City of Bethlehem, Hellertown is working in the city's shadow to attract more retail businesses and the shoppers who come along with them.
Borough businesses have loyal customers, and some sell the wares of local artisans, but the problem lies with the downtown itself, merchants said. Shoppers might make return trips to specific stores, but they don't always stick around to see what else is further down the street, they said.
"I don't think anyone's going to come to Hellertown to spend the day," said Denise Knauss, co-owner of Klassic Gold, a jewelry shop on Main Street. "Whereas in Bethlehem, they would."
Over the past few years, borough officials and residents created several initiatives to revitalize the shopping experience on Main Street and turn Hellertown into the downtown of the growing Saucon Valley.
Six businesses received $14,500 in state funds this year to improve their facades, and a restaurant guide is coming out next month to promote more than 30 restaurants in the borough, said Mike Schlossberg, the borough business revitalization coordinator for Hellertown. The borough also expects to perform a parking study in the upcoming months with an eye to easing concerns over the perceived lack of downtown parking, he said.
Of the small boroughs in the Valley, Hellertown is one of most fortunate because of its central location, Schlossberg said. Between the upcoming casino in Bethlehem and an expanding population in Saucon Valley, Hellertown has a built-in customer base, he said.
"Hellertown isn't there yet, but it's moving in that direction," Schlossberg said.
The existing collection of downtown businesses, however, might not bring that pedestrian traffic. Of the 140 commercial establishments in the borough, there are only three vacancies, but the majority of businesses are service-oriented, such as nail salons and day spas.
The problem could be seen on the day after Thanksgiving, when the borough held its annual tree-lighting ceremony. A large crowd turned out on Main Street to see the lights turned on and say hello to Santa, but after the ceremony, people went home, said Hellertown Manager Charles Luthar.
"Keeping them downtown is something we have to work on," Luthar said.
Reporter Bill Wichert can be reached at 610-867-5000 or by e-mail at email@example.com.