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A Merger Of Two Histories
Carmody's Expands, Updates But Retains Classic Vibe

Co-owner Sean Carmody is spending late Summer overseeing a massive expansion and updating of Carmody's Grille on Neville Island.

When finished, Carmody's will feature a 50 foot polished concrete bar, state of the art kitchen, three first floor dining areas and a second floor banquet room with capacity for 80 people.

That's quite an evolution for what for a century was the small, dark tavern in the old Neville Hotel. It was a popular island hangout for mill workers, Dravo executives and locals, but was more known for its beverages than its food.

Meanwhile, across the river in Wexford, Carmody's Restaurant operated for 62 years until closing in 2014. It was famous for its Fried Zucchini, Cheese Balls, Veal Scallopini, Iceberg Lettuce Salad, Prime Rib and especially for its Turtle Soup. For half a century, Carmody's and Riders On the Bay in Erie were famous for the best Turtle Soup in Pennsylvania. When Riders closed, Carmody's had the title all to itself. But then they, too, closed.

Family traditions persist, however. Grandsons Paul and Sean Carmody noticed the old Neville Hotel for sale and grabbed it. They saw the brick building with the neon sign as a golden opportunity.

Everybody else saw it as a risk. With its mills and high school closed, few people go to Neville Island anymore, and those who do go to the other end, to the Robert Morris Sports Center and the Paradise Bowling Lanes. They don't even pass the hotel. It's not on the main road, but tucked three blocks away in what used to be the business district.

But there are those old sayings about "If You Build It They Will Come," and "Build Something Better And The World Will Find You."

The Carmodys went to work. They opened up the bar, showing exposed beams, ductwork, barnwood and chalkboards. They created an enclosed year round patio and added a skylight to flood the place with sun (see photo, above). A remodelled entrance is next on the list.

The old Neville Hotel had 12 upstairs rooms. The Carmodies stripped all those out and created a second floor banquet room that holds 80. It's already in use by large groups, clubs and businesses. Our Lady Of Sacred Heart uses it Friday nights after high school football games.

They brought a General Manager and Chef over from the old place. And while they haven't brought all of the old menu, they have the most famous items.

Most importantly, the Snapping Turtle Soup (photo below) is back : a tangy, peppery, Creole style version of the 19th Century recipe. It really IS the best Turtle Soup in Pennsylvania, worth a drive to Neville Island even if it's the only item you try. Most order it as an appetizer but some get a bowl.

Cheese Balls and the Zucchini are here. There's a very good Power Slaw, with Brussell Sprout slices, Red Cabbage, Kale and other greens. Prime Rib is here. Daily Specials include Baby Back Ribs, Raspberry Shrimp, Mussels, Roast Beef, Pollock, Blackened Chicken, Stuffed Pork Chops, and Chicken Marsala.

Sadly, the famous Veal Scallopini and Iceberg Salad have not made an appearance. Yet.

But there are some new additions, too : Fish Tacos, Balsamic Chicken Flatbread, and Chicken & Waffles. The Sandwich menu is excellent. It includes Hoagies, French Dip, a Meatball Sandwich and regular Burgers.

Carmody's has live music on Friday and Saturday nights. They set up in the center room, so if you want quiet conversation you can retreat to one of the other rooms' far corners.

Already, without much advertising, Carmody's has built a solid clientele.

Many customers from the old place have followed the grandsons. Blue collar workers from the metal processing plants up the street drop in. So do coat and tie executives, salesmen, truck drivers, fishermen, guests at the motel down by I-79, local retired folk, boaters from the nearby dock, bowlers, hockey players and fans from the Ice Center, and soccer players and fans from the new Soccer Center across the bridge.

So Carmody's has bcome THE local gathering spot for Islanders. It's also become the most authentic locally owned family restaurant in the upper Ohio Valley (between Pittsburgh and Steubenville). There are long time Italian restaurants, upscale restaurants in Sewickley, and national chains. But Carmody's is now the most authentic neighborhood hangout. If you have out of town guests and want to take them somewhere to experience real Ohio Valley atmosphere, this is where you bring them.

The day we were there for lunch, every table plus the bar was filled. We've been there on Friday and Saturday nights when there were long waits. You might consider coming early to beat the crush.

The bar offers 24 bottles and 16 drafts. In an area where bars brag about their polished wood, this could be the only polished concrete bar, but it's beautiful and fits the industrial chic decor. The array of TV screens gives Carmody's a sports bar atmosphere, especially when Penguins, Pirates or Steelers games are on.

Sean is proud of the polished concrete bar, but equally proud of his neon signs. He brought the Carmody's Grille sign with a shamrock symbol from Wexford. It hangs out front. The M and G letters were damaged and had to be replaced so the new letters aren't the same colors. At some point he may pay to have them replaced again for a perfect match.

He hired a specialist from Zelionople to restore the old Neville Hotel sign. It now hangs above the bar.

He also has the Gino's Restaurant sign, which he plans to hang somewhere, probably in the new section. With all the TV screens, there's no room elsewhere.

 

Part of the new addition will be a brand new kitchen. "We bought all new equipment but the old kitchen is too small. Our people are in each others' ways back there. We can't prepare a lot of the dishes we'd like. Once we move to that new kitchen everything here will be a lot more efficient."

Sean Carmody never dreamed the place would become this successful this fast. "We did a lot of word of mouth promotion, opened a Facebook page, worked the social media. But we never did really advertise. We've just been real lucky We looked at the area and thought there was a need. But we didn't dream there was this much of a need. It's worked out real well."

Indeed. The restaurant has done so well others have noticed and offered to buy it.

Just about the only complaints the restaurant receives concern what is not available. Old timers want more of their favorites from the Wexford menu. Locals want some of the specials every night, not just once a week. The Friday night fish is a favorite. This Summer they offered Cavatini (pasta and meatballs, not too different from Spaghetti) which proved to be a big hit. So Carmody's is a work in progress, still evolving. The menu will probably expand once the new addition opens.

Capri Glass Savors History, Traditions, Craftsmanship

For as long as he can remember, Lance Scalise has been involved in the glass industry.

His first memories are of his aunt, Mary DeMao, who was one of the milk glass painters at Cory's Consolidated Glass Company. The patterns she meticulously applied to hand crafted lamps, vases, bowls and other items are highly valued by 21st Century collectors. 12 women did the painting but DeMao was one of the top four. From her example, Scalise came to understand that glass could be an artistic medium.

From his parents, Louis and Dorothy, Scalise learned about the business side of glass. They founded Lou's Auto Glass in the early 1950s, specializing in replacing windshields and side and rear windows in vehicles or installing tinted or otherwise customized windows. As they expanded into patio doors in the late 1950s, Mr. Scalise changed the name to Capri to match the brand name he was selling. Lance began working there at age nine. By 12, he could replace a windshield all by himself. He was born in Cory, but rhe family moved to Robinson and then Moon, and he graduated from Moon high School. The company, however, has always been in Cory. As a matter of fact, it's always been on the same block, although it's moved. Where it began is now Champ Printing. When he graduated from high school, Lance skipped college to go to work for his father. He bought the business in 1987.

He and wife Christine (left) have run it at its present spot on 5th Avenue (across from Tootsie's Restaurant) for 30 years. But the business has evolved.

"When my Dad started, he had the only Auto Glass business around. By the time I took over, it was a crowded field. The price competition was ruthless. Profit margins were razor thin. You couldn't make a decent living anymore. So we started diversifying into other kinds of glass services. Pretty soon, we were making good money doing everything else and it didn't make economic sense to keep doing the vehicle jobs. So we phased out of that entirely."

One area they branched into was the installation of large plate glass windows in the storefronts of businesses. It's a delicate job, requiring a special kind of glass pane and a highly skilled process of installing it. An eight foot by 10 foot pane has to be handled with extreme care.

The Scalises began working with contractors building and remodelling homes. People today want specialty glass in front doors, kitchen cabinets, French doors, arched windows and other features.

Over the years, their suppliers have changed. The old glassmakers in Ford City and Glassboro are gone. Even Pittsburgh Plate Glass no longer makes glass. Today, Capri relies on suppliers in Wheeling, Butler and the state of California.

"U.S. glassmaking is slowly shutting down. It's getting harder and harder to find glass made in this country. More and more of it has to be imported."

But their work with contractors led them into a whole new specialty, one Lance never expected but which is now a major source of business : Shower Doors.

"The old shower curtains are obsolete. People today want glass doors. And they want the glass doors to be ornate. Often very ornate. We've developed an expertise in this area and now we find our services are much in demand."

They have various shower models in their display room. The big fad right now is the frameless walk in shower, separate from the tub. These showers have glass walls and doors from floor to ceiling (below right).

Customers want them framed, unframed, trimmed in gold, with etched designs, and otherwise customized.

Since there's always the possibility of water leaking, installing these showers requires precision. "We've gotten good at this. We emphasize the craftmanship of it. And we can market ourselves to people who want a high quality job and are willing to pay for it."

His customers range from Fox Chapel across the North Hills to Cranberry, in the South Hills in communities like Mt. Lebanon, Upper St. Clair and Peters Township, and into East Liverpool and eastern Ohio.

Many of his customers are local celebrities, like Pirate, Steeler and Penguin players, corporate executives or media personalities..

The price range is wide, from $300 to $5000. The average shower is about $2000.

"When you get up into the higher price ranges, you're looking at gold plated frameless glass."

There are six companies in Allegheny County doing what the Scalises do. "It's still competitive. Customers at these price levels are careful. They want to see other examples of the work we do."

Lance carries a binder of photos of other showers he's installed. And he has a range of different kinds in his show room for customers to inspect.

