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2021 in Lancaster County: Here's a look at topics, trends to watch for

Conestoga River sunrise

The sun rises over the Conestoga River just off of Cabin Road Friday, Nov. 1, 2019.

With the changing of each year, LNP | LancasterOnline staff compile a list of trends and events that could impact the county.  

Looking back at our story on trends at the start of 2020 is like looking in a time capsule in some ways, with trends focused largely on development – from new Rutters and Sheetz to the Rock Lititz expansion to projects in Lancaster city – and on education and health care trends that had nothing to do with distance learning or COVID-19. Instead, school start times and student privacy were the burgeoning local stories.

If we learned anything in 2020, it’s that we can’t fully predict what will be news in unprecedented times. That said, we have taken a look at some of the trends and events LNP reporters will be covering in 2021. Here’s our list.


We enter 2021 on the heels of the deadliest month thus far in Lancaster County from the novel coronavirus, with indoor dining and a variety of other outdoor activities have been suspended or restricted by the state government. Vaccinations have been administered for health care workers, nursing home residents, politicians and others, with no clear timetable on continued rollout for the general public.  

What will be the impact of COVID-19 on Lancaster County in the new year? Only time will tell. 

Census data 

The U.S. Census Bureau completed its decennial head count of the population in 2020 and will release the data to the public early in 2021.  

The information is vital for a number of reasons: It will determine the amount of money the federal government spends in each community on things such as school lunches, highway construction and social services.

It will also determine how many representatives Pennsylvania sends to Congress. The state now has 18 members of its House delegation. It is expected to lose one because its population is not growing as quickly as other states. Lancaster County is represented by U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker, a Republican, in the 11th Congressional District. But when those districts are redrawn as part of the reapportionment process using new census data, there is a chance the county could again be represented by more than one lawmaker, as it had been for a time after the 2010 census.

Restaurant survival

The theme for 2020 in the Lancaster city restaurant scene was survival and flexibility. State restrictions on indoor and outdoor dining forced restaurateurs to rapidly shift to a takeout-based model or to shut down completely. Reopening of outdoor dining followed. Fluctuating guidelines on indoor dining capacity and restrictions on alcohol sales, as well as a return to a ban on indoor dining statewide, complicated the business models for restaurateurs.  

Countywide, 45 restaurants have opened and 26 have closed permanently in 2020, according to LNP | LancasterOnline’s reporting. The full extent of the closings probably won’t be known until things get back to normal. The city health inspector said that in February, they’ll be able to do a year-to-year comparison that will show how many fewer there are. 

New police chief for Lancaster city

Lancaster city is conducting a nationwide search to replace former police chief Jarrad Berhikiser, whose retirement was announced abruptly on Oct. 2. In the weeks after, Berkihiser’s wife alleged that her husband was fired because she posted favorable comments about President Donald Trump on social media. Sorace later said Berkihiser was encouraged to retire because he did not share her views on how the city police force should be managed.

John T. Bey, a chief master sergeant in the Air National Guard and a 25-year veteran of the Pennsylvania State Police, is serving as interim chief and has expressed interest in holding the position permanently.

Justo Smoker trial  

The case against Justo Smoker, the man charged with killing Linda Stoltzfoos, the Upper Leacock Township Amish woman authorities say he abducted while she walked home from church in June, will move forward in 2021, though there is no exact timeline on when he will face trial. 

His preliminary hearing had been set for Dec. 30 before District Judge Denise Commins but was postponed, and a new date has not been scheduled. Stoltzfoos, 18, disappeared June 21, leading to numerous searches by hundreds of people in areas where she was last seen and on Welsh Mountain, a rugged, largely rural area in eastern Lancaster County. Her body has not been found. Smoker has been in custody since he was charged July 10 with kidnapping and false imprisonment based on video surveillance and witness accounts. Smoker is being held at Lancaster County Prison without bail. 

