Starbucks coming to downtown Allentown

Date: Jan 30, 2015

A few years ago, getting Starbucks to open a shop in center city Allentown would have been a tall order.

Not anymore.

The Seattle-based coffee giant is set to open at Two City Center at Seventh and Hamilton streets in June, officials with City Center Investment Corp. confirmed Thursday.

While Starbucks has stores across the Lehigh Valley, the center city shop would be the first downtown location in the region for the brand, which is notoriously selective about its locations.

City Center CEO J.B. Reilly said Thursday the news is validation of the growth and development happening in Allentown.

"Two years ago we had no hope of getting a Starbucks downtown," he said. "It's gratifying to see these kinds of national companies that are very selective validate what we're doing."

The ubiquitous brand's decision to come to Allentown is a milestone moment in the eyes of city officials and developers. Starbucks employs a team of analytics experts to study data on potential markets including traffic patterns and area businesses. Regional teams assess locations, store designs and other issues.

In the past, Starbucks officials felt that downtown Allentown's demographics were not particularly attractive, said Mayor Ed Pawlowski, who has lobbied for the chain to come to Allentown for years. Without any large-scale economic development, the brand had little reason to further investigate the market, he said.

That's changed with the city's Neighborhood Improvement Zone, the state designation that's fueling more than $1 billion in development underway in Allentown. The NIZ allows developers to tap into state and local tax dollars to fund construction that creates jobs, and multiple projects have been completed or are in progress, including the city's PPL Center, which opened in the fall.

"Our sales pitch now is not just the data," Pawlowski said. "It's 'Hey, look at this economic energy going into Allentown.' We really couldn't say that before."

The power of the NIZ also has fueled a restaurant boom in center city Allentown. In the last six months, The Hamilton Kitchen, The Dime at the Renaissance Hotel, Roar Social House, Chickie's & Pete's, Tony Luke's, and coal-fired pizza shop Crust have opened downtown.