West End Theatre District

West End Theatre District

For almost 13 years, Elena Pascal has had a front row seat in Allentown’s West End Theatre District of Allentown.

“I always felt an affinity for this part of Allentown, a nice little area where small businesses have blossomed,” says Pascal, whose BoutiqueToGo at 522 N. 19th St., which sells women’s clothing and accessories, sits across from the Civic Theatre of Allentown, the nearly century-old art deco landmark that’s known as the crown jewel of west Allentown.

“This entire neighborhood, it’s a microcosm of the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s of the last century when people shopped and walked and knew store owners,” she says. “We have loyal customers who love shopping small, and they’re showing up. They’re helping us bridge this horrible pandemic.

“They feel safe here. It’s a nice area,” Pascal adds. “We get people from other parts of the Lehigh Valley. It’s not quite as artsy as New Hope, but it’s small, accessible, and welcoming.”

Anchored by Civic, which celebrated the completion of major renovations two years ago, Allentown’s theater district encompasses a 30-block area from 17th to 22nd Streets and from Liberty to Washington Streets. Within it are boutiques and small independent businesses, from coffee shops to service stations, and about a dozen restaurants and pubs.

“Our newest restaurant is Greenhouse Enoteca at Tilghman and 22nd Streets, and then we have restaurants that have been here for a long time, like Henry’s Salt of the Sea and the Fairgrounds Hotel,” says Stephen Rohrbach, president of the West End Alliance, a nonprofit, volunteer organization founded to make the West End Theatre District a more attractive place to live, visit, and do business.

The alliance also strives to create a sense of community among residents, Muhlenberg College students, entrepreneurs, artisans, and visitors within the West End. Its members also help preserve and enhance the neighborhood’s aesthetic charm by maintaining trees and planters, which receive new plants three times a year, and decorating 19th Street with seasonal lighting on rooflines, similar to what you might see at Philadelphia’s Boathouse Row.

Accessibility is another part of the theater district’s attraction, Rohrbach says, noting how residents who live in the West End and college students often bike or walk into the neighborhood to shop and eat. “One of the things that has made it successful is that it’s pedestrian friendly and approachable and gives you the feeling that you’ve entered a throwback era,” he says.

Two of the West End Alliance’s signature events were canceled this year because of the pandemic, the annual West End St. Patrick’s 5k in March and the West End World of Food Festival, which would have been held Sept. 19.

But the staying power of the events has not diminished, despite the health crisis; about a third of the 800 runners who would have participated in the event in March completed a virtual running of the race by logging their miles on a measured course or on a treadmill and eagerly supplied photos of their creative alternatives.

Organizers are already working on next year’s food festival, which is set for Sept. 18, 2021, on 19th Street.

“The food festival draws 3,000 to 4,000 people, and we definitely try and put an emphasis on the international culture of Allentown,” Rohrbach says. “Both events bring out the spirit of the West End that everyone loves year round. We’re already at work planning for next year.”

With the lost revenue from the cancelation of the two events, the West End Alliance plans to start a giving campaign within the neighborhood to make up the $25,000 that would normally come from the 5k and the food festival, Rohrbach says. “We’ve done very well in the past, and I have a good balance to work with to get through this one year,” he adds.

A project management consultant, Rohrbach appreciates all there is to hold on to and celebrate by living in the West End and its proximity to the theater district.

“We’re very appreciative of older construction,” he says. “But we decided when we had our kids that we wanted a brand new house in the suburbs. Within three years, we knew that was not for us. So we came back to this type of neighborhood where houses are not all cut from the same cloth.”

Pascal, too, has deep roots in the neighborhood, having grown up in the West End and participated in educational programs at the theater when she was a girl. It’s something worth protecting, she says, recalling how business owners and residents have fought to keep chain businesses out of their neighborhood.

“We have a shoe store, a designer optical boutique, my store, several jewelry stores, restaurants, all centered around 19th Street and the theater and within close proximity of the Allentown Fairgrounds,” she says. “Live events at the theater have been suspended, but they will reopen and this little area will continue to thrive. We have loyal customers who love shopping small and they’re showing up.”

Civic Theatre of Allentown to hold virtual fundraiser

Civic Theatre of Allentown will present “No Tonys & No Tapas,” a virtual performance and online auction to replace its usual annual fundraiser of the year, “Tonys & Tapas,” which had to be canceled this past June due to COVID-19. You can experience the event virtually on the theatre’s YouTube channel at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 17.

“You’ll be entertained by members of the Civic Theatre Company and get to participate in an exciting online auction,” says Diane Donaher, managing director of Civic Theatre.

Some of the auction items include:

  • Acting class and monologue coaching session with Civic actor Kathleen Oswalt and Will Morris, Civic’s associate artistic director and production manager
  • Zoom “cocktails” with William Sanders, Civic’s artistic director, and two time Tony winner Joe Montello, who’s directed several successful Broadway plays, including “Wicked,” “Take Me Out,” and “Assassins.”
  • “Ask Me Anything,” a 30-minute interaction with a theatrical professional from a Broadway show such as “Come From Away” or “The Lion King.”
  • Two upper mezzanine tickets to the 2021 Tony Awards in New York City.

Also, visit www.civictheatre.com for listings of two more virtual concerts and shows every third Thursday of each month starting with “No Tonys & No Tapas!”

Civic Theatre will also announce its 2020-21 season during the event on Sept. 17. “Whether virtually or in person, we’re working to serve our mission to the community. The show must and WILL go on!” Donaher says.

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