I recently walked through The Outdoor Shops at the Lehigh Valley Mall and noticed something odd.
You probably noticed the building's less-than-stellar appearance during the usual stop-and-go traffic dance near the MacArthur Road/Seventh Street exit on Route 22.
Reader emails and voice mails over my four years authoring this column have one constant question: What's with the Macy's building?
Dark spots spawned by exhaust from the highway pepper the light-colored building, taking a bit of the sheen off the mall's hopeful image as the region's premier shopping destination.
One retail expert said exterior upgrades are usually last on the to-do list for merchants, since they don't necessarily boost sales.
Even Whitehall Township Mayor Ed Hozza can't escape inquiries about the store's dirty appearance.
"I was asked the same question at a social function on Friday evening," Hozza said in an email.
Hozza passed on this explanation about the building's exterior woes:
"When the store was built in 1976 as a Bamberger's Department Store, a new type of white exterior architectural block was used," he said. "Since the block has ridges built into it and is very porous, this allowed Route 22 grime and fumes to adhere to it more readily than other construction block over the last 36 years."
Mall spokeswoman Amanda Johnson said the 212,000-square-foot Macy's building is maintained by the department store chain, which took over the former Bamberger's space in late 1986.
Macy's spokeswoman Elina Kazan said the building has been power-washed before as routine maintenance.
"We do intend to power-wash the facade again in the near future to remove buildup from the traffic along Route 22," she said.
For the moment, however, the building is showing a lot more than just the Macy's moniker. Maybe light-colored buildings near a high-traffic area like Route 22 aren't the best idea.
Boscov's department store is also showing similar dark spots on a few portions of its facade facing Grape Street. Attempts to reach Boscov's CEO and President Al Boscov for comment were unsuccessful.
The dirty exteriors aren't surprising, said Jeff Green, president and CEO of Phoenix-based retail consultant Jeff Green Partners.
"Usually interior remodels come first because they generate the highest additional sales, so that means exterior remodels are further down on the list," Green said. "Sometimes a developer will pressure a merchant like Macy's to do something about that and then they would say pony up some money to help and the developer usually never will."
That's enough on that topic. Let's talk openings.
Lehigh Valley Mall will soon house an iPhone repair store named Mobile Genius.
Founder Josh MacGown said the business has been booming since he opened his inaugural store in downtown Allentown last year.