Lititz is the envy of many small towns.
Its Main Street is full of quaint shops housed in well-kept, colonial-era buildings while just off its square, Lititz Springs Park attracts dog walkers and duck feeders who amble under shaded pathways.
And, the sidewalk tables and benches sprinkled throughout the downtown are prime perches for people-watching, which occasionally could include the likes of Katy Perry or Lady Gaga when they are in town for rehearsals at nearby Rock Lititz.
“You have towns where there’s pubs and shops and things and they seem to struggle, but Lititz just keeps plugging along every year,” said Cory Van Brookhoven, a lifelong Lititz resident, borough council member and local historian. “It’s that small-town charm, that Norman Rockwell experience that people ache for.’’
And while the Moravians who founded the town and designed its user-friendly grid deserve some credit, longtime residents and officials say there was nothing inevitable about the town’s current success.
A lot of people have contributed time and money, working hard to make Lititz successful.
“This is a garden that has been tended for a long time,” said Karen Weibel, president of Lititz Borough Council.
In many cases, it wasn’t local officials, but rather volunteers and business people who led the way.
For example, when the downtown was struggling in the 1970s, it was business people who banded together to help get things back on track.
Dennis Beck, a resident and real estate agent, said back then many of the shops and stores in downtown Lititz were vacant, and many were in disrepair. Pigeons were literally flying through the windows of the old Sturgis Hotel, he said.
The commercial migration from downtown shops to suburban malls, which was happening around Lancaster and the whole country, was being felt in Lititz.
“Things didn’t look like they look now,” Beck said.
The sorry state of downtown Lititz in 1970 prompted action by seven local businessmen who made a key — and timely — investment that continues to shape downtown.
That April, they each invested $2,500 and then the group took out a $50,000 loan to purchase three properties on the first block of East Main Street.
Dubbed Lititz Improvement Inc., the group soon attracted more investors and continue to make investments.
“The buildings they bought were pretty decrepit. It wasn’t very pretty when it started and that was the whole reason it started,” Beck, who is now a shareholder in Lititz Improvement and manages its properties, said.
Today, Lititz Improvement owns 28 commercial units and 60 residential units, including several parking lots, parking spaces and rental garages. The group’s holdings are concentrated in the first block of Main Street and include the Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery.
The group is also responsible for Sturgis Lane, the shopping mall built in 1973 from the historic Sturgis building, which dates to the 1850s.
“It turned out to be a winner, but they didn’t know that it was going to be,” he said.
Beck said the group is careful about selecting a good mix of tenants and notes that profits are re-invested, saying that while shareholders realize income on paper, no one cashes out.
“There's never been a penny paid out to any shareholders,” said Beck, who emphasized that it’s “love of Lititz” that motivates the group.
From the beginning, Lititz was a church town.
And the imprint of the early Moravians is still evident in Lititz, whether it’s the town’s layout as a compact square, the church campus at the town’s center or the roving trombone choir that can be heard early Easter morning.
The layout of Lititz promotes a kind of walkability that is highly prized by urban planners.
“There’s lots of places to perch in Lititz and watch things,” Weibel said, noting the patio in front of Dosie Dough is the place to see and be seen — even when it’s cold.
The borough also naturally becomes a hub for the region since five of the six schools in Warwick School District are within Lititz’s boundaries, Weibel noted.
“That brings kids and their parents into town on a weekly basis. The community in general feels a real pride and responsibility to this downtown area. And it makes a huge difference,” she said.
Van Brookhoven adds that having two main attractions — Wilbur Chocolate and the Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery — on opposite ends of Main Street creates added foot traffic as visitors walk from one to the other.
But the foot traffic in town reaches its most fevered pitch during events such as the Lititz Craft Show, the Fire & Ice Festival and the Craft Beer Brewfest, which bring thousands of people into Lititz.
Local service groups and their volunteers began the events and continue to manage them from year to year, even as they donate proceeds to other groups that work to benefit Lititz.
For example, The Rotary Club of Lititz used proceeds from its masssive craft show to donate $80,000 to local civic groups.
In addition to those monetary contributions, these well-run events add to the good feelings many Lititz residents have about their town.
“It’s not like you’re bragging about it,” said Tim Snyder, Lititz’s mayor. “It’s just that you’re proud of your town.”