A news feature, analyzing the changes in Milford’s business district

Milford’s new mojo

Reaching a broader demographic

By CHARLES PETERSHEIM
Posted 12/7/21

MILFORD, PA — While the commercial strip of Milford has been punching below its weight for years, several recent investments and startups could give the handsome district a new …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in
A news feature, analyzing the changes in Milford’s business district

Milford’s new mojo

Reaching a broader demographic

Posted

MILFORD, PA — While the commercial strip of Milford has been punching below its weight for years, several recent investments and startups could give the handsome district a new direction.

Bill Rosado’s Milford Hospitality Group is reframing the borough’s business district with a fresh injection of energy and vision, and a seemingly boundless budget to work with, which includes a management team whose singular focus is executing Rosado’s vision for his borough real estate assets.

“Over 80 jobs have already been created, but hundreds are the goal,” Rosado said in an emailed response to questions.

Small business landscape

Three coffee shops with vastly different ancillary offerings are creating that owner-customer intimacy that draws people to a downtown shopping district. The Milford’s Daily Grind and Sparkomatic Cafe and Talkhouse anchor both ends of the borough with newcomer Better World Store and Cafe stationed at the mid-point on Broad Street.

“The increase of people exploring around before and after the cinema shows and their dinner reservations is easy to see,” said Liam Hutchinson of Better World, which serves coffee, pastry, fine foods and hosts a small gift shop. He and wife and business partner, Tegan, made their bet on Milford before the Rosado purchases, and have “even more hope now for what Milford is becoming.”

“I’ve heard from several businesses that Small Business Saturday (the day after Black Friday) was the busiest day a lot of these businesses have ever had,” said Joe Dooley of the Milford Borough Council.  “And lines were out the door at the diner after the tree-lighting.”

Other stores have opened as well. Clothing and home decor store Sul Lago recently expanded from Lake Wallenpaupack. Retailer Mint describes itself as “Trendy, comfortable, and affordable fashions for women in the heart of Milford.” Homegoods store Willow offers an array of furnishing, gifts and items of interest.  Institutions such as Action Bikes and Naked Bagels have been long-term fixtures. The rule of thumb for Main Street development is that one well-run, busy business attracts others.

Milford has long been anchored by the gang at the Dimmick, Water Wheel and the Milford Diner restaurants, each of which turns tables like a jockey snaps his crop. Bars like Jive, Water Wheel cafe, Bar Louis and Dimmick reel in the patrons for spirits, beers, sports and music. Log Tavern Brewery, Mexican food purveyor Tequila Sunrise and tasty lunch spot Spoonful Soups and Eats round out the food scene with eclectic offerings.

Missed opportunities

Many similar towns have seen restaurant anchors like these spur the shopping traffic necessary to create and sustain a vibrant retail scene, but that has not been the case in Milford, where storefronts stay vacant or are rented cheaply to service businesses. Few regional shoppers count Milford as a not-to-miss destination. There are many businesses, but these businesses aren’t meshed together in either a coherent experience or cooperative networked spirit. The plethora of tattoo, cigarette and vaping stores and hair care shops speak to a Main Street that serves a purpose, but lacks a compelling brand that is aligned with the interests of shoppers that would support a more diversified retail scene.

“Milford Presents has created as many opponents as supporters,” said David Barol, who runs Sparkomatic Cafe and Talkhouse with his wife, Julie. Milford Presents is the organization currently seen as representative of the community business group. “There’s a lot of stories of businesses feeling victimized rather than incentivized by the people who run that group. That’s not good and it’s a distraction.”

To that point, a fledgling new business group is meeting at the Tom Quick on December 15 at 6:30 p.m.

There are more than a few anecdotal stories of a borough that is unpredictable in its zoning rules, and the seven-person architectural review board has perplexed many an applicant. Better World fought through six months of red tape to install a sink in order to serve coffee, which was to be its lead attraction. In the end, it did not get outright permission but rather what appears to be willful non-approval approval.

“We asked a lot of questions of the borough before we signed the lease, thought we got the answers we needed, but then the goalposts kept moving,” Hutchinson said.

