Bethlehem’s South Side will continue to expand its food and arts scene with the opening of an upscale food market in spring 2020.
Riverport Market, which will span 24,000 square feet and be open seven days a week, will be similar to Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia, Chelsea Market in New York City or Pike Place Market in Seattle, said Kim Culver, the project manager.
Culver said the idea formulated two years ago. Looking at the success of markets in the area, such as the Easton Public Market, she recognized the demand for more places like it in the Lehigh Valley.
Culver’s hope for the South Side market is to add to the existing “foodie paradise” in Bethlehem by bringing in additional ethnic options and specialty food items, such as Portuguese cuisine, sushi and homemade pierogies and pasta. The market will also have produce and cheese from local farmers, and it will offer nutritional awareness and food waste programs.
In addition to food, Riverport will showcase arts, entertainment and interactive experiences, such as art galleries with local artists’ work and live music. Local and celebrity chefs will hold live cooking shows and teach cooking classes and demonstrations. The programs will be offered for people of all ages, with some catered for children and others for senior citizens.
“We’re trying to create a cultural experience, not just a walk-through market,” Culver said.
Riverport will also have pop-up vendors. Culver said this is where she hopes to bring in vendors like the Bethlehem Farmers Market.
“We’re not trying to compete, but complete,” Culver said.
Deb Martin, the Bethlehem Farmers Market Manager, sees the market as an opportunity for collaboration.
Martin envisions Riverport as more of a dining space, so she hopes Riverport’s chefs will be interested in purchasing from the Bethlehem Farmers Market vendors. She views Easton as a model for Bethlehem because of the strong collaboration between its outdoor farmers market and indoor public market space.
“I look forward to having another place in Bethlehem where people can go to shop and (I) think it could be a benefit to (Bethlehem Farmers Market),” Martin said.
Culver said what she thinks is missing from a lot of markets is parking, which she said will not be an issue with Riverport Market’s numerous parking locations, including an on-site parking garage. Yet, she hopes the market’s location will make it easy for people to get to on foot.
Culver said the central location of Riverport is key, as it is in close proximity to the ArtsQuest center and the Banana Factory, as well as Lehigh University, Moravian College, DeSales University and Muhlenberg College. She said she hopes to draw in students for lunch and shopping.
“It’s bringing people that much closer to the river and enlivening a part of the South Side that doesn’t usually get a lot of foot traffic,” said Karen Pooley, a professor of practice of political science at Lehigh.
Culver’s goals for the market are encouraging economic growth, promoting walkability in Bethlehem and offering healthy food options at reasonable prices.
She thinks Bethlehem is lacking family-friendly restaurants, and sees Riverport as a place for everyone of all ages to enjoy.
Pooley said the South Side is increasingly creating more places that are for everyone in the community, not just for students or local residents. She hopes Riverport will aid that change even more.
“This market would be most successful, I think, if it could be the kind of place you walk in and everybody comes together,” Pooley said. “It would be a huge role for this market to play.”
Pooley is the director of the environmental policy design program at Lehigh. She teaches about community and economic development with a focus on Bethlehem’s South Side. Pooley said her classes look at the ways cities and neighbors invest in themselves by bringing more people into the community or providing a better quality of life for residents.
Pooley decided to take a group of her students on a trip to the space of the future market.
Students walked through the market with its developer, and learned more about the project and its goal for the community. The students also shared their ideas and recommendations.
“(The developers) are very curious to hear what students want,” Pooley said.
Pooley said Riverport will be a food retailer in a neighborhood that could always use more. Yet, she sees the potential for it to be more impactful for Bethlehem.
“The more creativity that’s brought into the market and the more it ties into existing organizations and schools…the more the community is found within the market, the more successful I think it’s going to be,” Pooley said.
The market is projected to open in May 2020 and will be located at 17 W. 2nd St.