Skip to Content
/ Articles / Business & Economy /

Perseverance + Overcoming Obstacles: Inspiring Business Stories from the Heart of Greater Reading

by Greater Reading Chamber Alliance

Mar 05, 2024

In the latest installment of the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance’s Perseverance and Overcoming Obstacles storytelling initiative, they uncover the surprising, poignant, and inspiring story behind Shuman Development Group.

On the 5th floor of a tall, black glass building on 5th Street in Reading, PA, surrounded by historic structures that whisper tales of days gone by, you’ll find Shuman Development Group. Here, you’ll also discover a story that mirrors the resilience and renaissance of the city itself. Back in 1994, Alan Shuman didn’t set out with grand visions of business ownership; and he certainly didn’t imagine that, one day, he would develop more than two million square feet of space in Reading, PA. Join us as we delve into the story of Shuman Development Group and its unforgettable mark on the bricks and mortar of our community.

The Story Behind Shuman Development Group

Shuman Development Group (SDG) is a commercial real estate development company whose mission is to restore the grandeur of Reading’s Central Business District.

Founded in 1994, the company, under the visionary leadership of Alan Shuman, specializes in the restoration of historic buildings and reimagining existing spaces for creative uses in business, entertainment, and culture. With a diversified portfolio that includes both a development and real estate management division, Shuman Development Group has been a driving force behind the revitalization of more than 128 building projects in and around Reading, PA.

Shuman Development Group draws inspiration from the unique art and architecture of Reading—a distinctive blend found in only a few places across the country. This local aesthetic serves as the cornerstone of its passion, propelling it to preserve the unique, historical charm that defines the city’s personality and presence. It’s part of what keeps Shuman Development Group centered in the heart of Reading, rather than seeking opportunities in alternative geographical regions.

The scope and impact of SDG’s work in Reading cannot be understated; over the past 30 years, the company has borne witness to triumphs and tragedies, touching the lives of tens of thousands of citizens. Let’s start by exploring a few notable projects.

Reading Outlet Center

The total area, developed from 2006 to 2014, was 640,000 square feet, and was converted into a neighborhood retail shopping center and 69 upscale apartments.

Abraham Lincoln Hotel and Garage

Including 30,000 square feet of commercial/retail space and 310 parking spaces, the development comprises 240,000 square feet and accommodates 97 upscale apartments.

Community General Hospital

The 242,000-square-foot building continues its use for medical operations but within a fully renovated and upgraded structure.

Berks County Trust Building

Renovated from 2020 to 2023, the 98,000-square-foot building now comprises 39 upscale apartments, 25,000 square feet of office space, and a 20,000-square-foot food court.

Lancaster Avenue Plaza

The 46,000-square-foot neighborhood shopping center was established in a former car dealership building, which presented environmental issues that needed to be addressed.

Meet Alan Shuman

Founder & CEO

In 1989, armed with his U.S. Army enlistment bonus, 19-year-old college sophomore Alan Shuman took his first step into real estate by acquiring a townhouse in State College. His plans were to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather and remain in the military long-term; however, those fell apart when the Gulf War subsided and the military began downsizing.

“I was an executive officer of a tank company, and my armory unit got turned into a trucking unit. I did not want to be a truck driver,” Alan explains with a laugh. “So I moved with my wife Marina to her hometown in Berks County and got a job at Radio Shack.”

Encouraged by Marina, who harbored a love for old-fashioned buildings and spaces, they purchased a historic, four-unit building on Perkiomen Avenue in Mount Penn and moved into the ground floor. The purchase kindled a flame in the young couple, inspiring their current work in development, real estate, and revitalization.

“We take a very different approach to real estate,” he said thoughtfully while contemplating his early days in the industry. “We weren’t interested in just doing quick flips; we knew this was going to be a long-term investment. We lost some properties early, but we found that making mistakes? That’s how you learn.”

Today, Alan leads the development division of Shuman Development Group. He remains personally invested in big-picture decisions, such as property selection and financial planning, as well as the intricate ones—like choosing the perfect lighting accents and carpet colors.