"Cost is kind of a limiting factor. The further we get from Coraopolis, the more gas and travel time we have to factor into an estimate. So we reach a point where we can't be cost competitive. But within 30-50 miles, we can usually win a job. We get a lot of word of mouth references, too. People like the work we do and recommend us to friends or teammates or business associates."

Their success has come at a cost, though. The time demands are heavy. Lance and Christine bought a small farm in Hopewell, thinking it might be a relief from the pressure. They bought horses and cattle. "But we learned we couldn't get away. We had to sell the horses and cattle."

There are only three of them. Son Justin is shouldering more and more of the load, and will eventually take over the business. "It might only be a few years," Christine suggests. "We'd like to do some travelling and just relax."

With their business thriving, in the last five years the couple has turned their attention back to history. Lance realized his aunt had actually signed her work. He became interested in gathering as much information as he could on her and the women she worked with. That led him to begin collecting works of hers, and then to collecting the famous milk glass items made by Coraopolis Consolidated Glass. He picked up a famous history of the glass company by Jack Wilson and a guide to collecting compiled by the Consolidated Glass Collectors Club, a nationwide group. He has since joined the

PCGCC and is looking forward to their annual convention, to be held here the last weekend of this month.

He still considers himself an amateur collector, just a beginner, but he's compiled a pretty impressive display of Coraopolis Consolidated Glass items, which is now showcased along one side of his show room (photo, left).

Christine prefers the lines of colored glass, the reds, pinks, blues and greens, that Coraopolis Consolidated Glass produced. There are some of those on display, too.

Neville Rink Rolling Into Its 70th Year

The Neville Island Roller Rink is all shined up and ready to party as it celebrates its 70th birthday.

Owner Jim Park has seen to that. But it hasn't been easy. When he bought the facility, plus the restaurant next door, from the Deramo Brothers, it needed some serious work.

He's installed a new roof and ceiling (the old roof was leaking), a new furnace, new air conditioning and natural gas lines, new theming and decorations, refinished the floor, and redesigned the front of the building.

There's a new party room, new kitchen and snack bar, new equipment store, new rental room, and new benches.

And there's more. "We have to redo the restrooms. These are the old originals from 1948. They're too small. But we need to redesign the building to fit them in."

Park loves owning the rink and updating it. His mother first brought him to skate there in 1970. Roller skating became his passion. He went on to earn a B.S. from Pitt and a Masters from Carnegie Mellon, then went on to pursue a business career, but he kept skating through it all. His wife, Sophie, earned undergraduate and graduate degrees, and son Jonathan graduated from LaRoche, and they're enthusiastic skaters, too.

So when the rink went up for sale, he jumped at the chance. The three of them now run it together.

"There are only two roller rinks left standing in Allegheny County---us and one in McKeesport. There are none in Beaver County. So we get skaters from as far away as Ohio and West Virginia, from all over the West Hills and North Hills, from this side of the South Hills, from the city, from Cranberry, Butler and Newcastle."

For Park, it's a labor of love. Especially the floor. He kneels down and proudly points to various elements of its brightly polished surface.

"Look at these," he motions, "15 feet long boards. You can't get these anymore. This is all original from back in '48."

The Neville floor is 188 feet long by 88 feet wide. "That's pretty good," Park explains. "Full sized regulation is 225 x 90, but that's for hockey, speed skating and roller dancing. For just normal recreational skating, this size floor is larger than most."

He walks over to the side. "Notice how this floor doesn't meet the wall," he points out. "There's a gap here. It also isn't fastened down tightly to the under layer. This is a floating floor. Any good roller rink has a floating floor. This allows the floor to expand and contract as the temperature changes. This is one reason why this original floor is still in such great shape. If it were rigidly locked in place it would have buckled long ago."

He points out the roller derby track marked out in black. "This is a full sized roller derby oval," he says.

"There's a team out of Pittsburgh which practices here twice a week and holds its home bouts here on Saturday nights in the Fall and Winter."

Park is solidly booked on evenings and weekends. Lessons, leagues, groups, parties, schools, camps and adults only sessions fill it up.

Like everything else, skating technology has changed over the last 50 years. Shown at left are three different styles of modern skates. There are outdoor skates and indoor skates, although someone could use the same pair and just change the wheels. Outdoor wheels are softer to absorb the uneven surfaces and small gravel, twigs and other obstacles. Wheels for indoor use are harder to reduce friction on the smoothly polished floor. "Trucks," the mounts holding the wheels, are flexible and can shift and turn as the skater places weight on one side of the shoe or the other or leans forward or back.

Also like everything else, the price of that technology has skyrocketed. A top skater, like a roller derby or hockey player, may pay a thousand dollars for a good pair. The typical recreational skater can get a perfectly fine pair of skates and a second set of wheels for $150-200. But Parks recommends new sketers rent for a while to make sure they really like the sport. Then a pair of skates might be a good Christmas or birthday gift.

Parks rents both quad skates (shown above, with four side by side wheels) and in line skates (with the wheels all in a line). They both work fine but he notices an interesting trend. White kids tend to prefer the inlines while African Americans stick to the quads. Similarly, kids from the inner city or even the downtown areas of small towns, tend to prefer the quads, while suburban kids like the inlines.

Parks has also totally redone the food servicing areas and isn't finished.

There's a new counter (above) and dining arera (left). He's installed new pizza ovens, slushie machines and other modern equipment. "We had a lot of noncommercial appliances in here, which we replaced with full scale commercial units." He sells about 60 full size pizzas a week, about nine a day.

He's also upgraded to top of the line products. "We use Azteca chips, Nathan's hot dogs, all the best ingredients. We want people to go home and say, 'Man, the food there is really good."

Next on his priority list is a panini machine. But he's running out of room. He may open the restaurant next door, fix some items over there, and just carry them across the street. But the restaurant has been unused for so long utility companies have removed the electric connections, gas and water lines. So reconneting it will be expensive.

It's a Thursday afternoon so the rink is not crowded. But it has a legal capacity of 600 and Parks has reached that several times in evening sessions. "We had to turn people away. I hate that."

He thinks one reason why some rinks closed was they failed to enforce rules and developed a reputation as a trouble spot, so parents stopped allowing their kids to go there. So he has a strict set of rules which he enforces aggressively.

"Our core customers are families. Especially kids. We've got to maintain that wholesome atmosphere so parents not only want to send us their kids but come here themselves. If I have to make some people mad because I enforce rules, well, I can live with that."

Ar heart, Parks is still just a guy whio loves to skate. He often travels to other rinks, mainly to skate, but also to see what other places are doing and pick up ideas. "When I'm at somnebody else's place, I can relax and just skate, I don't have people coming up to me with problems."

Brian Holliday Hits Home Run With Triple Crown

Back in 2011, the movie Moneyball showed how the use of statistics and modern computer technology to analyze pitching, fielding and batting could revolutionize baseball. Seven years later, Brian Holliday is using that same technology to develop young baseball talent in the Western Hills.

In a converted machine shop on 4th Avenue in Coraopolis, Holliday (in the photo at right) has installed a HitTrax system to make coaching baseball a fine art.

Himself a former pitcher, Holliday played for Moon. He graduated in 2002 and was drafted by the Pirates, who sent him to their AA Altoona farm team. He bounced around the minors for eight years, playing for teams like Lynchburg (Va.), St. George (Utah) and Newark (N.J.). He retired in 2010, starting Triple Crown in an old barn behind Sewickley. He moved it to Coraopolis in 2017 to be closer to I-79.

Holliday has a staff of five who work daily at the 4th Avenue center, and additional part timers who help coach the travelling teams, since often they have games in diffrerent places at the same times. All of his staff have college and pro experience. His clientele ranges between 800-900 kids, depending on time of year. Being close to I-79 allows Triple Crown to draw kids from a wide area. He has almost 100 from the North Allegheny - North Hills - Cranberry area.

He has another 100 or so from Washington County, from schools like Chartiers Houston and Wash High. Avonworth, Mt. Lebanon, Central Valley, Moon, Montour and West Allegheny are other school districts with large numbers. But some come from much further, from Wierton (W.Va.), Monroeville (Gateway HS), and Butler County (Mars, Senaca Valley, Moniteau, etc.).

The majority of his clients are boys ages 10-14. The next largest group is high school students aged 15-18.

Many come to develop their pitching skills. Some come to develop their fielding skills. But the vast majority come to develop their batting skills. And even though Holliday and his brother Sean were both pitchers, they've studied batting and with the help of the HitTrax have become very good batting coaches.

Every major league team and the top college programs now use HitTrax, but Triple Crown is the only place in Western Pennsylvania outside the Pirates with it.

HitTrax begins with the pitching machine shown at left. Every high school and Little League has a pitching machine, but theirs are nothing like this one. It can not only vary the speed and throw curves, drops and sliders. The HitTrax can precisely place the ball within the strike zone : center, left, right, top, bottom, upper left, upper right, lower left and lower right. The openings in the console above consist of multiple small laser sensors. They're tracking the balls, swings and hits. What they see is immediately displayed on the screen (photo, below). It tells a player how many times he swung at a pitch in each area of the strike zone, and whether he hit it or not. For instance, this boy was working on hitting pitches outside and high. So the machine was feeding him a steady stream of pitches in those areas. HitTrax was tracking his success. He swung at 28 pitches in the outside upper corner of the strike zone and hit 26.

The far outside quadrants are outside the strike zone. Even though they would be called balls, the batter still swung at 35 of them and hit 30.

But the machine's not done. Holliday can switch to other screens. One of them tracks the ball after it's hit. It shows the angle of ascent, distance and where the ball comes down. Even if the batter is hitting into a net, HitTrax can indicate ascent, distance and direction as if the batter were outside. So a batter can work on placing hits to a particular place in the outfield, on distance, or on hang time (time spent in the air).

