It’s a new day for Nazareth’s downtown.
The borough soon will be home to a new brewery and brew pub, while in the past year it saw the opening of an eatery and boutique and more than tripled the vendors at its farmers market. All told, the downtown has seen at least eight new businesses since 2014, received grants to improve storefronts and hung dozens of banners welcoming visitors.
These are some of the initiatives that Stephanie Varone, the borough’s downtown manager for the Nazareth Economic Development Commission, has been working on to boost the shopping district.
Varone opened her business, Smooch, at 101 S. Main St. last year. As the downtown manager, she had been recruiting businesses to fill empty storefronts, including the corner building now occupied by her boutique.
Having fallen in love with the space as well as the borough’s charm, she decided to open her own New York City-inspired boutique selling jewelry, accessories and handbags, along with the Smooch makeup and skin care line.
“This business is the compilation of what’s going on in downtown Nazareth,” Varone said. “When I was first hired, I wanted to brand Nazareth. I have a very keen sales and marketing background.”
Varone, now a Nazareth resident, lived in New York City much of her life. She said she had a lengthy career in the cosmetics industry, including vice president of sales and director of education for several divisions of Estee Lauder and Bare Escentuals and a top sales position with a jewelry designer.
This experience inspired her to open the makeup and jewelry boutique and to take charge of selling Nazareth as a borough that could have a successful shopping district.
“It’s nice to see a dream come alive after all these years,” said Tina Smith, president of the Nazareth-Bath Area Regional Chamber of Commerce.
ON THE RECRUITING TRAIL
Varone got her start as Nazareth’s downtown coordinator in 2014 and began recruiting businesses and promoting the borough.
“When I got here, we didn’t have a café, we didn’t have a deli,” Varone said. “Nazareth is 55 percent apartment dwellers in the downtown. I wanted to choose businesses that would have a running start in such a sleepy town.”
By 2015, Varone recruited Xpresso Café, Mosaic Gallery and The Run Inn and also helped grow the farmers market from seven to 14 vendors.
She also designed and created 40 welcome banners to hang on the downtown streets and began to build relationships with landlords, business owners, real estate agents, the community and other stakeholders.
Once Varone created the Nazarethnow.org website to list weekly events, new store openings and farmers market vendors, she found another way to promote the borough.
In 2016, she added another 40 welcome banners and wrote a $30,000 façade grant approved by the Northampton County Department of Community and Economic Development for Nazareth’s downtown. The $30,000 matching grant will result in more than $100,000 in downtown façade improvements.
Also in 2016, she created and managed six community events and recruited additional vendors to the market, bringing the total to 27 vendors.
Aside from Smooch, Varone recruited three more new businesses in 2016, including Stehly’s Eatery and Bakery, Nazareth Textiles and The Kerrigan Brew Pub, expected to open later this year at 35 Belvidere St.
Varone said she recruited Birthright Brewery, which will open at 57 S. Main St. and expand into part of the now vacated Nazareth Furniture Co. The brewery could open in three months, she added.
It will also occupy space vacated by The Run Inn, a sportswear store with a location in Emmaus.
Birthright Brewery, which will offer craft beer and food, is owned by Wayne Milford, who has worked for Dogfish Head Craft Brewery as a head brewer and consulted for other breweries globally, Varone said.
‘VOICE OF NAZARETH’
Varone said she hopes the brewery and brew pub will bring sustainable business to the borough and is seeking retail tenants in more spaces, particularly for boutiques and a modern restaurant, which would attract more people to the downtown.
“When I started, we had 10 vacancies just on South Main Street,” Varone said. “Now, there’s two.
“I felt like when I came to Nazareth, I felt like I could be the voice of Nazareth. I’ve always called us ‘the little engine that could,’ and we needed a motor.”
MAKING IT HAPPEN
Varone estimated that recruitment efforts provided a total investment of $2 million to Nazareth and 34 jobs to the borough.
“There is definitely a positive growth period going on right now,” Smith said.
New businesses have recently opened, and Varone has recruited a lot of new ones that are coming in, said Smith, who also serves on the Nazareth Economic Development board.
The new brew pub and brewery are going to fill a void so that Nazareth can become a destination, with people expected to travel to the borough, Smith said.
“We talked about it, we had a plan,” Smith said. “She’s definitely the one who helped make it happen.”