Victorian heritage evident in Bellefonte appearance

The personality and appearance of a town can be a careful process of cultivation.

When the town has a history that stretches back to the mid-19th century, that cultivation becomes even more important.

For Bellefonte, the appearance of a box store — a Wal-Mart or a Best Buy — could compromise its Victorian aesthetic. A business must fit within the stone facades and quaint homes of the borough.

There are some larger businesses in the Bellefonte area, such as M&T Bank and Weis Markets, but the simple nature of the town makes it a choice place for small businesses to thrive, said Bellefonte Intervalley Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Gary Hoover.

“A majority of our local businesses would be considered small businesses and they are vital to the local economy,” he said.

More than 200 members make up the chamber of commerce, Hoover said, ranging in size from single entrepreneurs to large corporations in more than a dozen membership categories.

The local business community is very diverse, he said, which is more sustaining and better able to weather economic downturns that can affect one type of business more than others.

“A look at the Bellefonte chamber membership shows how diverse the local business community is,” he said. “In general, many of our small businesses are retail, food and services of some type.”

While the rest of the country took a hit when the recession began in 2008, Bellefonte remained stable, Hoover said. Now, it’s even seeing some growth as the national economy continues to improve.

Bellefonte has seen more investment in its buildings, he said, and has several important developments along the Spring Creek waterfront. This creates the opportunity for growth and improvement to attract additional businesses.

“The borough has been working on the waterfront development project for a couple of years,” he said.

Site improvements along the waterfront between West Lamb and West High streets will eliminate floodplain concerns, he said, allowing for those areas to be made available and sold to developers.

New construction is expected this year, he said, with a new walkway going in for flood control and as a public improvement project along the creek.

A number of businesses would be a good fit for the area, Hoover said. When the original survey and feasibility study were done, they indicated that the area would be good for a small hotel, retail space, office space, space for a market or condominium housing.

“It all depends on what the borough specifies in its sales agreement,” he said.

Even employment has been less severely affected overall compared with the rest of the state, Hoover said.

“However, all recessions or boom times are personal,” he said, “depending on how your specific business is actually doing.”

Residents and those from outside the area come to Bellefonte to open businesses, he said. Many people from outside the area are very impressed with when they visit Bellefonte and sometimes return as residents to start businesses.

In the case of Creekside Rocks & Gems, Howard resident Luke Laubscher discovered an empty store that he thought would make a great place for his mineral shop. Victorian House owner Mitch Bradley grew up in Bellefonte, started his business in New Jersey then brought it back to his hometown.

“Bellefonte is always ready to welcome you,” Hoover said, “and to welcome you back.”