And it's still not done. It can add a bit of fantasy to batting practice. A player can pick his favorite major league ball park, and HitTrax can show him batting in that park. In the photo below, the boy is batting at Camden Field in Baltimore.

But HitTrax can also be used to train pitchers. Instead of the machine pitching, the boy can pitch and the sensors can track where he places his pitches.

This is expensive technology and using it costs. Holliday offers 30 minute sessions for $40. "That's about all a kid can take," he explains. "A 30 minute batting or pitching workout is pretty exhausting."

For younger kids, or for older ones with serious problems, he may not even use the HitTrax system at first. He may use batting tees. "You can do a lot of work with a tee," he points out. "Stance, grip, timing, footwork, focus, the swing. Those are all basic."

As seen in the bottom photo, one of the staff may coach a boy while he hits 100 balls inside a netted area.

Holliday offers special package deals for teams, and has special pricing for Little Leagues. "We have a lot of kids and teams in here in February and March getting ready for the season but unable to work outside due to weather."

Triple Crown also sponsors travelling teams at each age level. Each of their travelling teams competes in seven tournaments, many of them out of state. It costs $1750 to play on a travel team.

During the off season, most of Holliday's clients come for one session a week. During the season, this may actually decline since they're playing or practicing every day.

Working on individual fundamentals inside is easy. Where Holliday runs into trouble is finding practice facilities for the travelling teams. "There is a huge interest in youth baseball in the Western Hills and a critical shortage of playing fields. Every suitable field is in use constantly. We have to drive as far away as Cranberry to find a field. And it's not just a matter of finding a vacant lot and making it into a field. We could do that. But the level land's not available in big enough lots."

Surveying the Western Hills baseball landscape, Holliday sees another problem. "There is a huge gap between Little League and High School," he explains. "A kid turns 13 and ages out of Little League. We should have either Pony League or Middle School teams for him to advance to. But we don't have those teams. We have hundreds of kids who have been playing baseball from T Ball through Little League and suddenly we only have a few Pony League teams so most of them are left out. I don't know why schools around here don't have Middle School baseball." Holliday sees many of those kids sitting out two or three years, and finding something else to do. So when they get to high school they never pick it back up. They were really good at a sport and just drop out for lack of a team to play on.

He also worries about the coachability of kids. "With everyone playing T-Ball, Coach Pitch, Minor League and Little League, the skill levels by age 11-12 are higher than ever. But the kids can't take constructive criticism. No matter how tactfully you phrase it, if you try to break their bad habits, way too many of them get really defensive. This 'Every Body Gets A Trophy' mentality is hurting players."

Cory Pet Store Specializes In Birds, Reptiles, Fish

You don't go to Off The Hook Exotic Pet Store on 5th Avenue in Coraopolis to shop for a puppy, kitten or parakeet.

Owners Desiree and George Diaz let other pet stores serve those customers. They cater to informed lovers of more interesting animals. Mostly, this includes exotic birds, reptiles and fish, with rabbits, turtles and others available occasionally.

Neither of them expected to end up running a pet store. George was really interested in becoming a Herpetologist, a biologist specializing in researching and teaching about snakes, turtles and lizards. He hoped to become a Herpetologist at a major zoo. But while interning at the Pittsburgh Zoo, he was advised by his mentor that a thousand Herpetologists graduate from colleges every year and possibly a dozen jobs a year open up. That didn't sound too promising to George, so he went into business setting up aquaria and terraria at offices, schools and homes around Pittsburgh and taking care of the servicing, maintainance and cleaning once a week.

"Large aquarium tanks are beautiful and a lot of people want them either in their waiting rooms, offices or even their homes, but they know they don't have the knowledge to maintain them. Saltwater tanks are especially tricky to maintain. So it was a good business to get into."

While George was studying and building his knowledge of the chemistry, physics and aquatic botany involved with aquaria, he was also becoming familiar with various kinds of corals and fish.

Meanwhile, Desiree had become active in Animal Rescue efforts. She was born and raised in Lower Burrell, and was a student at Westmoreland Community College when she met George. Their romance was an oddball fantasy.

"When I first met her," he recalls, "I thought, 'What kind of name is Desiree? That has to be a made up name.' But she really cared about abused and neglected animals, and that impressed me."

"On our first date he took me to the big reptile show in Pittsburgh," she smiles. "The first gift he ever got me was a snake. It was a beautiful snake."

Gradually their Animal Rescue efforts shifted from dogs and cats to more exotic animals. "People buy these animals or are given them as gifts when the animals are just hatched or just born," Desiree says. "They're cute. Then they grow up. They get too big and they get aggressive. People don't know how to handle them, what to do with them. Or sometimes a young couple buys an animal and loves it for several years but then they have a child or two. Suddenly they don't have time for the animal, and it's not safe around the kids. Or an owner has an animal for years and then dies or has to go into a home. So what happens to the animal? There are all sorts of reasons animals need to find a new home, and rarely is it any fault of the animal."

The Diazes may now be running a store, but Animal Rescue is still their passion. Desiree proudly shows off her special friends. There's Lauren BeCaw, in the very first photo above. Lauren spent 28 years with her owner, who then died. Lauren has a projected lifespan of 65-90 years. "These birds bond very closely with their owners," Desiree explains. "Lauren is still suffering separation trauma. She's doing a little better, but her heart is still broken. We would sell her, but only to a very special owner." A bird like Lauren costs about $2800.

Another long lived bird is Congo, an African Gray Parrot. He should also live 65-90 years, and is also worth $2800.

The biggest cage in the store, floor to ceiling and all the way back to the wall, goes to Max and Creole, two Macaws. They cost $4000 each. "But," Desiree says, "They're a closely bonded pair. They would have to be sold together. It's going to be very hard to find a buyer who can afford to buy both of them and then wants to keep both of them for the rest of his life." Macaws live 85-110 years.

At right, Desiree holds a Sunconure, a small South American parrot. The bird shown is six weeks old and its feathers are filling in. Parrots hatch bald and their feathers begin coming in at four weeks.

One reason birds bond with their owners is that when they're this young owners tend to hand feed them, which imprints the owner on the bird. At a later point a bird can gradually transfer their devotion to another owner but it takes time.

There are very few Avian veterinarians in Western Pennsylvania. The Diazes have had to learn to handle most details themselves, although they do have one local vet they go to.

George's old love of Reptiles is evident in the store's Reptile collection. "Reptiles are our biggest seller," he points out, "and they're rapidly becoming more popular than cats and dogs."

He's extremely careful who he buys from. He uses special breeders, especially for Boas and Pythons.

The most popular pet, both at Off The Hook and across the country, is now the Bearded Dragon, a large sand colored lizard shown in the photo bottom left. The adult shown sells for $200, but very young ones sell for $75. They live 10-15 years. A Bearded Dragon will sit on his owner's shoulder and ride around all day and tolerates human handling. But they require a large terrarium with an indoor Grow Light and they have to be fed both vegetables and live prey daily. Like all lizards, a Bearded Dragon spends some time every day basking in the Sun (or Grow Light).

Another permanent store resident is Kyle, the pet Water Monitor from Indonesia. One of these would cost $1000 and require a tall and deep terrarium. In captivity Water Monitors eat meat (usually chicken or turkey) and scrambled eggs (in the wild they raid nests). A Water Monitor lives 40-50 years.

Despite all the beautiful lizards they stock and sell, Desiree still loves snakes, especially large Boas and Pythons. "Just something about the rhythmic way they move, how they glide real silently but smooth and efficient, how they never make any sound. Snakes are really intelligent and probably the most misunderstood animals on the planet."

The front of the store houses all the fish tanks and is George's domain. Despite his love of Reptiles he has worked really hard to become knowledgeable on fish. The yellow fish at right is the Tang, a Coral Reef denizen. George relies on a private supplier in Chicago for his fish.

And he has some old school ideas on handling them. The modern trend in big pet stores is to link all the tanks together so the water can flow through. George insists on running a separate line to each tank. "I want these tanks isolated," he explains. "If one fish comes in here with a disease or a parasite, if all those tanks are hooked together, pretty soon that disease or parasite will be in every tank in the place infecting every fish. No. This way, if I get one tank infected, I can take care of that without endangering all the others."

He also uses old fashioned equipment, such as sponge filters. "Some of this technology sounds and looks good, but offers recesses and hard to get at places where infections can hide."

George has studied fish behavior and learned during his days setting up and maintaining aquaria that fish reveal their moods and states of mind if anyone pays close enough attention.

"Fish learn pretty quick that a hand over the tank usually means food is being sprinkled on the water. So it just takes a few days and you can reach over and the fish should immediately swim to your hand. If they don't, it either means they're not hungry or they're afraid. Fish are normally always hungry, so if they're not it usually means they're sick. If they're afraid, it means one of the other fish in there is bullying them."

The Diazes have taken some animals a few times to schools to do presentations, but as they've gotten busier at the store they don't have time for those anymore. They do have parents bring children in to look at the animals even though they have no intention of buying anything.

The exotic pet business is becoming more difficult, however. Other nations are placing more restrictions on capturing and exporting their own animals, and the U.S. is placing restrictions on importing animals. There are also people out there breeding and selling animals who are not really qualified. "We have to be pretty careful," George explains. "We've known our suppliers for a long time. For us to deal with somebody new, we'd have to research them very thoroughly."

Despite these issues, and despite the costs and demands of time and effort, more and more locals now own exotic pets, especially reptiles. "We have a whole clientele within walking distance of this store. We know this because in good weather they walk here for their supplies. But if we expand our territory to all of Coraopolis, Moon, Neville and Robinson, you would be surprised at just how many of your neighbors have lizards, snakes , fish or birds."

