Four historic storefronts in South Allison Hill are due to get facelifts in 2019, thanks to $60,000 worth of grants from a neighborhood nonprofit.
Tri-County Community Action is launching the third year of the South Allison Hill business façade improvement program, a historic preservation and business development effort that helps commercial property owners boost their building’s curb appeal.
Property owners can apply for up to $15,000 to make improvements to the exterior of their retail or office space. The project is part of an ongoing effort to bolster retail corridors on Derry and Market streets, according to TCCA neighborhood revitalization manager Julie Walter.
Walter said that most entrepreneurs in South Allison Hill have low or moderate incomes, and many are immigrants. The façade improvement grants offer a much-needed cash infusion that helps them maintain expensive historic properties.
“This is all about keeping buildings up to code, making sure they last, and supporting small businesses and bringing people into the neighborhood,” Walter said.
Derry and Market streets were among Harrisburg’s busiest commercial corridors in the first half of the 20th century. But discriminatory lending practices and the “white flight” to the suburbs decimated urban retail starting in the 1950s.
As middle-class white residents left urban areas, retail businesses followed, leading to a rise in suburban shopping centers and a decline in downtown storefront retail.
Harrisburg’s first suburban-style shopping plaza, Kline Village, was constructed in 1951. (It recently sold to a New York-based owner who hopes to fill its many vacant storefronts.)
The lull in retail activity led to some deterioration in South Allison Hill’s commercial property stock. Some historical storefronts languished from decades of neglect; others were altered by sloppy renovations.
Today, many of the storefronts along Derry and Market streets house cafés, grocery stores, bodegas and hair and nail salons. Some have been converted into office space, such as the site of the Latino Hispanic American Community Center at 1317 Derry St.
One of the aims of TCCA’s facade improvement program is to restore the historic properties to their original condition.
In the 1930s, the current LHACC office space housed Ellis Confectionary, a family-owned business offering homemade candy and ice cream. Thanks to a TCCA grant, the property recently got new doorbells, lighting fixtures and windows thanks to match details shown in archival images.
TCCA also helped renovate a property at 1325 Derry St., the old site of Kitzmiller’s Pharmacy that later housed Tacos La Barca taqueria. A TCCA grant allowed the property owners to paint the façade and remove patches of vinyl siding.
Another grant funded a dramatic renovation of a bodega at 1422 Derry Street, which is currently being renovated to become a new restaurant. The facade improvements included a fresh coat of paint and new lighting and windows.
Grantees must follow TCCA’s design guide when making changes to their properties. Walter also researches historic images of properties to guide renovations.
TCCA launched the façade improvement program in 2016 with funds from the Wells Fargo Regional Foundation, which allowed them to update two buildings. They awarded two grants in 2017 and 2018, using money from Impact Harrisburg and the Neighborhood Assistance Program, an initiative under the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.
The grant capacity will double in 2019 when TCCA gives four awards to neighborhood businesses.
TCCA has already given one award to the owners of 1300 Market St., a historic bank building that houses Capital Area Head Start. The funds will allow the owner to clean the building’s stone façade and repoint some discolored masonry.
Façade improvement grants require a simple, one-page application and a low match amount, Walter said. Recipients only have to invest $1,000 in branding to receive up to $15,000 in capital investments.
TCCA staff travel door-to-door on Market and Derry streets to invite business owners to participate in the program. Entrepreneurs who do not own their storefronts must provide a letter from their landlord sanctioning the improvements.
One challenge facing the program is getting out-of-town landlords to sign off on renovations, according to TCCA outreach coordinator Jarvis Brown. But he said most landlords welcome an offer of easy money to increase their property value.