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Downtown momentum

Aided by arts, Lancaster retail keeps rolling

Jim Radel, left, and Darrel Stauffer have operated Radel & Stauffer gift and home furnishings boutique in downtown Lancaster for 30 years. This year the store moved from its original location on Water Street to the 300 block of North Queen Street, a shopping district with an eclectic mix of retail shops and eateries. Photo/Amy Spangler

In January 2010, Rick Frescatore opened his first store, Fresco Green Building Supplies, in Manheim Township.

But that’s not where he put Fresco Green Scene, the “eco lifestyle” store he opened last month. For that, he chose downtown Lancaster.

“It was absolutely a calculated move,” he said.

By and large, consumers who frequent downtown Lancaster are concerned about ecological issues and appreciate the appeal of organic, sustainably produced goods, he said.

Similarly, Lori Hemphill, owner of The Perfect Plan event planning business, chose a West King Street location for Party Perfect, the store for “chic and unique” party supplies, gifts and accessories that she opened in July.

People go to downtown Lancaster when they want something different and stylish, she said.

“I absolutely love downtown Lancaster. Always have,” she said.

Lancaster’s downtown renaissance has been going on for a good while now; but if anything, it’s adding momentum of late.

“We’re enjoying quite a boom,” said Marshall Snively, vice president of the James Street Improvement District neighborhood development group.

Last year, 28 stores, galleries and restaurants opened or expanded and 15 closed, for a net gain of 13, Snively said. So far this year, 30 businesses have opened or expanded and six more have firm plans to do so, and 14 have closed, for a net gain of 22, he said.

Moreover, upscale retail is expanding beyond the downtown core. Champion Forge and College Row have bolstered Harrisburg Avenue in the city’s northwest, and developer John Meeder’s newly opened Historic East Side Suites has extended the shopping corridor along East King Street.

The retailers praise the city’s efforts to support them — especially the massively popular First Friday arts events.

Fresco Green Scene has a gallery wall so it can feature local artists and be part of the First Friday circuit, Frescatore said.

“We decided to do that right in the beginning,” he said.

Hundreds of people have visited Fresco Green Scene in the two First Fridays it has been open, he said.

In much the same vein, Laporte Jewelers, which opened in College Row in May, has an art gallery and hosts First Friday receptions, spokeswoman Kim Gallucci said.

The College Row Laporte is the first retail outlet of Edward J. & Co., a jewelry maker based in East Hempfield Township. It was designed to be “different from anything you’ve ever seen,” Gallucci said.

In time, Edward J. & Co. hopes to open similar stores in select cities such as Beverly Hills, she said.

“This is going to be our model store,” Gallucci said.

Lancaster’s shop owners are individual entrepreneurs “willing to put their money and their sweat equity on the line,” Mayor Rick Gray said, adding, “That’s really what this country is about.”

“The city’s job is to level the playing field, cut the grass and get out of the way,” he said.

Hemphill, the Party Perfect owner, said the area needs a vibrant city as well as the Amish attractions. The Lancaster County Convention Center and Marriott at Penn Square was a crucial enhancement, she said, calling herself a strong supporter of the $177 million complex, which opened two years ago.

The convention center’s financial viability has been the subject of recent media scrutiny. The facility’s operating losses are supposed to be covered by revenue from the countywide hotel tax, but collections are not rising enough to cover them, the Lancaster Sunday News reported. The convention center’s operating loss was $3.96 million in 2010, according to a Lancaster County Convention Center Authority audit report.

Gray said he’s not worried.

“I think this is something we’ll be able to resolve,” he said.

The convention center’s bookings have exceeded projections, he said, stressing the shortfall is with the tax.

Lancaster has gone through “several regenerations” over the years, said Jim Radel, co-owner with Darrel Stauffer of city mainstay Radel & Stauffer, a gift and home furnishings boutique.

After 29 years on Water Street, Radel & Stauffer moved to the 300 block of North Queen Street this year due to a pending ownership change at their former building.

“We’re meeting a whole new group of people on this block,” Radel said.

Retailers on the 300 block meet informally and engage in some joint marketing. The new crop of King Street shops are planning to do the same, Hemphill said.

Downtown retail and residential development work hand in hand, and the James Street Improvement District plans to continue working with the city to encourage both, Snively said.

The group hopes to see more “infill” projects connecting the “two strong anchors” of downtown and the northwest, he said.

Radel, with his decades of perspective, said he’s confident retail will continue flourishing in the city.

“Obviously, or I wouldn’t still be here,” he said.

Restaurants launch ‘On the Square’ marketing

Unified marketing has helped solidify Lancaster’s image as an arts and cultural destination. Now 11 downtown restaurants hope to do the same for the city’s food scene.

They have banded together to form the On the Square Restaurant Association, which is launching its first promotional event this weekend, said organizer Chris Trendler, who manages the Penn Square Grille at the Lancaster County Convention Center.

“Off the Menu, On the Square,” will take place from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at Penn Square. Members will offer free samples of their wares, Trendler said.

They also will distribute flyers for Lancaster’s first Restaurant Week, which will run Tuesday through Friday next week. Members have put together special menus, and a portion of the proceeds will go toward Music for Everyone, a nonprofit devoted to promoting music in Lancaster schools and the community.

Creating On the Square was “a natural move,” Trendler said. “We’re all in such close proximity to each other.”

People seem excited about the possibilities, he said.

“We’ve just heard a really positive buzz,” he said.

The organization is still in its early stages, he noted, adding that a planning committee is meeting weekly.

On the Square Restaurant Association members:

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