Kevin Edwards

Licensed Physical Therapist

19 Years of Experience

Back, Knee, Ankle, Neck, Hip, Foot, Elbow, Wrist, Shoulder

412-262-1256

1541 State Avenue

State Of The Art Storage Facility Opens By I-79

Out by the I-79 entrance and exit ramps, Guardian Storage has opened a brand new, cutting edge storage facility for people with more possessions than they have room for.

Storage facilities are nothing new. They've been around for 50 years. But this is a 21st Century version, with features no one imagined back in the 1970s.

For starters, there's a wide choice of sizes, starting at 5 x 5, suitable for off season sports or garden equipment, extending up through 10 x 10, suitable for all the furnishing of a one bedroom apartment, and reaching 10 x 30, which would hold all the furniture from a four bedroom house.

The smaller units open to inside hallways, as seen in the photo two frames down. The larger ones open to the outside, as seen at bottom.

Prices range from $55 a month to $281 a month. But right now there are specials available to mark the opening of the new location.

Guardian is a company with 16 locations in the Pittsburgh area.

In addition to the locks on your own compartment, there's a gate into the facility plus doors to the inside. When you become a customer, you get your personal code, which they then deactivate when you terminate.

The front office carries a range of supplies you might need to pack and store items. There are various sizes of boxes, bubble wrap, bags and covers, some of which are big enough to wrap or cover chairs, couches or beds. There's even a truck customers can use to transport items to or from the facility.

They provide carts and dollies to use in hauling items from your vehicle to your unit.

There's a conference room with wi fi for customers to use. There's also a copy machine and fax service for customer use.

One of the most unique amenities is shipping privileges. You can have a container shipped to the facility in your name, and they will receive it and deposit it in your unit. This means, for example, you could be on vacation and find somethying you wanted to huy but not have room for it in your vehicle or not be able toi take it on a plane. Shipping it home would mean it would sit on your front porch for a week or two until you returned, an invitation for theft. This way, you could return home, unpack the vehicle, then go to your storage unit and bring the item home with you.

Local Agent Expands Into Advising Bereaved

There's a pendulum swinging over all our lives. And it touches two extremes.

On the one hand, we plan everything : Birthdays, Graduations, Weddings, Retirements.

On the other hand, we don't plan for Death.

Tiffany Battaglini spent the last 20 years as a life insurance agent. She's been one long enough that now many of her clients are dying. She administers the paying of the policy. And she's found that many families take the payment and look at her with blank eyes and ask, "But what do I do with it?" They literally have no idea how to proceed.

This has happened to her enough times in the last several years that she's decided to do something about it. So Battaglini has opened a second career : She's now a Funeral Planner.

Operating out of her home office on Ridge Avenue in Coraopolis, she offers to sit down with clients in their own homes and plan what do in case of death.

"There's a checklist," she explains. "And there are a hundred items on it. Everything from contacting the doctor to contacting the priest or minister to selecting music and flowers to buying a burial plot. It's really more complicated than planning a wedding and people are faced with it just when they're in shock and heartbreak over the loss of a loved one."

Battaglini never expected to end up doing this. She grew up a Scally, part of the family which has run Scally's Golf Complex in Moon Township for more than half a century.

"The plan was I would become a famous golfer, then come back and help run the family business. I received my own clubs at an early age, had lessons, all that. And I got to be a decent golfer. I liked it. But I didn't love it."

She lived with her mother, Carson Scally, and her grandparents, Yola and Joseph Scally, on Woodlawn Drive. "My grandparents didn't want to live at the course." Her mother remarried, to Louis Lanza, and relocated to Florida when he was transferred by IBM. For several years Tiffany came back to Cory during the Summers. Finally she moved back to go to high school at Cornell. She decided to go into the health professions, and went to Sawyer College for a degree in Health Information Technology, i.e., the use of computers in hospitals and doctors' offices. She went on to earn a B.A. in Finance from the University of Phoenix. In 2001 she went to work as a State Farm agent under Robert Pasko in his 5th Avenue agency.

"Bob was a real mentor to me. He encouraged me. He taught me everything about the business, helped me build my client base, showed me how to manage the accounting, all of it." She still works for State Farm, but when Pasko died they closed the agency and moved her to Greentree.

Battaglini has watched the insurance industry change. State Farm no longer even sells health insurance.

Back when almost all the men in Coraopolis worked in the mills or on the railroad, they received health insurance, life insurance and pensions through their employers. They filled out the forms when they started work and the company kept them updated.

Now most people are on their own. "And life insurance is a hard conversation to start. I talk to a lot of people who are afraid buying life insurance is a jinx. If they buy it on someone, it means that person is going to die. A lot of parents are afraid to buy a policy for their children because it will jinx them."

But the longer a person waits, the more expensive it is. And Battaglini sees a lot more people with no life insurance. "When I ask them, they say when they die their family can go on GoFundMe and raise the money for a funeral."

She also sees a large number of people who think they have life insurance, but they bought the policy when they were young and have never updated it. Prices have gone sky high and the policy is out of date. "People have these $5000-$7000 policies and think they're set. But a decent funeral now costs about $20,000 - $30,000. You need a policy that pays that."

 

She works closely with Copeland Funeral Home, but also works with Sanvito and other area funeral homes. "I can tell people if they have so much money, they can afford these options, but if they want those other options, it will cost them this much more."

"Since I'm not selling them anything and I don't make any commission off the caskets or anything, they can trust me to be honest"

Planning a funeral and making sure a policy covers it isn't the same as selling a life insurance policy. "When I'm selling a life insurance policy, the concerns are a lot wider. I have to ask, if this person's income is lost, how are you going to pay off the house, pay for the kids to go to college, all those questions. But when we're planning a funeral, the time frame is much shorter. We're just trying to get through the couple of weeks right after the death."

Battaglini works for a fee. Her services as a funeral planner are in addition to whatever the cost of a life insurance policy is. She might work for a client whose life insurance is with a different company.

The funeral planning business is new and rapidly growing. Her son Shawn is at Allegheny County Community College and will go on to LaRoche for a B.A. in Business Administration. Her daughter Jocelyn is a nurse. Both have expressed interest and may join her as the business expands.

"Selling life insurance is still important to me," she explains. "But so is helping people get through the worst experience of their lives. People need advice and comfort. They need help. I seem to have the temperament to do this. Not everyone does."

She can be reached at 412-999-6895.

CSX Hosts Open House At Rail Terminal

On a dreary, rainy November afternoon, CSX and its associates opened the new McKees Rocks - Stowe Township Intermodal Rail Terminal to the public for the first time. CSX played the role of gracious host for three hours. They loaded guests on luxury vans for tours through the terminal and right under the cranes, brought them back for a question and answer session, and concluded with a generous buffet while officials continued to discuss various issues and answer more questions.

The Record has been publishing photos and articles about the terminal since last Fall, and many of those photos were taken on sunnier days. (Scroll back down through the News and Business pages to find those photos and articles; they're still online). But this was the closest access yet possible. Much of the information presented had already been printed in The Record, but many additional details and insights were learned for the first time.

Among those details and insighs were the following.....

* Since opening in late September servicing one train a day, the terminal has already expanded to two trains a day. The first train still arrives daily from Norfolk. The second train now comes from the West, via Chicago. Each train carries 200 cars, which double stacked means 400 containers. Each stack is loaded onto a truck, meaning 400 trucks a day moving into and out of the terminal.

* The terminal can handle more trains. The trucks are the limiting factor, and they are limited by a critical shortage of drivers. A large bulge of baby boomers have been doing the driving of large trucks for 50 years and they are all now retiring. Replacements are not available. "Any high school kid who doesn't want to go to college but wants a good paying steady job with good benefits should consider going into long distance trucking," observed one spokesman.

* CSX trains its own crane operators right on the premises. No college or vocational school is necessary to start, although for promotions workers will need that advanced education. High school graduates who can pass a physical, a drug test, a written exam and the six week training program can start at $20 an hour with full medical, dental and visual benefits. But the job is demanding, precise and complex.

*The best training for becoming a crane operator is becoming a good video game player.

* Each crane costs $2.5 million. It can lift up to 60 tons and unload 40 containers per hour. The crane is electric and electronic. On top of each container is a circular twist lock. The crane lowers the grip onto this lock and rotates it to fasten securely. The crane may need to rotate containers because doors are built at only the end that will be at the rear of the truck. Back at the dock, the cranes moving containers from ships to trains can load the containers either way, but here, when loading them onto trucks, the cranes have to align them properly.

* Snow blades have already been moved into place so when snow falls on the containers, it can be moved off before the railroad cars are pushed under the cranes.

* Security is tight. The terminal has 37 aerial video cams recording every move by everyone entering the grounds from any direction. Photos are taken of the top, front, sides, bottom and rear of every vehicle entering.

* So far, trucks leaving the terminal are delivering containers in a 300 mile radius. That distance will increase as traffic volume increases.

* Truck drivers must have an IPhone and must install the CSX Terminal App. The App includes a bar code. When they enter the terminal they hold their IPhone out the truck window and a beam reads the bar code, raises the gate, and gives the driver instructions. Those instructions assign him a specific loading slot. He pulls the truck into that slot and lines the wheels and the bed up. The crane double checks the App and verifies that the correct truck is in the loading slot. If a truck is in the wrong slot the crane will not load anything onto it.

* Planning and design for this Intermodal Terminal began in 2008. It has taken eight years for it to be constructed and become operational. The other finalist for the terminal was Aliquippa.