While generally frustrated by his municipal interactions, Barol gave credit for the fact that “the council recently voted to amend the zoning law to permanently allow outdoor seating,” whose approval was broadened during the pandemic. “We need these simple measures in order to catch up after the shutdowns,” he said. “There are other things they can and should do as well.”

Some argue that mayor Sean Strub is not an energetic resource when addressing business or mainstreet issues. He declined to comment for this article.

Entrepreneurial energies

Without active mayoral or borough council interest in a community-wide plan, the work has been put into the hands of a new breed of Main Street businesses, showcased by the example of Lisa Gamarkian McAteer of McAteer and Will Estate with Keller Williams. Energetic and vocal, her two-year-old Broad Street real estate office is fast becoming a beacon of engagement and outreach, filling a civic void by offering a Halloween dance party, a Santa experience for area kids and a daily fist-pumping enthusiasm for Milford that is a vital marketing ingredient to any sustained Main Street development. Her Facebook page, Pike County PA Everything!, gained 12,000 followers in less than 12 months. The December 3 Santa event visit drew thousands to the borough.

“As a company, we are committed to giving everyone a fabulous community every day of the year,” McAteer said. “In Sparta, where I grew up, we had parades, tree-lighting, caroling, and Christmas parties that were open invitations to anyone who wanted to come. My mother was a Sunday school teacher and she had an open-door policy.”

Since buying more than $10 million in downtown commercial property, Rosado has begun to re-center Milford Borough as a destination for visitors beyond the arts, literature and culture. With a systemic event-planning process, Rosado’s team has given rise to renewed enthusiasm among some new start-ups.

“The growth of a town needs outside support. Weddings and events will be the backbone of our business plan,” Rosado said. “Bringing outside visitors for a couple of days at the time I believe will give much-needed traffic and client base for our local downtown retail shops.”

On November 20, Rosado brought hometown made-it-big musician hero Vanessa Carlton to the newly made-over Milford Theater. The capacity crowd bridged all cultural, political and economic divides that are currently of concern in Milford.

Family destination

With the Milford Cinema up and running with a full slate of family-friendly movies such as “Ratillion,” “Toy Story,” “Top Gun,” as well as horse and carriage rides from local non-profit favorite GAIT offered during the Christmas season, Rosado appears to be committing his full entrepreneurial toolbox to alter the direction of Milford’s main street, roughly defined as Hartford and Broad streets. Drawing families to downtown Milford is a goal of each of these businesses.

“There’s no reason I can see that Milford can’t be the best in the class,” McAteer said.

“Business is a service to the community,” Hutchinson said. “We have chosen Milford and we plan on sticking around and we want to see the whole of Milford succeed, not just for ourselves. In contrast with the borough government, the community support has been overwhelming.”

In the end, Milford has natural advantages that its Main Street competitors cannot leverage, such as the traffic that passes through it daily and its vibrant residential community. It hosts several music festivals, hundreds of little league baseball games and has six active parks. Milford’s quaintness of architecture and community is easily recognizable and attractive to a wider community of people who may currently view it as little more than a traffic bottleneck as they traverse Pike County.  

The future

Transforming Milford into something inviting for the average person or family in Pike and surrounding counties is the low-hanging fruit investors like Rosado and McAteer have in their sights as they build back Milford’s brand, block by block, into what they hope will be something greater than it has been in decades.

“We are going to change up some storefronts, create more offerings for the shopper,” Rosado said of his Broad Street storefronts.

If the recent example of lines wrapped around the block for hours in order for kids to plead their case with Santa at the McAteer and Will Estates Keller Williams real estate office is a harbinger of things to come, the nuts-and-bolts vision and professional execution of these new businesses indicate a reliable roadmap forward for Milford.

For a photo gallery of holiday shots, see "Home for the holidays in Milford, PA."

[Editor's note: The last name of David and Julie Barol, proprietors of the Sparkomatic Cafe and Talkhouse, was spelled incorrectly in the original online version and print edition of this story.  It was corrected here on December 11.]

Comments

No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here