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West End Theatre District: New Beginnings: FairGrounds Hotel carries on with take-out, inside dining

After surviving several harrowing Commonwealth mandated coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic shutdowns that wreaked havoc on restaurants, the FairGrounds Hotel, 17th and Liberty streets, Allentown, has reopened its indoor dining rooms.

Second-generation owner Dominic Germano was elated when he received the news that as of Jan. 4, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf relaxed rules for indoor dining. Restaurants may now operate to between 25 percent to 50 percent capacity.

At the FairGrounds Hotel, patrons may savor such dishes as the popular New England-style lobster roll while enjoying the Victorian atmosphere within the walls of the landmark brick building.

Built in 1904, the FairGrounds Hotel, 448 N. 17th St., Allentown, had provided rooms for travelers, as well as food and alcohol in its restaurant and bar.

Germano’s father, Michael “Skip” Germano, leased the vacant hotel and “Bier Garten” complex in 1980 from the Lehigh Agricultural Society. The open-air Bier Garten later became the MainGate Nightclub.

The family extensively renovated the FairGrounds Hotel, transforming it into a fine dining establishment. Germano credits his mother’s skills as an interior designer for successfully creating the restaurant’s Victorian ambiance.

Skip Germano died in 2016.

The pandemic shutdown and restrictions caused a 70 percent decrease in sales, says Dominic Germano, who owns the family businesses. He had to lay off most of the FairGrounds Hotel employees.

“The first thing we had to do was expand our outdoor dining options,” says Germano. This included making alterations to a previously-unused second- floor patio.

“We also had to branch out into delivery,” he says. Carry-out business was expanded with “take-out specials,” helping to keep the restaurant going.

Germano expresses gratitude for loyal clientele and community support that has contributed to the seafood house’s survival.

Qualifying for the first round of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) helped as well, says Germano. The loans were available through the U.S. Small Business Administration. “If it wasn’t for that assistance, I wouldn’t be here today,” he says.

Germano is encouraged that healthcare workers across the street at Lehigh Valley Hospital - 17th Street have begun receiving their first doses of the coronavirus vaccine.

“I adapt the most I can and will hopefully survive the pandemic,” he says.

Information: www.fairgroundshotel.com; 610-433-7630

Next Week: MainGate Nightclub

West End Theatre District: New Beginnings is a continuing series about how some of the restaurants, businesses and theaters in Allentown’s West End Theatre District are coping with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

PRESS PHOTO BY ED COURRIER Owner Dominic Germano at the front entrance to the FairGrounds Hotel, 17th and Liberty streets, Allentown.