* Trucks are already placing great pressure on Route 51. McKees Rocks, Stowe Township and Carnegie Mellon are involved in joint planning on how best to upgrade 51 while considering pedestrians, bicyclists and cars. New trucks are much longer, higher and wider than anything on the road 100 years ago when 51, Carson Street, Chartiers Avenue and Island Avenue were built. Bridges, overpasses, entry/exit ramps and tunnels must all be rethought

* The land above the terminal tracks has easy access to 51 and will develop first. The land below the terminal tracks, between the tracks and the river, the so called "McKees Rocks Bottoms," has no highway access. Discussion is under way as to how to provide that access. One option is to extend Carson Street across Chartiers Creek and through the Bottoms. But that would destroy blocks of residential housing and threaten several iconic churches. Ramps now coming on and off the McKees Rocks Bridge are too narrow for container trucks. They could be rebuilt. But that would mean large trucks entering and leaving heavy traffic in midbridge. A brand new trucks-only bridge could be built from Route 51 over top of the tracks to get down to the Bottoms. But that would be extremely expensive. A new grade level crossing could be created somewhere near the terminal for a trucks-only entry road. But trains would block the crossing much of the time.

Clearly, there is no easy and ideal way to provide access to the Bottoms.

*A large number of those attending the Open House were commercial and industrial real estate agents. Stowe and McKees Rocks have already done their job in clearing much of the land adjacent to the terminal and laying new water, gas and electric utilities to those lots. Other lots have yet to be cleared of decaying buildings. But some of the old factories and industrial buildings are still standing, are solidly constructed, and could be redone to become warehouses or other facilities.

* The new Shell cracking plant in Beaver County will impact the terminal. The ethylene plastic pellets emerging from that plant to be shipped to U.S. manufacturers will be shipped in pellet cars by railroad to their destinations. But some of those pellets will be exported. They will be brought to McKees Rocks, transferred to containers, loaded onto trains, sent to Norfolk, loaded onto ships and sent overseas.

* CSX has built or is building one of these interrmodal terminals in every region east of the Mississippi. But this is the one closest to a major downtown, the one most ideally located between rail lines, interstates and a major river, and the one with the most manufacturing going on nearby. Therefore, it may very well grow much faster than expected. Yet Stowe and McKee Rox land is very tight, so everything must be planned carefully.

* Speakers (photo, left) included Matthew Cangiolosi of CSX, Taris Vrcek of the McKees Rocks Community Development Corp., Patty Horvatich of the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, and several from CoreNet Global, a nonprofit corporate real estate development agency.

*In addition to local jobs, some benefits have already accrued to McKees Rocks and Stowe. CSX has financed and provided manpower to upgrade Ranger Field, an athletic facility. It funded the planting of 100 trees. And in 2017 increased tax revenues will flow to the Sto-Rox School District.

BB Cello Distills Italian Liqueur In Cory

Coraopolis welcomes its second distillery in a year this week as BB Cello opens at the corner of 5th Avenue and Mulberry Street. Just across the street and up five doors, Cobblestone Brewery opened in January making craft beers.

BB Cello is owned by Jim and Brittany Breen and Mike Quinlan. In the back of their 1042 Fifth Avenue storefront, they produce four flavors of limoncello, with plans to add more flavors over the next several months.

Limoncello is an Italian liqueur produced mainly around Naples. It's a relatively new beverage, having been created only in the late 1800s. In Italian restaurants, it's served chilled as a dessert drink.

That's where Jim Breen discovered it. A native of Neville Island, Breen played football for Coach Vincent Walsh and graduated from Neville HS in 1959. He became a steel representative to several European countries. On repeated visits to Italy, he began ordering it out of curiosity and then became a real enthusiast.

Back home in Robinson Township, the Breen family began producing the drink at home to serve at holiday parties.

"We had to tinker with it for a while to learn how to make it right," says granddaughter Brittany. "The percentages can be tricky. But once you get the hang of it, limoncello is certainly easier to make than beer or wine. For one thing, it takes a lot less expensive equipment."

Brittany learned the fine art of mixing drinks by training and working as a bartender. Mike Quinlan, a PNC investment banker, handles the business details.

Limoncello can be made with Vodka or Grain Alcohol. The Breens experimented and decided on Grain Alcohol. "It's easier to control the proof. We like to maintain 65% proof."

The production process is relatively simple. Breen strips the peels from the fruit. The peels are steeped in a solution for six weeks to draw out the oil. The resulting distillate is then mixed with a simple sugar/water solution and left to sit for about a day. The resulting liquid is then strained through cheesecloth to remove the pieces of peel.

The discarded pulp is used for juice. The family uses some of that juice at home for drinking and gives the rest to Coraopolis restaurants.

"We don't sell it. We wouldn't even know what to charge. And we're not licensed to sell fruit juice. So we just give it away."

The quality of lemons, oranges, pineapples or blueberries is critical. They tried a few other suppliers, then settled on Volante's, just two blocks away up 5th Avenue.

BB Cello is not a bar or restaurant. It's a liquor store. You buy the bottles you want and take them home. However, BB's does offer tasting. You can sample the different flavors to help decide what to buy.

"A lot of locals have never heard of Limoncello, so we need to educate them."

Still, their first week in business has been busy. They're selling bottles as fast as they can fill them.

"We're right here on 5th Avenue, which is Route 51. There's a steady stream of traffic coming through town, and they all see us. We've already sold bottles to customers from Cranberry, Mt. Lebanon and the city."

The primary use of Limoncello is as a dessert or after dinner drink, an apertif. But customers can drink it as a atand alone drink. It's also ideal for mixing.

"You can mix it with iced tea for an Arnold Palmer," Jim Breen explains. "You can mix it with a wine for a Mimosa. Or you can mix it with a hard liquour like Vodka, Whiskey or Bourbon." Many Americans mix it with ginger ale.

When they decided to go into business, they looked at Robinson Town Center and The Summit. But they chose Coraopolis. "There's a steady flow of traffic, and the rents were much more affordable."

Duluth Traders Opens In Robinson

The new Duluth Traders outlet at Robinson Town Center will hold its Grand Opening Celebration Thursday, June 8th.

It is the first store in this area and only the 22nd store nationwide for the distributor, who for 28 years has been purely an internet company. Its mail order catalogues have become famous for their blue collar, almost indestructible products.

Duluth got its start in 1989 when two brothers in Duluth, Minnesota saw all their co workers in the construction business carrying their tools to work in old buckets. The workers would wind several wire coils around the bucket to fasten smaller tools to. The brothers designed a canvas carrier that fit onto an old bucket. It included numerous pockets and slots and was made of the same canvas used for firehoses to make sure it was almost indestructible. The bucket carriers became immensely popular in the construction industry.

Over the years, the brothers created other products. They added three inches to the standard T shirt because plumbers and construction workers complained existing t shirts pulled out of their pants when they bent over.

The long tailed T shirts became famous and are still the company's best selling product.

By 2000, the brothers had begun designing a line of construction worker clothing made of firehose canvas. Today, this line includes pants, shirts, jackets, coats and other apparel, plus packs, suitcases, bags, briefcases, and field binders.

They also added hard toed construction boots and shoes.

In 2005 Duluth introduced a firehose canvas business blazer for men who are company executives but must still appear frequently at work sites. A regular, finely tailored business suit would not be durable, but as an executive the man needs something more formal than a work shirt. The rugged blazer has become a staple among not only construction bosses and executives but in the coal, oil, gas, agricultural, real estate, railroad, factory and dock working fields.

The company found itself selling to three markets it never envisioned : college students, gardeners and outdoors enthusiasts. The firehose canvas wears much longer than denim, keeps its form and color longer, and is more comfortable.

Duluth has moved across the water from its namesake city and built a modern, state of the art headquarters in Wisconsin. But it still caters to the needs of blue collar workers.

Older Western Hills residents will immediately sense a resemblance in Duluth Trading to the old Coraopolis Joe Workman's Store on Mill Street. Workman's supplied durable clothing and shoes for the factory and rail workers from 1930 through 1970.

But Duluth is Joe Workman's carried to a 21st Century extreme. Its witty ads bordering on risque have become popular on TV and in magazines, and there are frequent signs and posters in the store echoing the ads. The store's decor and layout are cutting edge.

And there are items in the store not in the catalogue. The finest of these is the Burlypack, with padded slots for an IPad, Iphone, and Laptop plus 10 external pockets and large, heavy duty zippers. It should sell well to high school and college students, day hikers and even overnighters.

The store projects an unapologetic masculine vibe. It has old farm pickup trucks, John Deere tractors and other artifacts prominently displayed. It has racks of belts, suspenders, hats, socks, underwear, pants, gloves, rain gear, etc. There are displays of flashlights, thermoses, shaving equipment, drinking cups, knives, and lunch pails. There are even a few accessories for the working man's dog. At Thursday's Grand Opening, there will be the ESPN Lumberjacks, a BBQ, and special promotions, such as discount prices for the Long Tailed T Shirts.

Clay Jackson of Washington, Pa., is the Store Manager. A graduate of Washington HS and CCAC, Jackson worked eight years for Gander Mountain before accepting this position.

"When Duluth decided to open brick and mortar stores, they located them where they had the highest concentrations of catalogue shoppers. With its industrial workers, the Pittsburgh area has long been a Duluth stronghold. So this was a natural location for our first wave of stores."

Duluth Trading is located behind The Mall At Robinson, directly across from Dick's Sporting Goods. It has its own parking area.

La Poblanita Opens in Coraopolis

The latest new business to open in Coraopolis is La Poblanita. The Mexican Grocery and Taqueria opened May 1 in the former BP station on 4th Avenue.

