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The New Main Street? A-Town's 19th Street Experience

Of Merge

Main Street, Bethlehem, and groups of Moravianites, wearing their silver and blue, sip lattes at Johnny's Bagelsand discuss the night's martini activities at Apollo Grill.

Cut to Southside and Lehigh students excitedly stroll through open galleries, sampling restaurant fare and taking advantage of First Friday drink specials. In Easton, Lafayette students prowl "the circle," downing icy brews at bars like Mothers and Drinky Drinkersons and browsing the used book shelves at The Quadrant.

Valley dwellers have several chic downtown areas to make into their stomping grounds. But what do the students in Allentown's Cedar Crest College, Muhlenberg, DeSales, Lehigh Valley College and Lehigh Carbon Community College have?

Certainly not a college town, according to Kutztown University student and Allentown native Andrew Kleiner: "We have 40,000 kids in this area, and a college or business school every few miles in Allentown. But you never see the college kids out and about. Where do all they go?"

Aiming to combat this apparent disconnect, the City of Allentown is partnering with Muhlenberg College to create a hip downtown scene. Called the 19th Street Experience, the partnership is hanging banners in the area just north of the Allentown Fairgrounds and has begun to distribute maps highlighting businesses of interest to college and post-college crowds.

Muhlenberg College president Peyton Helm says, " map provides a guide to the many merchants, restauranteurs and other businesses that comprise the 19th Street Experience. I hope that students, neighbors and visitors will find it helpful in planning their explorations of one of Allentown's most fascinating areas."

After reviewing Muhlenberg marketing studies, headed by Gail Eisenberg, the college will be working with the city to "create a more aesthetically pleasing atmosphere" by adding lighting and greenery, cleaning up and repairing sidewalks; improving parking for drivers and creating a safer walking path for students; and encouraging additional businesses and restaurants to the area to "provide some hangout space for students who do frequent the area."

According to Harriet Palomba, owner of Anylise's Hava Java – which seems to be at the hub of the project – there has been an increase in the number of teens and twentysomethings seen hanging about the 19th Street area. But where are they coming from?

Gerrit LeCoultre, a nursing student at LCCC, says that many in the crowd aren't newcomers. "A lot of the people you see hanging out at Hava Java have been coming here since high school, or they live around here. Every now and then you see a Muhlenberg group wander in, but even they are usually locals."

Kleiner adds, "The area doesn't have much of a 'college town' feel to it. The businesses are starting to change – we have the coffeeshop, of course, and Civic Theatre. Right up the street there's a record shop and a hippie shop and Mom's Pizza, but the area seems to cater more to the older population, rather than all the college kids in the area."

Both added that the efforts put in by the city and the college were commendable and looked forward to the outcome.

"I think that they're doing a great thing for the area," concludes Kleiner. "Everyone will benefit from this promotion. We'll have somewhere to go and hang out, and the businesses will make money."

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