By Karen Blackledge
The Danville News
DANVILLE — Ted Strosser moved his business from Lewisburg to Danville because he envisions it as a growing area.
In January, he opened Strosser Architecture & Conservation Inc. in the former Brittain Building at 319 Mill St. He purchased the building and is restoring the first floor for offices and plans to restore the second and third floors as a higher-end apartment.
A business owner since 2010 and architect since 1994, Strosser will restore the front of the late Victorian building dating to about 1910.
He’s part of a flurry of activity in Danville — the most Jim Wilson has seen since he’s been executive director of the Danville Business Alliance the past five years.
“We’re poised to see a lot of progress over the next several years,” Wilson said.
Businesses in the downtown have been moving to larger quarters, business owners have been buying buildings and new businesses have relocated here.
“The building was a good investment and Danville is a good community to invest in,” said Strosser who is designing projects in Danville and an area stretching to the New York line, Harrisburg, Hazleton and State College.
“We saw a lot of growth happening here,” said Jason Clapp, Strosser’s project manager.
Strosser has already moved from Milton to an apartment recently renovated by Prudential Hodrick Realty.
Occupying upper floors on Mill Street is one of the business alliance’s major goals, along with filling vacant storefronts, which have become fewer over the last year:
P Old Mill Crafts & Things and Jo’s Just Cruisin’ Travel Agency moved to larger space at 310 Mill St.
P Victoria’s Photography Studio is buying a larger building at 299 Mill St.
P Old Forge Brewing Co. plans to purchase and expand to the former Lemon A’Peel building at 298 Mill St.
P Century 21 Mertz & Associates moved to the former Finn’s building at 216 Mill St.
P Jonesy’s Sub Shack opened at 219 Mill St.
P Chef Willie’s Creamery moved to expanded quarters from Lower Mulberry Street to 252 Mill St. and added soups, sandwiches and burgers to its ice cream fare.
P The former Willie’s location, at 8 L. Mulberry St., has been sold and is being renovated.
P Prudential Hodrick Realty, which relocated from Mahoning Township to Mill Street, renovated four apartments on the first, second and third floors.
With Old Forge Brewing Co.’s impending move, the Impressions building is for sale. “Various interested people have looked at it,” Wilson said. “The building has a lot of potential.”
Michael Kuziak, owner of the former Mulberry’s Restaurant on Mill Street, said there have been people interested in renting the building. He has been renovating the inside.
The former Wolf’s building, also on Mill Street, was recently sold. Wilson anticipates it will house a retail operation on the first floor and residential upstairs.
Strosser Architecture — the only architect downtown — designed the restoration and front entry of St. Joseph Church and is designing improvements at St. Joseph School. The firm is doing a design for Jack Metzer Volkswagen-Volvo, designed the new location of The English Garden in Riverside and has done residential projects in the Danville area.
Wilson said businesses are seeing opportunities — good reasons to stay in Danville — and are buying building.
“We have a strong economy here in Montour County which has helped us get through the recession a lot better than many other communities in the area,” he said.
The Cotner building — next to Century 21 — the Lemon A’Peel building and the Impressions building are being looked at in detail as part of Danville’s upper floor study. Wilson said he understood AB3 Block-by-Block Development of Harrisburg has completed studies of the Lemon A’Peel and Cotner buildings.
A study of the Impressions building should start in March. The buildings were identified as a representation of buildings in Danville by focus groups.
The study should show how the buildings can be used as architectural and financial models and how they could be renovated, he said. Those models can be adopted for other downtown buildings, he said.
Downtown residents drive business
The premise is people living downtown will spur more of a vibrant economy and drive the downtown to attract more businesses, Wilson said. “By having additional people in the downtown, we can attract the types of businesses surveys the last 10 to 15 years have indicated people would like to see,” he said.
Danville has the basics, including a pharmacy, two grocery stores, McWilliams Homecare and Uniform Shoppe and Beiter’s Department Store, Wilson said. “In terms of specialty retail, what we believe will help attract business is filling the upper floors with people who will likely spend money in the downtown,” he said.
Wilson said Danville has gotten the attention of people in and outside the region. “It certainly hasn’t hurt Danville has had a number of articles in national and international publications,” he said.
Last April, he and Penn State representatives presented a program at a national conference in Houston showing community organizations in a rural town and a metropolitan area making differences in economic and community development.
“We’re helping to create an environment and atmosphere where business expansions have gotten noticed and the attention of people in the area,” he said.
Other factors attracting business include Montour Area Recreation Commission establishing Danville as a destination, schools and their influence on people moving here or staying here and major employers, including Geisinger Medical Center, Merck and U.S. Gypsum, he said.