Breaking Lehigh Valley

by Wendy Karopoulos

Every weekend in 1990, as I drove home from Long Island, NY, I would pass a Bally’s Total Fitness Center. It was totally lit up both inside and outside. With enormous windows on the building, you could clearly see everything and everyone inside, and the outside of the building was lit by shimmering neon lights which encircled the building with an awesome glow. This was such an eye-catching property! I thought that the Lehigh Valley was in need of one of these, so I proceeded to call the national fitness chains with this goal in mind.

This is where the two main challenges I faced in com- mercial real estate came in: 1) trying to get national retailers into the Lehigh Valley, and 2) being a woman in commercial real estate. Making calls to the commercial brokers went mainly unanswered. Nobody knew who I was and the stigma was that a woman wouldn’t have any clients worth their time. But, I kept after them and finally, I did get through to one of the brokers representing LA Fitness. Their reason for not coming to the Lehigh Valley in the 1990’s was it was “too green”, meaning that there is too much green showing on the aerials, or not enough population. So, both being a woman in commercial real estate and being in commercial real estate in the Lehigh Valley in the 1990’s was challenging.

Now, in any industry one has to prove one’s self and I real- ize this. But, there was an added layer being a woman, and it was clearly evident that I needed to break through this barrier. Perseverance is the name of the game. I was in an industry that I loved, and in an area that I was born and raised in. Little by little, the commercial brokers started recognizing my name. I don’t know if it was my continual calling and leaving messages or the fact that other com- mercial brokers started realizing that I was working with quality retail clients and quality retail properties, and it was probably a little of both. And, as time went on, I no- ticed a change in the attitude of the commercial brokers. I had broken through and proven myself, through persever- ance and years of hard work.

As time went on, the Lehigh Valley started to grow. More employers realized how convenient the Valley was, and that it was a place where people wanted to live, work and play. As more employers came and the current businesses grew, more people came to the Lehigh Valley, which drove the need for more retail establishments to locate here. Retailers like LA Fitness, for example, which had no inter- est in the 1990’s is now open and thriving in the Lehigh Valley. Properties that sat vacant are filled. New national retailers are now flocking to the Valley. The Lehigh Valley had broken through and proven itself — just as I had!
Now I have to make a call to another national broker…

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