Officially opening in Nov. 2021, the Riverport Public Market is set to take over the space of the former Starters Sports Bar restaurant at 17 W. Second St. (which has been vacant since 2013). The market is aimed at helping the Lehigh Valley after it was named a food desert by the USDA. (Mannan Mehta/B&W Staff)

South Bethlehem prepares for 25 new food vendors through Riverport Public Market

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The Riverport Public Market is set to open in November 2021 in South Bethlehem. The market, which was originally supposed to open in spring 2020, will eventually feature 25 food and beverage vendors. 

According to its website, Riverport Public Market aims to create a “vibrant new place to celebrate local food and craft culture.” In addition to food and drink, the 24,000-square-foot space is set to feature cooking classes and events in its demonstration kitchen. 

The arrival of the new market comes shortly after Bethlehem was declared a food desert by the USDA. Food deserts are defined as areas where it is difficult to find affordable, fresh-quality food. 

Kelly Allen, board chair at the Bethlehem Food Co-op, said a lack of a livable wage is the largest hurdle between low-income families and quality food.  

“Quite often the mistake that is made by people who want to address (food deserts) is that by putting a store there, all of a sudden everything is going to be fixed,” Allen said. “What makes food deserts so harmful to communities is that the individuals who are impacted the most are typically those who are of low and moderate income.”

Allen said those with vehicles and those who are not limited by socioeconomic burdens can live in food deserts without feeling the effects of a lack of convenient, walking-distance food offerings, as opposed to those with lower incomes.   

However, Allen believes that the market will benefit local residents. 

“There is a bus stop nearby and plenty of sidewalk,” Allen said. “Granted, getting across Third Street is a monumental pain. But if they’re mindful of the whole community and not just those who are of ample means, then it should be able to do quite well.” 

John Whelan has lived in the Lehigh Riverport Condominium Association since 2006, which is located in the same building as the market.

 He said he is excited at the prospect of a market so close to his home that will serve a variety of foods and drinks.

When he first moved into Riverport, he said the market’s space was occupied by a sports bar. However, it was very family friendly and offered lots of activities for young children and adults alike. 

Within a few years, however, Whelan said the venue had taken on a new role as a nightclub beginning at 10 p.m., which was unpleasant for Riverport’s residents. 

“It got pretty awful,” Whelan said. “There were gun firings in the parking garage, and that’s when it all started to go downhill. That was disappointing and it made it very disruptive for the residents because it was very noisy. Although a lot of the problems and the fights and the shootings happened late at night when the families weren’t there, that sends a message.” 

Whelan said he and many other residents he knows are happy the market is being built, opposed to a bar. He said the market will be closed at a reasonable hour and it is not the type of place that will be noisy.

Batch Microcreamery, an ice cream shop with locations in Allentown and Quakertown, will be opening a new location in Riverport Public Market. Co-owner Rick Pongracz said he is excited to bring something new to the rebuilding of South Side Bethlehem.

“(Bethlehem) has been going through a transformation for a while and it is continuing to grow,” Pongracz said. “Just being a part of that is exciting.” 

A native of Allentown who is now living in West Bethlehem, Pongracz said the new location will allow them to reach a local demographic who may not travel to Allentown often. 

Whelan said he sees himself going to the market regularly, especially when the weather is bad and he wants the convenience of not having to leave his building to get a meal.

“I can go to the noodle bar, the burger bar, I can get ice cream or grab a beer,” Whelan said. “I think I’m pretty accurate when I say it fits the style of living of the majority of the people that live here. I’m sure they will be very happy with it.”

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