June 19, 2024


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‘Love your selfie’ at new Allentown photo studio, featuring more than a dozen interactive themed booths


At the turn of the 21st century, most Americans were developing their film at local camera shops and pharmacy chains’ photo centers, only to be ultimately disappointed by at least a few pictures of closed eyes, blurry images and fingers blocking the lens.

Fast forward 20 years, rapidly advancing cell phone technology allows individuals to capture countless crisp photos with a multitude of filters, settings and editing capabilities, resulting in desired results instantaneously.

At the Lehigh Valley’s newest photo studio, The Selfie Experience, which opened in late April at 1115 Union Blvd. on Allentown’s East Side, you can take these skills to the next level with more than a dozen interactive themed booths.

Selfies, which are photos that a person takes of oneself, can be perfected in sets that include colorful artificial flowers, giant playing cards with inflatable dice and a clawfoot bathtub with clear plastic balls made to look like bubbles.

There are even booths made to look like you’re traveling on a flight, getting ready in front of a light-up makeup vanity and getting stuck in a storm with lightning behind clouds.

Props such as chairs, plush doughnuts and light-up hula hoops can be used in any booth, and customers can customize their lighting with dimmers and LED ring lights that connect to phones through Bluetooth.

Guests simply dock their phone on the light stand and hold a wireless clicker to “take the perfect selfie,” owner Lashonda Howard said.

“We already know that we take our own best pictures,” Howard said. “So, in this case, your phone’s screen is facing you so you know exactly what the pic is going to look like before you even snap it. You also can take videos for TikTok.”

Sessions are $30 for a hour or $15 for 30 minutes, but Howard often runs flash sales such as this weekend’s promotion of $5 for 30 minutes. Professional and amateur photographers are free with a paid client.

Howard plans to change the booths’ themes every few months to keep customers coming back for new experiences. Potential future themes include a marshmallow room, banana room, telephone room, New Year’s Eve party room, snow globe, kissing booth and ball pit.

“Whether you’re looking to market your clothing line, have a date night or just have fun with friends and family, this facility will inspire you and allow you to create whatever you want,” Howard said.

The Selfie Experience, which also can be reserved for bachelorette parties and other private events, is open 4-8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 3-8 p.m. Saturdays and 3-6 p.m. Sundays. Info: TheSelfieExperiencePA.com.

Not far from The Selfie Experience, HIT Fitness Boxing, a boxing facility offering 10-round bag and core training classes, held a soft opening Monday at 1247 Airport Road, in Allentown’s Airport Plaza.

Owner Joe Grisafi spent the past several months renovating a former Fine Wine & Good Spirits store, which moved to the nearby Airport Center in January 2021.

The facility offers one-hour classes, where instructors lead participants through 10 rounds of high-intensity bag, strength and core conditioning.

“Whether you’re looking to get ripped and fit, release daily stress, build confidence/self esteem, burn calories, or just looking to have a great time while burning fat, we are here to help you achieve your goals,” a message on the business’ website reads. Info: hitfitnessboxing.com.

From boxing to burritos, La Cocina del Abuelo, a family-owned eatery offering authentic Mexican cuisine such as tacos, tostadas and quesadillas, opened about two months ago at 621 W. Hamilton St. in downtown Allentown.

The space previously housed other eateries, including Blondie’s Cupcakes & Hot Dogs and Manhattan Pizza & Deli.

La Cocina del Abuelo, which mean’s “grandpa’s kitchen” in Spanish, is owned by Easton’s Greenberg H. Lemus.

The restaurant, with seating for around 25 customers, offers breakfast dishes such as pancakes, French toast, breakfast quesadillas, huevos rancheros, veggie omelets and chilaquiles (crispy tortilla chips smothered in a spicy green sauce topped with beans, cotija cheese and crema).

Lunch and dinner highlights include nachos, tortas, tacos, tostadas, chicharron and burritos and burrito bowls. Customers also can enjoy snacks such as shrimp ceviche and guacamole and chips, along with homemade desserts such as flan and churros with Nutella. Info: 484-274-6325.

About four miles west of The Selfie Experience, the Lehigh Valley Mall in recent weeks welcomed two new eateries — NYC Gyros and Indian Bite — on the Whitehall Township mall’s lower level near the main entrance.

Coming soon are four other businesses: And Pose Selfie Salon, Better Life With Bry, Hamsa Exoticz and Rivals Indoor Battlefield.

NYC Gyros, offering a fusion of American and international cuisines, opened about three weeks ago between in the former Frites space, between Asian Dynasty and Chick-fil-A.

Owner Veronica Santana, who grew up in the Bronx before moving to New York’s Orange County as a teenager, said that she is aiming to serve “a variety of food from a variety of cultures.”

Menu highlights include American staples such as burgers, hot dogs, chicken tenders and boardwalk fries; Latin American favorites such as rice and beans, pernil (roast pork) and tostones (fried plantains); and Greek options such as NYC Gyros’ namesake dish, available in lamb or beef.

