With a towering new 11-story building beside his shop on Hamilton Street in Downtown Allentown and a host of nearby multistory office and retail buildings under construction around him, small-business owner Santo Napoli doesn’t feel dwarfed by the activity.
Rather, he is encouraged by it.
Napoli wants to adapt to an Allentown that is changing.
With a fresh façade, new flooring and updated registers, The Archive is furthering the transformation it began once it changed from New York Urban to the more “timeless lifestyle” store catering to 18-to-25-year-olds who have money to spend – blending a mix of urban and skate styles similar in some ways to an Abercrombie & Fitch-style casual wear retailer.
“We are changing with the times,” Napoli said. “It’s this whole concept of this renaissance that’s happening all around.”
He referred to the changes occurring all around Hamilton Street, including the redevelopment of the Schoen’s Furniture Store building across from his store, an ice hockey arena and Renaissance Hotel under construction on Seventh and Hamilton and several office buildings being built for City Center Lehigh Valley.
Napoli realizes these developments are bringing more people into the downtown to work, live and shop, and he is positioning his business to capture some of the activity.
“There’s a lot of disposable income,” Napoli said. “We’ve always been in a fortunate position.”
The company reinvented itself three times, he said. Two years ago, it changed the name from New York Urban to The Archive to better reflect the changes in style the store had planned.
“We’ve been successful because we always adapted to the markets we were in,” he said. “As markets change, you have to continue to adapt, or you get pushed to the wayside.”
In business for 15 years, Napoli’s store has expanded and now includes a sales floor that’s almost 7,500 square feet, two levels of merchandise showroom space and a growing division of uniforms for the Allentown School District, a niche market that the company devoted $300,000 to start.
“It’s a big store, but we have a lot of departments,” Napoli said.
He strives to reach those shoppers looking to spend $40 on trendy jeans as well as those customers who can drop $250 on a pair, along with many price points in between.
He also owns another store, New York Urban, deeper in the downtown at 740 Hamilton St., where he carries more urban-style clothing, plus another store, also called The Archive, at 449 Penn St. in Reading.
In Allentown, one of the biggest challenges the retailer faces is attracting customers from outside the city, Napoli said.
Completing a new façade, with the help of grants from the Allentown Chamber of Commerce and the city, helped him further adapt the visual appearance of the store to a new audience.
Napoli finds health insurance, taxes and the potential for a minimum wage increase as among the top concerns that challenge not just him, but many small-business owners.
“Show rooming,” the practice of searching for items online and checking them out in the store, only to go back online to buy the items elsewhere also is a growing concern for him and many other small retailers.
He said it has improved since The Archive bought a lot of brands that are harder to find online. For every pair of Levi’s jeans, he can find one or two brands that he says are not in other brick-and-mortar stores.
“It’s tough to find good help, which I know affects all small businesses,” Napoli said.
Despite the challenges, he loves what he does each day, he said.
Like many small-business owners, he felt restless working for other people.
He lived in Reading and opened his first store at 627 Hamilton St. in Allentown in 1999. He now lives just outside of Allentown.
“I was bored working for other people,” Napoli said. “I can’t work for corporate America, I love the entrepreneurial spirit. My employees are a great conduit to what’s going on in the market,” he said, noting that they help steer him in the right direction.
As new structures rise around him in the city, he believes it’s a good place to grow.
“I’m in the perfect spot,” Napoli said. “The downtown market is changing. We believe we can be at the forefront.”