By CHRISTINA TATU | OF THE MORNING CALL | JAN 14, 2019 | 12:00 AM
For nearly 100 years, Kaplan Enterprises Inc. has called Easton’s riverfront home, but next month the maker of custom awnings, flags and banners will move from downtown to the city’s West Ward.
The move will free up a prime location on Easton’s Northampton Street gateway for development of apartments and retail, while at the same time bringing new business to the vacant Ealer Electric Building at 1298 Spruce Street.
Co-owner Randi Kaplan said her family has owned the business in Easton since 1923, starting out in a barn behind the family home on Church Street, where they stayed until 1928.
From there, the family moved the business to three different Northampton Street locations, before settling in their current location in a four-story red brick Victorian-style building at 100 Northampton Street in 1984.
“You figure this is our fifth location. It’s the business that’s the history, not the location,” Kaplan said when asked if she will miss the building after so many years.
According to Northampton County property records, the Kaplan family sold the property on July 23 to ODG 100-116 Northampton LLC.
The LLC is tied to developer Garrett Vassel, founding president of Optima Durant Group, a real estate company that focuses on development, construction, design and property management, according to its website.
The New York-based company was founded in 2017 and pursues projects in New York, Pennsylvania and Texas, the website says.
On Friday, Vassel said he’s planning apartments and retail for the property.
Like other developers in the city, Vassel was drawn in by Easton’s resurgence.
In recent years, dozens of projects have come to fruition in the city, including the Easton Public Market, Simon Silk Mill and multiple restaurants and boutique shops.
Vassel is particularly interested in plans for Hearst Magazines Enthusiast Group to move into the former Heritage Lanes Bowling Alley on South Third Street later this year.
Vassel hopes the apartment units he’s proposing will appeal to the young professionals Hearst will hire.
He says the units will be high-end, but Vassel does intend to offer more affordable units.
He calls his strategy a “mixed-bag approach” with units in different sizes and formats that will offer various price points.
Coupled with Easton’s proximity to New York City and the potential for rail transportation in the future, “I have to believe that this is a very good long-term investment,” Vassel said Friday.
Kaplan said her family decided to move from Northampton Street for several reasons.
Mostly, it’s because the Northampton Street building is too big, she said. The building is 24,000 square feet, including a parking lot that Kaplan estimates would have 15 spaces once a garage is removed.
The building dates to the 1880s and is across the street from the Separatist Beer Project and directly across the Delaware River from Phillipsburg. It has high-arched windows and detailed trim above striped awnings that top the storefront windows on the first floor.
At one time the building was a chocolate factory. Later it became Louis Ralph Furniture Store, then a liquor store and clothing store before the Kaplans moved in 1984, Kaplan said.
The upper floors are used for storage, which can be difficult for employees because there is no elevator, Kaplan said. Although there is a conveyor belt, it can only carry smaller parcels and isn’t much help when workers have to lug customer’s awnings to the top floors for storage in the winter, she said.
Because the building is in the city’s historic district, the Kaplans have been limited in changes they can make, such as widening the entrance doors so it’s easier to drop off large bolts of fabric.
“The move makes it so that the business can run more efficiently. It’s just something that makes sense,” Kaplan said.
She said the business is robust and still plans to have about eight employees — three to four full time and four to five seasonal workers.
In addition to selling brands like Hunter Douglas window treatments, the company also makes flags, awnings and banners for local fire companies, colleges, nursing homes, hospitals and other businesses.
The business was founded by Morris Kaplan and taken over by Sid Kaplan, Randi’s father. She now runs the business with her brother David Kaplan. The siblings have been helping around the shop since they were both children. They learned to sew on an old pedal sewing machine before using electric ones.
Kaplan says she still has her grandfather’s record keeping books for 1923 to 1924, which will make the trip to the new West Ward location.
At the former Ealer Electric building, Kaplan will occupy the first floor and have about 10,000-square-feet of space, she said.
Property records show that West Ward building was purchased by GLCJ Holdings LLC in October for $335,000.
The LLC is registered to an address associated with Chad Helmer, a senior project manager with Taggart Associates in Bethlehem.
Helmer said in a recent email that he has sold his stake in the partnership and directed questions to former Easton Director of Community and Economic Development Gretchen Rice, who Helmer said is one of the partners in the Spruce Street development.
Rice didn’t return a request for comment.
City officials had been trying to locate a grocery store in the former Ealer Electric building, but that project fell through last year. The building is two stories. Kaplan wasn’t sure what the second story would be used for.