Owner Oscar Santiago of Publa, a village in Central Mexico, has been living in Coraopolis for five years and noticed that there are only two Mexican groceries in the Pittsburgh area : one in Washington and one in Oakland.

"That's an awful long drive every time you want a few items," Santiago explains. "And they had no competition, so their prices were high."

Santiago resesrched and found that enough Mexicans and Mexican food lovers lived in western Allegheny County and eastern Beaver County to support a small grocery. For good measure, he added an outside Taqueria, supplying fresh tacos made right in front of the customers.

It's a family affair. His wife handles the cash register and his brother, who had been trained as a baker, the meat department. "I had to train him in the various cuts," Santiago admits. "But he's getting the hang of it now."

Santiago learned the food business working in restaurants in New York City. He moved to Pittsburgh, then to Chicago, then back to Pittsburgh. He and his family now live on Maple Street.

He bought a large truck and drives to Chicago to pick up his grocery items. "The big trucking companies and railroads bring everything from Mexico to Chicago, California and New York. Grocers can pick it up there or hire trucking firms to pick it up." He doesn't own a refrigerator truck, so he has the meat delivered. "We have to order at least a thousand pounds, but it's worth it."

Mexicans and Mexican food lovers cannot fix the authentic Mexican recipes without fresh Mexican ingredients. Tomatillos, Poblanos, etc., have to be fresh and high quality.

Santiago proudly shows off some hard to get items. "You can buy Jalapenos, Cayenne and Pablanos at Giant Eagle. But these" --- he lifts the lids and shows off large plastic bins of peppers --- "Pasillas, Moritas, Mulatos, these now only we have."

He laughs when American customers confront some of his ingredients for the first time. "They don't how to fix them." It might seem a good time to put on weekly cooking demonstrations and teach locals about Mexican cuisine, but Santiago doesn't have time.

Sometimes it gets comical. "I'll have customers ask why we don't have the crisp, dry, crunchy tacos. I'll tell them we're not a fast food place. We sell what you would find in a Mexican village."

He's been pleasantly surprised by the number of non Mexicans who have shown up. "50% of our customers are non Mexicans. And they're some of our best customers. There are lots of non Mexicans who really understand Mexican cooking. I hadn't realized that."

They have to like Mexican cuisine because he doesn't carry anything else.

"Those other stores, in Oakland and Washington, they're about 20% bigger so they can carry more. But what they've added to fill up that extra space is American items. We don't carry anything here which is not authentic Mexican."

Santiago makes his own sauces. "I have the machines and know how to do it. It's a lot cheaper, so we can keep our prices down, plus it's fresher and tastes better."

The volume of customers has surprised him. He was expecting 20-30 a day. Instead, he's had 70-100 a day.

They're driving in not only from Moon, Neville and Robinson, but from McKees Rocks, Aliquippa, Ambridge and Hopewell. "I need to hire more help. They're working us to exhaustion."

Santiago has heard people asking when Coraopolis is going to get a Mexican restaurant. "Not me," he laughs, pushing his hands away. "I worked in those restaurants too many years. You have no life. You work all night preparing everything for the next morning. You have no days off. And the profit margin is razor thin. So, Yes, I think it would be great, and Yes, I think the town would welcome it, but No, I'm not going to be the one doing it."

He does, however, want his Taco stand to be a success. "We use our own homemade sauces. We use authentic soft tacos. We make them right in front of the customer. We also offer Carnitas and other items. In Mexico City, this would be considered 'street food." He seems to have found a hit. In 30 minutes in cold rainy weather on a late afternoon, 23 people came by for fresh Tacos, waited in line, stood patiently watching them made, got back in their cars and drove on down 4th Avenue eating their Tacos. None of them were Mexicans.

Chelsea Brings Glamour TO Weddings

by Stacey Christe

Chelsea Szost just loves weddings. "A wedding is such a happy day. Happiness is just in the air. And getting to share in that is a wonderful opportunity."

Szost has found a unique way to share in it. She founded Glamorous Bridal Productions, which not only handles the hair and makeup for the bride and entire wedding party, but actually goes TO the wedding site and does the hair and makeup right there. To the best of her knowledge, hers is the only company in the Pittsburgh area doing that.

Now, Szost has located her Glamorous Productions on 5th Avenue in downtown Coraopolis "I knew when I saw how they'd remodelled this building that I wanted to move in here. These hardwood floors are beautiful. Every detail of this building has been meticulously done. I'm on the main street of a great small town where you can walk to everything --- hardware store, restaurant, coffee shop, drug store, bank, anything you want is a block one way or the other. And I'm centrally located to all of western Allegheny County. I love it here."

Chelsea has an 8-employee team that travels to weddings. Her team already has over 25 weddings under their belt, so when she opened in Coraopolis she had a growing reputation and plenty of references.

These days, the team at Glamorous Productions is so busy they can barely catch their breath. It’s hard to believe that Glamorous Productions is Chelsea’s first salon; she has two makeup artists and a part time assistant on site, and she's looking to hire two additional hairstylists to keep pace with business.

For all of the glamour in wedding preparation, Szost spends most of her time as a traditional hir stylist in a regular hair salon.

 

Chelsea is a Brentwood alum who got her cosmetology license in 2004 from Steel Center in West Mifflin. Since then, she’s been busy building her client base working as a stylist, all the while racking up certifications in Brazilian Blowouts, Airbrush Makeup, and Balayage, a highlighting technique in which the highlights are hand-painted in by the stylist for a more natural look. Since 2011, Chelsea has also been working as a color educator, a job position she obtained from Italy Hair Fashion, a regional educator with its main academy in Baden. Chelsea’s team shares her thirst for advancement. Makeup artist Kailey Tollan is graduating from Moon High School and in the fall is enrolling in Bella Capelli to pursue her license. Issac Chavira is a freelance makeup artist who studied in both Germany and Mexico. He does complicated and transformative special effects makeup.

While Glamour Productions started out as a walk-in salon, her schedule has been maxed out for several weeks, so customers now need an appointment. The salon’s current services include Precision Cuts, Color, Styling, Olaplex, Brazilian Blowout, Perm, Waxing, Prom/Dance Hairstyles, Extensions, Spray Tanning and, of course, a wide array of Bridal Services.

Szost moved to Groveton in 2010. "My husband and I live on that main street down by the boat club. It's a classic village even though we're just outside Coraopolis and right next to I-79. Once you turn off Route 51 and drop down that hill, you're in a different world. Everybody knows everybody by name. And I'm just 10 minutes from downtown Cory."

Glamorous Productions serves a big radius, she says, pulling in clients from Bridgeville, Jefferson Hills, Chippewa, McDonald, Hopewell, Sewickley, Wexford, Cranberry, and others – so the fact that Coraopolis is right off of I-79 is super-convenient for her clients. Also, you absolutely can’t beat a walking downtown area. “I can walk around my block and have all of my errands done in one day,” Chelsea related. “I have a hardware store across the street anytime I need a paintbrush.” She loves to frequent Cash Market, and says it makes her happy just to look out her storefront and see people walking their dogs. And the clients love it, “They can relax next door at the coffee shop while they’re waiting.” Chelsea also takes advantage of her proximity to Anchor & Anvil to purchase refreshments for events at her shop.

Glamorous Productions is hosting its first vendor show this Saturday, April 29 from noon til 6 pm. The salon is not a stranger to Coraopolis events, having held their Grand Opening in February on the evening of the Gallery Crawl. This weekend's vendor show continues the trend of local businesses in Coraopolis, inviting the community in for special events in which residents can mingle and discover new services and products. Vendors will include Jewelry Candles, Pittsburgh Cake Pops, Lip Sense, Stella Spa, LulaRu Clothing, and Toal Media LLC (a media promoter).

High school prom season is approaching and she already has some appointments. She enjoys prepping girls for their proms, but regrets that the time squeeze doesn't allow as much of it as she'd like.

"The girls can't do their hair in advance. It has to be done the day of the prom. They get out of school early that day, but there are only so many hours between school and prom. So I'm limited in how many girls we can fit in."

Everybody else in Groveton is trying to figure out a way to capitalize on the new Soccer Complex being built along Route 51. Szost wonders how many parents might come into Coraopolis between games to check out the art galleries or antique shops.

"While they're here, they could get their hair done," she muses. "That's the thing about this location. We have a lot of traffic moving through on Route 51. There's no other town in Allegheny County right now that has the same set of advantages as Coraopolis."

Appointments can be obtained by calling (412) 329 7753.

Isaly's Reopens In Pittsburgh Area

Isaly's, an icon in Coraopolis and the Pittsburgh area from 1930 into the 1970s, is back.

The beloved stores, where generations of Western Hills residents got their ice cream, chipped ham, Klondike Bars, and dairy products, were founded in Mansfield, Ohio. Son Henry Isaly and Clair Hatch expanded into the Pittsburgh area. Isaly focused on the product while Hatch handled the business side. They built the plant on the Boulevard of the Allies in Oakland. Hatch scouted Allegheny County for good locations for their dairy-and-deli stores. Mill Street in Coraopolis was one of their first. National Dairy controlled the Western Pennsylvania dairy and deli market in 1930. To compete with them, Hatch told Isaly they needed an edge, something unique, something to pull people, mainly housewives, into the stores.

"Meat," he decided. "We need to add meat to our line." Isaly was skeptical. "There are plenty of meat markets," he said. "Butchers here specialize in sausage and other cuts of good meat. We can't compete with them."

"Ham," Hatch told him. "Those meat markets don't deal in ham. We can sell ham."

Isaly was still doubtful. "They don't want ham," he said. "Ham's not popular here." As Hatch drove around Allegheny County choosing sites and supervising construction, he kept talking to people about their preferences in meats. He found out that women packed their husbands' lunches, and the men preferred sandwiches with meat in them.

