Sneaker Villa, a Reading-based retailer of urban athletic shoes and sportswear will open its 17th store and first in the Lehigh Valley in Allentown in the first floor of a downtown building that is now topped with luxury apartments.
Besides high-end brand-name footwear, the chain sells apparel from brands such as Akademiks and Rocawear, said Sneaker Villa Chief Executive Officer Jason Lutz. The store is is expected to open in early 2007.
''We are really excited,'' Lutz said. ''We've had a lot of success. Our business strategy is looking at neighborhood communities, the downtown market. It is a vibrant area. The downtown is hustling and bustling with people. We hire from the neighborhoods. We promote from within. Our store managers have to live within the neighborhood they are located in.''
Sneaker Villa, which has stores in a variety of Pennsylvania cities including York, Reading, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, has a record of community involvement.
Its store branches work regularly with neighborhood charity groups and schools. Students at some local schools near store locations get 5 percent off for A's on their report cards. Others get free tickets to high school dances for attending classes at least 90 percent of the time.
The company ranked 64 on Inc. Magazine's ''Urban 100,'' this year, a list of fast-growing businesses with a concentration in inner-city neighborhoods. The magazine reported that it grew 219.9 percent between 2000 and 2004, employing 165 and recording 2004 sales of $24.5 million.
Mayor Ed Pawlowski said Sneaker Villa's interest in Allentown is a promising sign that the retail quality on Hamilton Street is slowly improving.
''The goal is to systematically up the quality of the retail,'' Pawlowski said.