Indian Bite, offering authentic Indian cuisine, opened May 4 in the former Wetzel’s Pretzels space next to Verizon Wireless.

The takeout eatery, operated by Tejas Mary, offers popular platters (served with basmati rice/naan) such as chicken biryani, chicken tikka masala and paneer butter masala.

Other menu highlights include snacks such as vegetable samosa and vegetable pakora; desserts such as gulab jamun and malai matka kulfi (traditional Indian ice cream); and drinks such as mango lassi and Indian-style tea.

Across from Indian Bite, Better Life With Bry, offering natural and handmade body, home and cleaning products, is tentatively set to open its first storefront in late August, owner Bryanna Tomkins said.

The business, which has been operating via a mall kiosk for the past several months, offers locally made products such as body scrubs and washes, lotions, essential oils, soy candles and melts, foaming hand soap and all-purpose cleaner.

“All of our products are completely natural, and all of our scents come from our essential oils,” Tomkins said. “Our top musk scent is black sea, and our top light scent is mango coconut.”

Around two dozen scents are available, including other musk selections such as sandalwood and oakmoss and amber; other light options such as citrus agave and cactus flower and jade; and seasonal picks such as fresh grass and pineapple sage.

Other businesses coming soon to the mall include Hamsa Exoticz, offering rare, exotic and retro snacks from around the world, which is opening on the lower level near Barnes & Noble; And Pose Selfie Salon, featuring selfie backdrops and themed rooms, which is opening on the upper level near Macy’s; and Rivals Indoor Battlefield, a family-friendly entertainment facility where guests use Nerf Rival guns to shoot their opponents.

Less than a mile south of the Lehigh Valley Mall, Jordan Parkway Diner, a 1950s-themed diner offering breakfast, lunch and dinner daily, is expected to open in about a month at 1162 MacArthur Road, owner Ledo Wally said.

The building, next to a newly remodeled Dunkin’, previously housed other dining establishments, including Lehigh Valley Diner, Salt & Pepper Family Restaurant and, most recently, Mayuri Indian Cuisine.

“It’s going to be like the good old days,” Wally said. “We’ll be offering classic American cuisine and comfort food, along with an old-school feel with classic cars on the walls and lots of bright colors.”

Wally, who recently leased an apartment in downtown Allentown, has operated restaurants since 2003, most recently opening Dad’s Garage Grill & Burger House in Mechanicsburg, Cumberland County, seven years ago.

At Jordan Parkway Diner, he’s planning to offer an assortment of made-to-order dishes, including hand-held items such as burgers, sandwiches and wraps, along with entrees such as meatloaf, pork chops, prime rib, turkey over stuffing, haddock and crab cakes.

He enlisted a longtime chef of the recently closed Nick’s Diner in Allentown to lead the culinary team, which also will be preparing all-day breakfast options such as egg platters, omelettes, pancakes and French toast. Customers also will enjoy desserts, including cakes, pies and chilled treats such as sundaes, milkshakes and floats (made with Hershey’s ice cream), Wally said.

As my colleague Evan Jones recently reported, Wind Creek Bethlehem announced Wednesday that it has rebranded two of its signature restaurants.

Emeril’s Chop House and Burgers and More by Emeril have changed their names to Chop House at Wind Creek and Urban Table, respectively.

In a news release, Wind Creek said, “the rebrand will provide guests an opportunity to experience two, brand-new menu sets that were curated by the property’s in-house culinary team.”

Chop House at Wind Creek’s new menu will boast “a modern, upscale twist on the classic American Steakhouse,” serving steaks, seafood, signature creations, and handcrafted cocktails, the release said.

Urban Table’s new menu will include prime beef burgers, cauliflower steak, gumbo, truffle-honey glazed fried chicken, premium chops and more.

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Lastly, J. Morgan Salon Company, which has been offering hair and facial waxing services in Easton for more than a decade, is expected to open its third area outpost within the next few weeks at 3770 Dryland Way, Suite 600, in Lower Nazareth Township, co-owner Jamie Thomas said.

The new salon, dubbed J. Morgan Salon North, will be between Jersey Mike’s Subs and Kay Jewelers in the Lower Nazareth Commons.

Thomas, who handles the business side of the company, and his partner, Jayson Morgan, a stylist with nearly 30 years of experience in the field, originally opened J. Morgan on Easton’s College Hill in 2010 before moving the salon to its current downtown Easton spot at 252 Spring Garden St. in 2013.

The duo then expanded the company in February 2020 when they opened a second location, J. Morgan Salon West, at the Madison Farms complex in Bethlehem Township.

The Lower Nazareth salon will offer hair services, including cutting, balayage, blowouts, highlights, color correction and extensions, along with facial waxing.

Retail Watch, appearing every weekend, keeps track of retail and restaurant news in the Lehigh Valley. Contact Ryan Kneller at 610-820-6597 or [email protected].


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