"We'll invest heavily in an advertising campaign," he told Isaly. "We'll convince all the women that ham is actually the most economical sandwich meat." It was the middle of the depression and families were watching their budgets carefully.

"It still won't work," Isaly said. "People here eat ham for breakfast with eggs, or dressed up special for Sundays and holidays. They don't consider it a sandwich filler."

That was when the light went on. "We'll make it a gourmet food," Hatch told him. "A delicacy. We'll slice it razor thin. It'll be so thin it'll be special. Nobody else'll sell it the way we sell it."

Thus was born the famous "chipped ham." It quickly became Isaly's signature item. The stores, which eventually numbered 400, had a hard time keeping it in stock. Hatch worked with a mechanical engineer to develop a machine to slice the ham microscopically thin. Isaly's placed the machines in all its stores. Women would shop at Giant Eagle or A & P, then stop by Isaly's on their way home for their supply of chipped ham. Hatch made sure they patented their machines so no one else could copy them.

Once they came to the stores, the women also tried the milk, cottage cheese, ice cream and other dairy products. Henry Isaly was a genius in dairy processing. No one, not National Dairy or anyone else, could match his purity or taste.

He created the Skyscraper Cone. Isaly's workers were taught how to stack the scoops one atop the other, and could even alternate flavors as customers requested. No one else did that. Kids began demanding their parents take them to Isaly's whenever they were downtown.

It was Henry's brothers who created the square ice cream cake covered with a thin layer of chocolate that they named the Klondike Bar. The Klondike Bar created a whole new food item : the ice cream sandwich. Other companies came out with their versions, but Isaly's insistence on quality control and rich flavor kept them ahead of the competition.

Clair Hatch left the company to start the Eat n' Park family restaurant chain. Henry Isaly died in 1961. The family tried to run the company without them, but fast food and the rise of supermarkets contributed to its slow decline. Finally, in the 1970s, Isaly's began closing its stores. The Deily family bought the assets, closed all the other production, and sold the Klondike Bar to Henry Clarke. Clarke distributed the ice cream sandwich nation wide and earned $60 million over 20 years.

Enter Jim and Leslee Conroy, whio founded Conroy Foods in 1986 in Blawnox. They sold condiments to delis. When they heard that the Deily family was interested in selling the Isaly's rights, they jumped at the chance. "We wanted the chipped ham line," Jim says. "It was a natural to go with our deli foods." They began negotiating with Giant Eagle to carry the chipped ham.

Slowly, they added cottage cheese and other items. But then Tim Deily showed up with a box of antique artifacts. "Since you own the company now," he said, "You probably should look through these." In the box were old ice cream scoops, an Isaly's store manual, a set of ice cream dishes, a couple of old ads, and a faded manila folder. In the folder were all the original ice cream recipes.

"Now we had the whole package," Conroy says. "It was time to bring Isaly's back big time."

But they had to do it step by step. First, they contracted with Giant Eagle to carry the whole line of ice cream flavors. All the famous originals: Vanilla, Chocolate, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Mint Chocolate Chip, Maricopa (Butterscotch), and Whitehouse Cherry. By September, Toasted Almond Fudge and Rainbow will complete the list.

Conroy has been busy. As of April 1, the ice cream and other items are also available at PNC Park, the Pittsburgh Zoo, Carnegie Science Center, Foodlands, Shop n Saves and other outlets.

Right now, the ice cream is made in a plant in Ohio. Re-establishing a Pittsburgh plant is under discussion.

"Once we had all the rights and formulas," Conroy said, "We absolutely had to bring Isaly's back. My wife and I grew up here. We've spent the last 30 years hearing people reminiscing about Isaly's and mourning its loss. Pittsburghers are incredibly brand loyal. They have a deep, lasting love for Isaly's. So our decision was a no brainer."

He also feels the pressure. "When you're dealing with an icon,": he smiles, "You have to get it right. We can't afford to put this ice cream out there and have people saying, 'Well, what a disappointment'. Oh, No. We had to get it right."

The next step is providing the ice cream in bulk cylinders so ice cream shops can scoop it for cones. And then will come the opening of Isaly's stores. Just as back in Clair Hatch's day, locations will have to carefully chosen.

"It would be neat to actually reopen a few of the original stores. But that might be a fantasy. Most of them have either been remodelled into something else now, or their entire blocks have been torn down and replaced with shopping strips or parking lots or apartments. But if there were a town with the old storefront intact, and enough business in the area to bring us customers, wow, that would be something."

Temporarily, Coraopolis residents can buy Chipped Ham, Ice Cream and the whole Isaly's line at Giant Eagle stores.

Aerial Silks Launches On 5th Avenue

Downtown Coraopolis is staging an amazing transition. Once a busy steel town, it is redefining itself as a quaint historic district with an eclectic mix of attractions worth the drive from Pittsburgh or anywhere in Western Pennsylvania. It already has antique stores, art galleries, bicycle shops, a scuba diving center, diners, full service restaurants, a gourmet soft drink outlet, its own microbrewery, a coffee shop, and various other boutique attractions.

But whoever thought the Cirque du Soleil would end up here?

The actual circus, the one that performs at Disney World and Las Vegas, isn't coming. But Holly Dayton Kirby is bringing one phase of it : the Aerial Silks. She's figured out how to use the aerial silks routines as a fitness regime and recreational activity. She's already honed her business model at Bloomfield and South Hills Locations and now is setting up a 5th Avenue studio, across from the VFW.

Kirby is offering lessons and practice times for various age groups. She promises to take young girls, 20 somethings, middle aged mothers, little old ladies, high school football players, retired steel workers and grade school kids and, almost immediately, have them airborne, gracefully sailing around like Peter Pan and Tinker Belle.

"It's like riding a bike or swimming," she bubbles. "Yeh, sure, when you first start, you have to learn a few techniques and kind of get your bearings up there. But most people catch on to riding a bike or swimming within an hour or so, and they can pick this up in an hour, too. Like anything else, once you master the basics, then you work your way up through intermediate and advanced routines. But the thing to remember is that within an hour I can have almost anyone off the ground feeling an amazing sensation of floating through the air."

To prove her point, Kirby held an Open House the last Saturday in March, where she invited passersby to join her on the silks. Her first takers were mostly girls, and she quickly had them sailing around the studio. True, they were only a few feet above the floor, over a series of gym mats, but they were airborne nonetheless.

Kirby's "silks" are actually very long curtains made of a silk nylon blend. The curtains have a flex to them, and they're kind of grippy. These two qualities are key. They allow the flyers to climb the silks, twist them in various ways, move along them, hang from them, and sit or lay in them.

A key device Kirby teaches is a kind of tourniquet wrap around the foot and ankle (photo at bottom). Once in the air, whether three feet or 50 feet up, an acrobat uses this wrap to anchor the foot. From that point until she undoes the wrap the acrobat cannot fall. The worst that could happen, if her hands slip, is that she might drop to an upside down position and have to pull herself back up. But her foot is locked in.

"An aerial silk performance is kind of like a magic show," Kirby says. "It's an illusion. The audience sees it and thinks it's incredibly dangerous. But in fact there's no danger at all."

She taught her first group of girls various ways to twist and tie the silks, with names like Butterfly and Hammock.

"If I get tired up there, I can just curl up in the silks and either sit (photo, below) or lay (photo, above) for a while or even take a nap," she laughs. "After a few lessons, you feel perfectly at home in the air."

Her Aerial Silks studio in Coraopolis has a low ceiling. "We can teach all the basic and low intermediate moves here," she explains, "But as we move them to high intermediate and advanced moves, they'll have to come to our Bloomfield or South Hills locations, where we have much higher ceilings and they can really fly."

To spice things up, Kirby will bring national and world stars in for special appearances. The first of these is Christine Van Loo, scheduled for Saturday, April 22.

Kirby works with grade school and middle school students, but says high schoolers begin mastering the advanced skills. At the top of the pyramid she offers "circus classes." At her Bloomfield and South Hills locations she has performance teams of elite acrobats, and hopes to recruit and train a group of Cory area kids who can do the same. They put on shows and enter competitions.

Included in her array of sessions and packages, she offers Prenatal Classes. "They're off the ground, so all of a sudden their legs and hips aren't supporting the baby. The silks are. Women know they need to stay in condition during pregnancy, but the assumption is with the baby they can't do the usual exercises. We allow them to work their muscles while the baby is supported."

She offers special workshops for companies who schedule them to build teamwork and group dynamics. She can come to schools and teach either one time sessions or week or two week units as part of PE classes.

Kirby offers Aerial Silks sessions as birthday parties. With a coffee shop on one side and Anthony's Restaurant on the other, food and drink can be provided.

She offers classes in "Aerial Yoga," and classes for Special Needs students. She can even do backyard parties IF there are trees or some other way to hang the silks.

Ironically, although she's establishing her studio in Coraopolis, she doesn't see her primary clientele coming from Coraopolis. "At our Bloomfield and South Hills locations, we had customers driving to us from Moon, Robinson, Sewickley, the North Shore, the northwestern corner of Allegheny County and all over Beaver County," she says. "They've been begging us to set up a location closer to them. Coraopolis is central to all those people. So they'll be coming to us. Customers we add from Coraopolis will be an added bonus."

Monthly memberships for grade school students are $70. From age 13 up monthly memberships are $99. These prices include unlimited practice sessions and discounts on clothing, workshops, special events, etc.

On weekdays, sessions begin at 5 pm. On weekends they begin at 3 pm. Each session lasts an hour. Sessions are separated into age 5-8, age 9-12, teens, and adults.

