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Allentown cornerstone Neo moving to Elmwood Avenue

An expiring lease and the need for lower rent led sisters Joan and Joyce Zoerb to move their Neo gift shop to Elmwood Avenue, after 22 years at the corner of Allen and Franklin streets.

"I feel bad about leaving. We all kind of played off each other," said Joan Zoerb, of the intersection that features a nearby dress shop, antiques stores, hair salon and restaurants.

Neo, which is known for flowered gift bows so elaborate that people hesitate to open their presents, will open in September in an Elmwood Avenue space left empty by the defunct Junior League Thrift Shop.

For the rest of this month, the Zoerb sisters will have a 20-percent off sale on their stock that remains: From a $325 metal pig bench to a $72 set of floral etched wine glasses, $12.50 salt and pepper shakers made from shells and $9 mandarin-coriander dishwashing liquid.

The space they will move into at 512 Elmwood will be less than half old store's size -- about 2,000 square feet of display area from 5,000 square feet -- but the price was right.

Landlord Tim Klentos lowered the rent to fill the storefront that has been empty since November when the thrift store closed.

Klentos, who spent a few hundred thousand dollars to open his upscale Mythos restaurant two years ago, said having a new store on the street to attract shoppers was the most important thing.

"To make a couple hundred dollars extra to wait is not worth it," he said.

"Finally I found these beautiful people," he said of his first meeting with the Zoerbs. "The first minute I figured out this is going to work out."

Neighboring store owners on Elmwood say they, too, are pleased about Neo's impending arrival. In her last 26 years as owner of Blue Mountain Coffee at 509 Elmwood, Mary Ann Greer has noticed how business ebbs and flows to different parts of the street.

Now the area several blocks away, by the Cleveland Avenue intersection and Spot Coffee, seems to be the hot spot.

Lately, her 500 block between West Utica Street and Hodge Avenue, seems emptier: The Pier 1 store has been closed and vacant since February 2006. The old Sweet Tooth space has been for rent since the ice cream and sweet shop moved to the Allen Street intersection last summer.

"With Neo coming in, it's like new life coming in," Greer said.


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