Shuman Development Group had been steadily growing, strengthening its sea legs within the vast and complex ocean of property development. The early 2000s saw SDG transitioning to larger commercial buildings, with the purchase of the General Battery Building in 2001 marking a significant step in its evolution.

But in 2003, Shuman Development Group faced a monumental challenge.

On Dec. 23, 2003, two days before Christmas, Exide Battery Corporation announced its bankruptcy. Instantly, over half of SDG’s monthly revenue vanished, pushing the company to the brink and testing the Shuman’s resolve to their cores.

To navigate this financial storm, a difficult decision loomed over Alan and Marina—a decision that would shape the future of their business. To salvage the company, they had to file for a debt restructuring bankruptcy, and the plan’s approval hinged on a significant sacrifice:

Alan and Marina Shuman were required to turn over their home to the bank for sale.

This pivotal moment underscores the depth of commitment and the high stakes involved in the world of business. The Shumans, faced with the daunting choice of losing their family home or their first large commercial property, decided to let go of their house and move into the commercial high-rise. This decision was not just a financial maneuver; it was a strategic gamble that demonstrated their dedication to their vision for Shuman Development Group.

The risk was immense, but it paved the way for future success, allowing them to weather the storm, rise from the ashes, and continue their journey of revitalizing historic spaces in Reading and beyond.

As the company continued its meteoric rise in the late 2000s, Shuman Development Group again faced a pivotal crossroads in 2014: the Big Mill Fire. But challenges are like storms; when they subside, we often find unexpected silver linings.

A devastating blaze, set by arsonists, tore through the historic building right on the cusp of a $16 million renovation. The fire struck a blow that reverberated through the community and put years of hard work and dedication in peril.

The community, however, rallied around Shuman Development Group and offered a groundswell of support that would change the tenor of the awful event. As the flames threatened to consume the history-rich structure, the people of Reading united to offer their support. 

“I found myself inundated with calls from fellow business owners, politicians, and community members—I felt a little bit like the main character from ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’” Alan recalls with a smile. “The outpouring of support was incredible. Everyone wanted to know how they could contribute to pulling the project together, offering assistance or suggesting people who could lend a hand.”

What could have been a fatal blow transformed into a testament to the strength of community bonds. Fueled by the community’s unwavering encouragement, Shuman Development Group embarked on the formidable task of rebuilding.

Over the course of 18 months, the scorched remnants of the Big Mill building were salvaged and transformed into the thriving complex it is today. The 2013 fire became a chapter in Shuman Development Group’s story that illustrates how, in the face of adversity, a community’s commitment can turn devastation into a narrative of hope and renewal.

Central to Shuman Development Group’s philosophy is a commitment to the local community. The company actively engages with local vendors and creates partnerships with other businesses, fostering economic growth within Reading—an effort supported by the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance. 

“When we first joined the Chamber about 25 years ago, it helped us make a lot of contacts with other businesses and business owners—one of those businesses we met years ago still handles our taxes today.”

Beyond bricks and mortar, Shuman Development Group has had a profound impact on the lives of its staff members. Many former employees have been inspired to embark on entrepreneurial journeys, either starting businesses or establishing themselves as independent contractors. This ripple effect of empowerment underscores Shuman Development Group’s role not only as a developer but also as a catalyst for positive change within the community.

Innovation on the Horizon

Shuman Development Group has a number of exciting projects coming down the pike—notably, the “food court” project at 35 N. 6th St., Reading, that just opened its doors. Adorned with gilded ceilings, tiled floors, and gorgeous antique light fixtures, the space boasts apartments, local restaurants, and food vendors, pop-up event space, and open space for casual dining. (You can catch a peek at the photos within this story!)

As we wrap up the story of Shuman Development Group, one theme arises over and over again: Sometimes, the only way out is through. SDG is a testament to the unbreakable spirit of entrepreneurship and demonstrates the heights that can be achieved with ingenuity, determination, and, of course, some good old-fashioned hard work.

Click here to read the full story, view a full business timeline, and check out more pictures.

We need your support!

Your contribution makes community media possible.

A donation of any size to your nonprofit media organization supports the future of media access in our community - the things you love, and the places you care about, by the people you know.

Live Streaming