The hunt for quality fried chicken has gotten a little harder, thanks to the closure of Maryland Fried Chicken in Palmer Township earlier this year.
The fast-casual restaurant at 2469 Nazareth Road, in the 25th Street Shopping Center, was an area staple for 45 years and the last remnant of chain in the Lehigh Valley. The first eatery opened on Stefko Boulevard in Bethlehem in 1968 and there also was a location in Allentown.
For decades, diners (myself included) flocked to the eateries not only for the restaurant's savory poultry, but also for its pork barbecue, seafood combinations and various sides such as mashed potatoes, baked beans and coleslaw.
The main draw, however, was the chicken — hand-cut and trimmed every day. It was cooked fresh (never frozen) and dusted with a light-seasoned flour before frying.
While I frequented the restaurants, I never realized how much of an institution they had become until I received e-mails and phone calls from readers who were acting as though they had just lost a family member.
Geraldine Hottle of Bethlehem dined at the Palmer restaurant every couple weeks and was "very saddened" to hear the news from a friend. She used to patronize the Bethlehem location, which is now a Cigar & Cigarette Outlet, for years before a fire closed it in 2011.
While she lives within walking distance of the KFC on Easton Avenue in Bethlehem, Hottle will only go there if she's hungry for Long John Silver's, which shares the space.
"Maryland topped that place [KFC] all together," she said. "There's something about that chicken that I just don't like. It's not the same."
According to a 2008 article by my former colleague Marion Callahan, the restaurant's name never was an indication of where the chicken came from. Instead, the first store in Orlando was named Maryland Fried Chicken as a publicity stunt to lure the influx of Marylanders relocating to Florida with Lockheed Martin.
That initial store turned into a 200-restaurant chain in the 1960s; the late Thomas Workman of Wilson opened all three Lehigh Valley locations. The franchise lasted only a few years, however, and less than 30 independently operated stores exist today — mostly in the South.
In 2008, Workman sold the Bethlehem and Palmer eateries to Nazareth's Paul Matula, who was a short-order cook at the Palmer location in the 1970s. Matula refused to comment on the closure. The Palmer store closed on Jan. 12.
Some good news for the shopping center though is that the space formerly occupied by Maryland Fried Chicken could be merged with its neighboring vacant storefront, formerly occupied by CVS Pharmacy, to become one larger space.
According to Realtor James Balliet of the South Whitehall Township-based KW Commercial-The James Balliet Commercial Group, there has been "quite a bit of interest" in the space and the owner of the shopping center is looking at the possibility of knocking out the wall between the two spaces to form a 15,500-square-foot space for an undisclosed larger user.
Another positive development in Palmer is the March 1 opening of Milton Wade Salon, a hair salon offering coloring, cuts and extensions, in the Greenway Plaza at 3506 Greenway St. (next to Giuseppe's Italian Restaurant).
The business, owned by Milton Fedd of Palmer, also will offer waxing, manicures and pedicures in the future. Info: miltonwadesalon.com.
In nearby Easton, Time Photo Studios at 15 Centre Square (next to Pearly Baker's Alehouse) will hold a grand opening at 1 p.m. May 4.
The business, which says it is a "destination for unique child and family portraits," evolved out of Baby Time Photos, a company that began taking photos of newborns at Easton Hospital more than a year ago.
"The clientele kept wanting us to come back and take more photos, so we decided to open a separate studio where we could do everything," said Wendy Jamison, who co-owns the studio with her partner, Tara Hawthorne.
Guests of the grand opening can pose for a free media photo and tour sets for Mother's Day, graduations and all occasions. Info: timephotostudios.com.
Retail Watchers looking to build the vehicle of their dreams or simply give their current car a face lift should note that Nothing Leaves Stock outgrew its location of more than 10 years at Landis Street and Route 309 in Coopersburg (next to R/T Street Rods) and moved to a larger space at 5780 Main St. in Upper Saucon Township (near Southern Lehigh High School) on March 1.
Southern Lehigh grad Josh Paashaus, who trained at Lehigh County Vocational Technical School and Universal Technical Institute in Phoenix, Ariz., owns the full fabrication shop that specializes in custom work. It also offers vehicle repair and maintenance, from state inspections to major engine swaps.
Customers can check out one-of-a-kind Nothing Leaves Stock cars — built from the ground up — while their cars are serviced. Info: nothingleavesstock.com.
For Retail Watchers wanting to work on their own body as opposed to their car's, Iron Crush Strength & Conditioning is set to open May 1 at 1044 S. Trexlertown Road, Suite 108, in Upper Macungie Township. The strip mall also includes Lehigh Valley Vacuum and New China Moon.
According to owner Adam Volcskai of Drums, Luzerne County, the 1,037-square-foot fitness center will offer small group instruction (six clients for each instructor). Its target clients will be current and former athletes — from students getting ready for upcoming sports seasons to older adults wanting to get more serious about their fitness. Info: Iron Crush Strength & Conditioning on Facebook.
North of Iron Crush, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board has decided to put a Wine & Spirits store at 7801 Glenlivet West Drive, Suite E, in Upper Macungie Township.
According to Shawn Kelly, deputy director of external affairs for the PLCB, the location was decided upon because of growth in the area. It is expected to open in six to 12 months.
Thanks to several Retail Watchers, including Shawn Sefranek of Hellertown, I learned that Hard Wok Buffet at 2641 Easton Ave. in Bethlehem has been closed for at least two weeks.
It's unclear whether the closure is permanent or temporary. The phone number is no longer in service and a handwritten sign on the door only reads "closed."
I encountered a similar situation — a non-working phone number and locked doors — at Pasta Ria at 3350 Schoenersville Road in Bethlehem. The Italian restaurant has been closed for a few months, according to readers.
I'll finish with a couple happenings in Allentown.
First, soft pretzel fanatics can breathe a sigh of relief — the Philly Pretzel Factory formerly at 1316 Hanover Ave. (in Allentown Commons) will reopen Tuesday in its new space at 809 Hamilton St., across from Allentown Brew Works.
Owner Bert Charlie, who also operates two concession stands at Coca-Cola Park, is hoping to garner more foot traffic with the arrival of the PPL Center in the fall.
There are more than 150 Philly Pretzel Factory shops on the East Coast, including others in Palmer and Upper Macungie townships.
Second, I have an update on Baker's Florist at 134 Ridge Ave. In December, I wrote that the flower shop would close by the end of 2013 because of sluggish sales. Apparently, that did not happen.
Co-owner Denise Cooke told me last week that she and her husband will keep the shop open as long as possible in hopes of finding a new owner to take over the 98-year-old business. Info: 610-432-9315.
Retail Watch keeps track of new store, restaurant and bank development in the Lehigh Valley. Have a question about a retail construction project, store opening or chain you'd like to see come to the area? Contact reporter Ryan Kneller at 610-820-6597 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Retail Watch appears every Sunday.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun