Corporate development forces small business move out of Bethlehem

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Rose Ellen Moore, the owner of RC Moore Vintage located on Fourth Street in Bethlehem, is one of many small business owners negatively impacted by new corporate developments. This new wave of corporate-owned businesses threatens to erase South Side’s character and small-business history. (Madison Hite/B&W Staff)

Rose Ellen Moore cracks an easy, glistening smile.

Her crisp, metallic, braided hair swings at her ankles as she booms across her vintage shop to squeeze an entering customer.

But her journey as a businesswoman does not reflect her effortless manner.

She has been to court twice and has moved locations four times in the past five years with her husband, Clayton Moore, by her side.

In between moves, the Moores ended up on Fourth Street in Bethlehem, a place they thought would be a small-business friendly area.

As Lehigh’s Path to Prominence plan takes shape, small-business owners are seeing less foot traffic and more investors. Landlords suggest individuals rent elsewhere and refuse to fix building issues such as leaks in hopes of outing owners.

As a result, the South Side is seeing more corporate-owned businesses, especially on Third Street.

“My warehouse, which is a basement in Hellertown, would be flooded with people and our store was not doing so well,” Rose said. “Everything goes on, on Third Street. Fourth street is dead.”

Rose said the reason she moved her business to the South Side was the history of its small-business vibe and of the town’s character.

“On the South Side, there is more diversity and more ethnic business owners,” Rose said. “You see different shades of people everywhere, and we really like that.”

But it was not enough to keep them there.

“One night in December, I was in my shop, and it was dead in Bethlehem, the restaurants weren’t even open,” Rose said. “It was because all the (students) went home. The South Side’s customers are the (students).”

Rose said while Lehigh students did shop in her store, her business usually caters to middle-age women who are willing to spend a lot of money on one item.

Rose said that in order to stay alive, the South Side needs Lehigh students and businesses catering to them.

The Moores’ landlord had a different vision for his building and was opening up to the idea of renting it out to high-paying investors, a new trend within the South Side community.

This is something that Anna Smith, the director of the Community Action Development Corporation, is fighting against.

“My biggest concern is that if developers see an opportunity to purchase these buildings for corporate reasons, there will be a net loss in small businesses,” Smith said. “It is going to create instability in the market.”

This instability led the Moores to move their shop to Hellertown. She said the town wants to see small businesses succeed. 

“This is the best November we have had in four years,” Clayton Moore said. “We opened in late October.”

But this is not what matters most to them.

“We came into this business saying all we were going to do is sell this and do that,” Clayton said. “Then it hit me when I came into the shop and nine or 10 women were surrounding my wife drinking wine and trying on clothes. And I thought our job is done; it did something different.”

And together, they are fine with that.

“The universe pushes you in a direction where you think you are supposed to be,” Rose said. “But it never ends up like that.”

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