Life In The Christmas City

Originally published in The American Conservative.

There was a time, last century when one small Pennsylvania city helped build and defend America. Through its namesake steel company, Bethlehem—in the Lehigh Valley, about 90 minutes west of New York City—built wartime ships and bequeathed a nation of landmark bridges and skyscrapers. In Manhattan alone, Bethlehem Steel’s beams constructed the Woolworth Building, Rockefeller Center, and the George Washington Bridge. It’s hard to imagine today’s urban landscape without the company’s legacy.

But Bethlehem Steel, like so many iconic companies in America, couldn’t survive the global economy. Through a passage of incarnations and reinventions, the city of Bethlehem moved on—and eventually prospered. Over time, the city has even benefitted from its proximity to New York. Tourists from the metro region, for instance, annually visit Bethlehem’s historic downtown. Meantime, a booming logistics industry, which replaced the steel mills, supplies Gotham and the East Coast. And an urban exodus, hastened by the pandemic, drives the Lehigh Valley’s bullish real estate market and population growth. In many ways, the region is experiencing a renaissance despite this period. As Becky Bradley, executive director of the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, remarked: “We aren’t the Rust Belt, U.S.A.” 

Still, the Covid-19 crisis presents challenges in Bethlehem, known as the Christmas City. This holiday season, the downtown’s small business owners face…