Mayoral race in Lancaster

Democrat Danene Sorace will be seeking a second term as mayor of Lancaster, though it’s unclear who she may face in the primary or which Republicans are likely to run. Sorace, 48, announced her bid in December, saying the city’s voters “put me to work as your Mayor to build a stronger and more equitable city for all.” “I am proud of the progress we have made. And I know there is still much to do,” she said. The filing deadline to run is March 9.

Higher Lancaster skyline? 

Developers are planning some high profile, high-rise apartment buildings in Lancaster. If they get built as planned, the city’s skyline will be fundamentally altered. 

The tallest of the proposed developments would be a 20-story apartment building across from Southern Market Center. Willow Valley Communities has proposed a 244-foot-high building, called Mosaic, that would make it the tallest in Lancaster County – surpassing the 19-floor Lancaster Marriott at Penn Square by 34 feet. With an estimated cost exceeding $90 million, the upscale development would consist of 147 apartments as well as a host of resort-quality amenities for its residents, who would be ages 55 and up. Depending on how quickly the project moves through the city approval process and how fast the apartments attract financial commitments from future residents, Mosaic could open as soon as 2025.

Mosaic joins seven other significant housing projects in downtown and on the edge of downtown that are proposed or under construction. These proposed buildings include Queen Street Apartments, a 16-story structure at North Queen and West Chestnut streets. At 198 feet tall, it would be the third tallest building in the county.

Food trends, in takeout and at home 

With indoor dining at a standstill because of government mandates, restaurants are finding creative ways of allowing outdoor dining – with heaters, even in cold weather – and running a robust takeout business for food, wine and cocktails. Packaged meal kits diners can prepare at home are big – both locally and nationally, say trend-spotters looking ahead to 2021. And many eateries are starting subscription services to market their meals to loyal diners. Nationally, trend reports predict plant-based food offerings – including fruit and vegetable jerky and lots of foods featuring chickpeas -- will continue to expand, along with food upcyling (using imperfect produce and the neglected and underused parts of ingredients as a way to curb food waste). And look for different cooking/salad oils on the scene, such as walnut and pumpkin seed. Check out LNP | LancasterOnline’s coverage of 2021 food trends coming soon in our Food pages.

Entertainment finds new venues 

The pandemic led to a shutdown of many entertainment venues, such as theaters and multipurpose venues such as the Ware Center. Sight & Sound Theatres reopened “Queen Esther,” and then had to close under government COVID-19 mitigation measures – laying more than 200 theater professionals. The Fulton Theatre, Ephrata Performing Arts Center, Susquehanna Stage, Servant Stage, and Prima Theatre all suspended performances, but all have also announced their seasons for 2021. Venues such as the Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre and Bird-in-Hand Stage reopened as well, but now have their shows on hold till their 2021 seasons begin. Movie theaters reopened at reduced capacity, then were forced to close again.  

But artists and venues of all kinds found creative ways to share their art this year. Art galleries and museums – including Red Raven Art Co. and James Buchanan’s Wheatland in Lancaster – have offered virtual tours. Comedy and music shows found a place outdoors at such venues as Phantom Power in Millersville, and movie theaters and other venues offered drive-in movies on inflatable screens during the summer. Music for Everyone offered “Keys on the Move,” as musicians performed throughout the city on a moving flat-bed truck. Prima Theatre also made a couple of its shows mobile, with a truck and a holiday trolley. The Dutch Apple actors performed their shows in face shields to a masked audience. The People’s Shakespeare Project has been doing Shakespeare live via Zoom, and EPAC and The Fulton have offered filmed holiday performances to online audiences. Finally, with libraries mostly closed, librarians and volunteers have entertained the children of Lancaster County daily, with live book readings online.

Convenience store wars heat up

Sheetz, Wawa, Rutter’s, Turkey Hill, Royal Farms, and soon 7-Eleven. It’s getting crowded with convenience stores in Lancaster County, with newer stores offering fast-food like selections alongside the once-under-of but now ubiquitous selection of beer and wine. Who’s going to be building more stores? Where will they be? And will Rutter’s ever build its store in Manheim Township?

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