This morning I was perusing my local paper (if you can call it that), The Morning Call, and felt a sinking disappointment that is hard to adequately explain. The business beat reporter, Tyrone Richardson, devoted his entire weekly column to complaining about the lack of national chain restaurants in the Lehigh Valley. He gives a brief mention to some local businesses that are okay in a pinch, according to him. Now, look, I’m not saying I wouldn’t be overjoyed if Costco decided to open shop nearby, and I certainly understand why many people are clamoring for some of these national names. But, I’m going to jump on the bandwagon that Jeff Pooley has been driving and give Tyrone a little back talk.
Tyrone, its not news that the Lehigh Valley isn’t a top destination for major retail chains, we’re not a major market. What is news is that within my relatively-short lifetime, we in the Lehigh Valley lost our two biggest employers and somehow both Allentown and Bethlehem have managed to diversify their economies enough to not have a devastating loss of population. As Tyrone mentions in his article, the Lehigh Valley is a growing region that attracts people from New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia and elsewhere. Both cities have abundant entrepreneurs who have literally led the way to this diversification, opening small businesses in the retail, service, manufacturing, and technology sectors that would make people in many parts of Ohio, Western New York, Michigan, etc double over with envy. Its news that even in this hideous economy, many of these business owners are digging in and hanging on, while big name national chains like Quizno’s make their quick exits. Its news that against all odds, new small businesses are opening, while big chains put the brakes on their expansion plans and decide to wait it out. Just something to think about the next time you decide to devote 100% of your precious column inches to writing about big name retail and why there’s not more of it in the Lehigh Valley.
I’m preparing to leave this week for my annual vacation in Saratoga Springs, NY. I could, and probably will have a whole separate post on the numerous reasons that this is my favorite town to spend time in, but the primary reason is the awesome power of its downtown – home to dozens of independently-owned restaurants, shops, bars, galleries, and cafes. When I stroll down Broadway looking for Breakfast on Thursday morning, I know for sure that I’m not going to have any regrets that I can’t enjoy a Dunkin Donut.