Lehigh Valley

Moravian Book Shop looks to the future

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - The Moravian Book shop opened in Bethlehem in 1745. It's said to be the oldest book shop in the country, maybe even the world.

"We argue that we're the oldest in the world since the prior record holder in London, England went out of business," said Richard Santee, president of the Moravian Book Shop's board of directors.

In 2015, seeing potential in the tax-friendly Neighborhood Improvement Zone, they expanded to Allentown.

"We were anxious to partner in all of that," said Santee. "While we realized that it might be a money losing proposition at first, we were willing to try to take that risk."

It didn't work out. They closed last week, he says because of low foot traffic and people shopping online.

"While we were planning brick and mortar expansion, the retail world direction really is to less brick and mortar and more e-tail," he said.

So why should one think the store in Bethlehem will fare any better?

One of the reasons they expect continued success at the Bethlehem shop is because of its historic location, and because it's about more than books.

"People want to go to the Moravian Book Shop, not just because they can buy a Moravian Star there, but because it's in the middle of a vibrant historic district," Santee said.

As for downtown Allentown, in spite of high profile closures like the book shop, Shula's, and Sage, Santee still thinks it will succeed.

"Once the apartments are full," he said. "I think you're gonna see the downtown Allentown take off. I wish we could have reserved our option to get involved in Allentown for about 2 years hence.

In business, like life, it's hard to predict the future.

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