Center of Harmony & Huntington: Commercial renovation & community revival
Josh Meeder helps turn around a town, with help from diverse tenants and a strong banking relationship
Where others saw a dilapidated building in a sleepy town, Josh Meeder saw an opportunity to bring culture, history and life to his hometown -- concentrated in one thriving space.
“I came about it on a whim, really,” Meeder says of the commercial real estate transaction that gave him an all-encompassing project and was the impetus for making Harmony, Pennsylvania into a destination. “I had some success with residential house flipping, and wanted to try it with something commercial.”
That’s when he stumbled on the building, a historic opera house suffering from neglect, vacancy, flooding and a lashing by Hurricane Ivan. “I was so excited about the potential, I called my agent and made an offer that evening.” The next day, he had reached an agreement to purchase what would become the Center of Harmony. Meeder immediately began rehabbing the building, and in less than three months, the space was ready for a soft opening on Jan. 14, 2012.
Since its founding in 2012, The Center of Harmony has provided support to launch more than 20 small, independently owned businesses in the historic space turned tourist destination.
“My mission is to bring in a more progressive culture around arts, health and wellness,” Meeder says, creating a type of community development modeled after towns such as Asheville, North Carolina.
The center is really more of a complex, with two buildings housing several types of businesses. The main building, where the 1875 Opera Hall is located, is home to a coffee and crepe shop, a German bakery, yarn and knitting supply store, and a screen-printing and fine art store. The second building is The Healing House, focusing on wellness enterprises.
“We have representatives from Eastern and Western medicine and holistic practitioners,” Meeder says. “The whole place is Zen and spa-like.”
"My mission is to bring in a more progressive culture around arts, health and wellness." - John Meeder, owner
The second floor also holds the original opera hall, a 3,100-square-foot open room that is a perfect venue for special events.
“I'm focusing that space on weddings and receptions, but it’s also great for workshops, seminars and business meetings,” Meeder says. “I love how it’s becoming a community gathering space.”
“I think of the Center of Harmony as an opportunity for community development for small businesses,” he says. “I know how hard it is to start up.” To that end, he is willing to help tenants finance buildouts or delay and defer rent, a facet Huntington is instrumental in backing. “It’s a very collaborative approach,” he says. This has helped to keep vacancies to a minimum and bring unique businesses that create a destination.
A helping hand
Meeder’s relationship with Huntington stretches back over 20 years. He started out in Harmony and resides there now, but in between, he was running a large insurance and financial services company. In 2009, he formed Great Things, L.L.C., a consulting, marketing and creative services company that he currently operates.
“At one point I had taken over my dad’s insurance business,” he says. “That’s where I first started working with Huntington. They’ve been helping with my banking needs for more than 15 years now.”
By the time Meeder returned to Harmony and bought the building in 2011, his relationship with Huntington was firmly rooted, and the bank helped him move into this new phase of business. “The Pennsylvania Private Banking Region Manager has been helping me for years,” he says. “For the building purchase, he helped me figure out my credit line and financing, and has been an adviser to me as the business has grown.”
Meeder adds that Huntington has helped him nurture the small businesses affiliated with the center, offering advice and proactive options for things he is considering doing. “I feel like I have a whole team with me that understands what I’m trying to do and that has great suggestions,” he says.
Into the future
The Center of Harmony is bringing significant attention to Harmony. There is an increase in the number of business enterprises and in the amount of consumer traffic and the weekend tourist population looking for a small-town experience. And in the summer, that experience includes live outdoor music and festivals that draw crowds in the thousands. For this hidden town, population 900, that's a real coup. “We have a great collaboration between the local government, business association and historical society, which is helping the growth be steady and strong,” says Meeder.
Quick Facts - Center of Harmony
- Location: Harmony, Pennsylvania
- Founded: 2001 (The building was originally an opera hall, circa 1875.)
- Owner: Josh Meeder
- Mission statement: Focused on preserving the environment, strengthening the community and empowering people to live healthy, happy lives.
- Intention: To actively engage in the promotion of music, the arts, education, and a better community for all -- a place where positive, forward-thinking and dynamic people come together to thrive and grow
- Spotlight on Center of Harmony shops: Wunderbar Coffee & Crepes, Two Fraus Bakery, Penn Pantry, Darn Yarn Needles and Thread, Great Things LLC, Murderingtowne Press & Co.
- Spotlight on The Healing House practitioners: A Life of Serenity, Massage by Hillary Householder, The Brow Company by Shannon, Harmony Counseling Services