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Things are looking up in Downtown Easton

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Downtown Easton has come a long way in a short time, but there remains a wish list of staple businesses that include a grocery, pharmacy, fitness center and diner.

“We think we have filled the slot for the diner, but nothing is definite just yet,” said Kim Kmetz, manager of the Main Street Initiative in Easton.

“But then we have become quite a restaurant town. We have five new restaurants that opened since fall and three others that are expected to open soon.”

Kmetz revealed that there are also at least 75 or 80 apartments in various stages of development in town. Once the new living quarters are complete, the hope is that they attract tenants from the growing population of 20- and 30-somethings who have moved into the area to be part of the downtown experience.

“These are college graduates, people who want to stroll around downtown and like the convenience of being able to get what they need without getting in their cars and driving anywhere,” Kmetz reported.

The grocery store and pharmacy are front and center as the Main Street program continues to build its marketing plan. Kmetz and her staff are actively searching but have yet to find the right fit.

“It is certainly going to be a tougher sell when you look at the fact that even a smaller grocery store needs 20,000 square feet of space,” she conceded.

On the good news front, there are much-needed services coming into town such as a dry cleaner and shoe repair shop. There are also fitness centers inquiring about space downtown.

Kmetz said the Easton Farmers Market, which, like the Main Street Initiative, is a program under the umbrella of the Greater Easton Development Partnership (GEDP), has been a driving source of revenue for the city.

The Farmers Market is a popular Saturday draw for the city's Center Square area at the intersection of Third and Northampton streets. It lures in thousands of people each week and has been around for well over 200 years.

Megan McBride is the manager of the Farmers Market. She reported that the market has been part of GEDP for the last six years and has been successfully growing.

McBride also cites a recent survey that shows that the Farmers Market helps businesses in Downtown Easton collect as much a $26,000 every week from customers who come to the market.

With this type of progress, and the support of GEDP, the Farmers Market was able to open an indoor Winter Farmers Market in the Nurture Nature Center along Northampton Street.

Not that long ago, the Farmers Market was down to one vendor. Today, it has 40 stands and is adding a second day of operation.

This summer the market will open on Wednesday evenings to help supplement the need for a grocery store.

“Our winter market, which we started last November, has been highly successful in bringing in 500 customers a day,” McBride said.

“Our Wednesday hours in Center Square will be from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. and geared to those that want to be within walking distance of the freshest food and produce.”

GEDP is not only the parent organization of the Main Street program and the Farmers Market, but it also backs the Easton Ambassadors program, which provides hospitality and street cleaning services to the downtown.

The organization has been instrumental in Easton to bolster economic development, assist small businesses to get loans and make the city a more appealing place to live, work and play.

“It's been crazy, all that is going on, and we are just trying to keep our head above water,” said Gretchen Longenbach, executive director of GEDP and director of Community and Economic Development for the City of Easton.

“We have helped several new businesses get loans recently…and then there is our work with redevelopment projects.”

Longenbach, who has led GEDP since 2008, said that the organization has recently lent a hand to new businesses such as Maxim's 22, a French bistro on Northampton Street, and Rivals Sports Bar, as they secured state grants that would give them zero percent financing.

GEDP is also providing assistance to ongoing projects throughout the city, namely Two Rivers Brewing Co., the former A & D Tile building, the Lipkin's furniture store and the Pomeroy Building.

These are projects in various stages of construction and redevelopment.

“GEDP is also the master lease holder of Two Rivers Landing, which will soon undergo a transformation to make Crayola the sole tenant of the entire facility,” Longenbach reported.

According to the executive director, GEDP, formerly known as Easton Economic Development Corp., underwent a name change in 2004, and over the course of the last several years it has acquired the Easton Main Street Initiative, Ambassadors and the Farmers Market. Donna Taggart of Taggart Associates was the previous executive director.

The Main Street program and Easton Farmers Market are housed in the same office building at 35 S. Third St., Easton. The Ambassadors are located nearby on the same street.

Kmetz, who became Main Street manager in 2006, said that GEDP has a board of directors and each of the three programs has some type of advisory board.

McBride was Main Street's assistant manager, but with the growth of the Farmers Market, she is stepping down from her position at the Main Street program. So, Kmetz is currently interviewing for a new assistant manager.

“Generally, January and February are a bit slower months around here. The hope is to hire someone before springtime,” Kmetz said.

Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@lvb.com

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