Lehigh Valley Mall anchor catches more than the eye
The Lehigh Valley Mall department store is a magnet for the soot and other debris from nearby Route 22
Tyrone Richardson / The Morning Call
I recently walked through The Outdoor Shops at the Lehigh Valley Mall and noticed something odd.
In the background of the sparkling buildings constructed in 2007 to house high-end labels like Williams-Sonoma, White House Black Market and Coach is the soot-covered Macy’s department store.
You probably noticed the building’s less-than-stellar appearance during the usual stop-and-go traffic dance near the MacArthur Road/Seventh Street exit on Route 22.
Reader emails and voice mails over my four years authoring this column have one constant question: What’s with the Macy’s building?
Dark spots spawned by exhaust from the highway pepper the light-colored building, taking a bit of the sheen off the mall’s hopeful image as the region’s premier shopping destination.
One retail expert said exterior upgrades are usually last on the to-do list for merchants, since they don’t necessarily boost sales.
Even Whitehall Township Mayor Ed Hozza can’t escape inquiries about the store’s dirty appearance.
“I was asked the same question at a social function on Friday evening,” Hozza said in an email.
Hozza passed on this explanation about the building’s exterior woes:
“When the store was built in 1976 as a Bamberger’s Department Store, a new type of white exterior architectural block was used,” he said. “Since the block has ridges built into it and is very porous, this allowed Route 22 grime and fumes to adhere to it more readily than other construction block over the last 36 years.”
Mall spokeswoman Amanda Johnson said the 212,000-square-foot Macy’s building is maintained by the department store chain, which took over the former Bamberger’s space in late 1986.
Macy’s spokeswoman Elina Kazan said the building has been power-washed before as routine maintenance.
“We do intend to power-wash the facade again in the near future to remove buildup from the traffic along Route 22,” she said.
For the moment, however, the building is showing a lot more than just the Macy’s moniker. Maybe light-colored buildings near a high-traffic area like Route 22 aren’t the best idea.
Boscov’s department store is also showing similar dark spots on a few portions of its facade facing Grape Street. Attempts to reach Boscov’s CEO and President Al Boscov for comment were unsuccessful.
The dirty exteriors aren’t surprising, said Jeff Green, president and CEO of Phoenix-based retail consultant Jeff Green Partners.
“Usually interior remodels come first because they generate the highest additional sales, so that means exterior remodels are further down on the list,” Green said. “Sometimes a developer will pressure a merchant like Macy’s to do something about that and then they would say pony up some money to help and the developer usually never will.”
That’s enough on that topic. Let’s talk openings.
Lehigh Valley Mall will soon house an iPhone repair store named Mobile Genius.
Founder Josh MacGown said the business has been booming since he opened his inaugural store in downtown Allentown last year.
That means an ambitious plan for five new storefronts by the end of the year, including a space in Lehigh Valley Mall early as June 15 and Montgomery Mall by July 1.
MacGown added that he also hopes to open new stores in Bethlehem and Bucks County.
Mobile Genius has added Android phones to the list of mobile devices it will repair. The company also is expanding into used-phone sales and added services like social-media management, technical help, mobile-app development and training sessions for Apple devices, he added.
Mobile Genius is part of the exploding nationwide market for iPhone repair services. The shops, a cheaper alternative to the Apple store, are capitalizing on the meteoric popularity of iPhones, iPods, iPads and other devices by starting their own high-tech fix-it shops.
Let’s morph into eatery watch.
The shuttered Perkins in south Bethlehem is coming back to life, slowly.
Weeks ago, city and Perkins company officials confirmed that the restaurant chain was moving back into its space on Third Street, and a few days ago, a “now hiring” sign appeared in its window.
The restaurant opened in 2000 and was popular with the nearby Lehigh University crowd, but has been lifeless since Perkins closed in July 2010.
Rumors pin its opening sometime in June or July, but company spokeswoman Vivian Brooks did not respond to an attempt for comment.
The chain emerged from bankruptcy protection last year, but not before closing dozens of its roughly 600 restaurants due to reduced consumer spending and higher costs for ingredients.
Perkins already has five restaurants in the region.
Another restaurant boasting a “now hiring” sign is the Nazareth Diner, which is undergoing a major renovation on Broad Street.
The shuttered Emmaus Diner at 1418 Chestnut St. has been sold to the owners of Queen City Diner on Lehigh Street in Allentown, owners said Tuesday.
Emmaus Diner — a borough institution dating to 1985 — has been closed for several weeks pending a sale.
The restaurant is scheduled to reopen in three months, according to George Draklellis, who owns the business with his brother Odiseas.
George Draklellis said the Emmaus restaurant will change its name to East Penn Diner and its menu will be similar to Queen City Diner’s.
Emmaus Diner closed weeks ago as its former owner, Hristos “Chris” Dimou, faces theft and other charges. Dimou allegedly played a role in the rip-off of an elderly borough woman who lost everything she owned.
There’s some sad news for the burger junkies holding onto hope that Burger King would reopen at Hamilton and Cedar Crest boulevards in South Whitehall Township.
The restaurant’s signage has been removed.
The restaurant has been shuttered for months and its location has been removed from Burger King’s website.
The franchisee, RVD Inc., teased us with pieces of paper taped to the doors and windows saying “Temporarily closed. Will reopen ASAP.”
My efforts to get any comment from the franchisee have been unsuccessful. The Hamilton Boulevard restaurant is at least three decades old.
The property adjacent to the Burger King has been listed for sale for awhile.
Also, kill any hope for the reopening of Burrito Grille in the Kmart shopping center on Tilghman Street.
The space is listed “for lease” even though a quick peek through the storefront’s window reveals that seating and other Burrito Grille apparatus remain inside.
Burrito Grille, which opened in 2008, shuttered earlier this year with no explanation.
The Wilson popular watering-hole, Shrutys Pub, recently closed “due to financial reasons after the split of my business partner,” according to what an owner wrote on its Facebook page.
Also, DogStar Café is no more in downtown Allentown.
Owners, who have run the eatery at 29 N. Sixth St. since 2006, shuttered it because landlord Symphony Hall wants to use the space for expansion.
Symphony Hall Executive Director Sheila Evans says part of the former DogStar space will be used to expand bathrooms, concession and box office. The space will also house a donor lounge at a later date, she added.
DogStar is looking for another space, according to co-owner Ronnie Younes.