"Once you learn the fundamentals and advance at least to lower intermediate levels," Kirby explains, "Aerial Silks becomes a magical combination of gymnastics, dance and acrobatics. A performance by skilled practitioners is a beautiful show."

However, for most people, "It's a great conditioner. It tones muscles. It's an aerobic workout. It builds strength. And since you're not on the ground, you're not stressing your knees, hips or lower back. It's like swimming, which also gives you a workout but is easy on the joints."

"Plus," she grins, "There's no other workout which lets you soar through the air."

Emma Jean's Smoke Damage Repair Moving Rapidly
The smoke damage incurred by apartment tenants and antique dealers at Emma Jean's Attic on 5th Avenue is being repaired rapidly. Building owner Brian Diggins predicted tenants of the apartments on the second and third floors would be able to return within a few days. Servicemaster Restore of Oakmont has been working all day for three days using state of the art equipment and methods to remove the smoke odor from walls, floors, furniture and everything from silverware to artwork. "They have special techniques for each kind of object," Diggins told reporters. "I've never been involved in a fire before. I'm amazed at how effective and thorough they are." The fire began Monday night in the basement. It was caught and extinguished before it spread to the first floor, but extensive damage to the underfloor and support beams will require some replacing before Emma Jean's Attic Antiques can reopen. Servicemaster estimated several weeks would be needed. "Buildings have different passageways between walls, up staircases, and in heating vents," a Servicemaster technician explained. "So smoke damage differs from one apartment to the next and one room to the next. But we're making good progress."
Cory Icon Cahen's Now An Antique Mall

For much of the 20th Century, Leonard Cahen's Department Store was an icon in Coraopolis. At the corner of 4th Avenue and Mill Street, it looked down on the busiest intersection in town and across to the main railroad station, where once an hour passengers boarded or disembarked from the Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh & Lake Erie trains. Shafer buses and PCC trolleys stopped right in front of Cahen's.

Leonard Cahen had exquisite taste and handled the buying himself. He carried the same brands as the Pittsburgh stores at slightly lower prices. The service and tailoring were just as good. Rare was the Christmas or birthday without a gift purchased at Cahen's. The store was THE anchor of the prosperous Cory business district.

Today, a historic marker commemorates Leonard Cahen. In this photo, you can see it mounted on the corner of the building, which still bears his name. But what would make Mr. Cahen happiest is that his building is still a busy retail facility. Under the careful stewardship of Dan Dinardo, and now Brian Diggins, the classic three story structure is in great shape. Upstairs are eight elegant apartments. And on the first floor and sublevel is Jim Barricella's Antique Mall.

Barricella was born and raised in Shaler Township and worked for USAir. He first got into flea markets because he just enjoyed collecting old items. He gradually broadened his interests to include all kinds of antiques. He decided to open a small shop further up Mill Street and was doing pretty well as a sideline. Then his brother died of a heart attack.

"It hit me pretty hard," Barricella relates. "I took a long look at my own life. I decided I needed to reduce the stress and change my lifestyle."

So he left USAir and opened Off The Avenue in half of the Cahen Building. By the time the other tenant closed, he was ready to take over the entire first floor with its sublevel. DiNardo had built a wall down the middle to create two totally separate stores. They've opened the wall back up so once again the first floor is one big retail area.

Barricella is not so much a store owner as a mall manager. He has the store divided into subunits, which he rents to vendors. They stock the items. Customers browse the entire store and bring purchases to the checkout counter. Barricella or an assistant credits their purchase to the vendor. Once a month, he deducts the rent and pays the vendor.

"I don't know if any of these vendors are actually making a living from this," he says. "But most of them are making a pretty good second income from it, in addition to their day jobs."

The vendors find their antiques at flea markets, yard and garage sales, estate sales, and friends and neighbors who bring them items. "A lot of baby boomers are downsizing and their kids don't want the stuff."

Barricella still shops for antiques himself and places them in the store. He travels to Punxatawney, Amish areas, and other antique hot spots.

"I still do light reconditioning. I'll touch an item up, maybe paint or varnish it. But when I see an item needing major repair or restoratioin, I walk away. There are people who do that, and I used to do it, but I can'r justify the time anymore."

That's because the market has changed. A hutch or other major piece may take a year to resell.

"There are several trends happening. First, buyers are looking for smaller items, something they can put in their trunk or backseat. They no longer bring a pickup truck to take home a full sized piece. Second, buyers in their 20s and 30s like to repurpose items. They don't buy a piece to use it like the original user did. They'll buy a hutch for their sound system, or a cabinet for their TV, or a TV set or old computer for their aquarium. They're creative in their repurposing. Third, some of the old items, they just buy as a decoration. They'll take an old telephone, or typewriter, or piece of old science equipment, and just sit it somewhere as a conversation starter."

He rubs his hand fondly over a piece of furniture. "What's sort of sad is that younger buyers no longer appreciate fine wood items. The tones, the grains, the fine finishes, those mean nothing anymore. Most younger buyers will take a beautiful piece and put three coats of paint on it."

As we talk, Olive joins us. Seen in the photo at right, she serves as the store's official greeter and has her own cult following. Locals walking along 4th Avenue will step into the store just to pet Olive. She's become one of downtown Cory's favorite characters.

Barricella doesn't have to spend nearly as much time travelling in search of good pieces because more and more of them come to him. People walk into the store carrying a piece they want to get rid of, hopefully for a few dollars.

In the photo above, he shows off a medical microscope a lady brought in. "She said she found it in the basement and didn't know where it came from. It used to be, every item had a history we could pass on to the buyer. Not now. People don't know the stories behind items they bring in. Families have always handed items down from one generation to the next and told and retold the stories, but now the younger generation doesn't want the items and doesn't care about the stories."

Selling has also become a lot less predictable. "It all comes down to who walks in the door. A microscope, a typewriter, a telephone, may sit here for a year. Then one day someone will walk in the door who is looking for that precise item. You never know who might walk in the door, so you never know what might sell today."

One category has really fallen out of favor. "Younger buyers have zero interest in glassware and dishes. They like them even less than they like wooden furniture."

Barricella has 20 vendors. "What makes us successful is that every one of them has different tastes. So they have different items. Someone comes in here and wanders around for an hour, they're almost certain to find some item they like. I just never know what it'll be."

Recently two other antique shops have opened on the same block, plus an art gallery up on 5th Avenue. "This is great," Barricella thinks. "Now we have a critical mass. Coraopolis is becoming an antiquing destination. A person or a carload can come down from Pittsburgh or up from Ohio to spend the day leisurely browsing our shops, having lunch here."

He's benefitted from Robert Morris. "Parents come here to drop their kids off or pick them up, or maybe to visit their kids. While they're here, they spend some time in Coraopolis and stop in here. We have parents whose kids have graduated, but they still come back once or twice a year just to check out the antiques."

He's also gratified that the Cahen family drops by once a year or so. "I think they appreciate the fact the building is still in good shape and is being used for retail. They'll wander around and point out which area was used for shoes, or shirts, or suits."

Barricella thinks the current generation of buyers is heavily influenced by magazines and TV shows. "A magazine runs an article about old ladder chairs painted lima bean green, and for the next several weeks we'll have people coming in looking for lima bean green ladder chairs. A TV show talks about using old books to add flavor to a room, and we'll have people coming in looking for old books."

When Barricella moved to Coraopolis, he expected to stay five years and then return to Shaler. 22 years later he's still here. "It's a neat town," he says. "A classic downtown. Great architecture. I like it here."

Deramo's Still Going Strong In 84th Year

There aren't many 1930s businesses left in Coraopolis. The four car dealerships are gone. The restaurants are gone. Gillis Furniture is gone. The three movie theatres are gone. Conroy's Pharmacy with its cherry, phosphate and lemon cokes is gone. The Montour Railroad is gone. Tussey's News Stand is gone. Michael's Hobby Shop is gone. Isaly's is gone. Van Balen's Laundry held on until recently, but it's now gone.

Yet Deramo's Beverage remains. For much of the 20th Century, this was one of only two places in town to buy Beer or Soft Drinks by the case. And that was the way most people bought them. Once a week or so, a person drove through Deramo's, stopped, opened the trunk, and the attendant unloaded a case of last week's empties and replaced it with a case of full bottles.

Little kids loved to accompany their Dads on the weekly trips. The dark, cool tunnel was a relief from the Summer heat and humidity in the days before air conditioning.

Even better, Mr. Deramo handed each kid a complimentary bottle of Cream Soda, Nehi Rasperry or some other exotic soft drink their parents never bought and you couldn't get at a drug store or from a gas station vending machine. Most mothers weren't big fans of Pepsi or Coke. They favored ginger ale, usually Canada Dry but sometimes Vernor's, because they could drop in a scoop of ice cream and make a soda. Kids bought a Pepsi or Coke at the gas station or corner store. But the only place to get something more exotic was Deramo's.

In the 21st Century, there are lots of other places to buy beer or soft drinks. But somehow Deramo's survives. Cars enter from 4th Avenue and exit into the alley behind Van Balen's, just like they did in Studebakers or Pontiac Super Chiefs back in 1950.

Inside the tunnel, the original narrow office with its big window is still there. That's where you stop your car and place your order. Bob Wallace (in the photo looking through the window) and owner Bob Deramo (in the photo with the hooded parka) take turns working the desk behind that window. Wallace was born and raised in Moon Township, and remembers coming with his Dad for the weekly resupply and getting a free soft drink each time.

"We don't give free soft drinks anymore," Wallace says. "Back when a soft drink cost a nickle it was OK. Now that they're $2, we just give each kid a large pretzel."

Working at Deramo's is a frosty experience. Even though the doors are open, they have to keep the building cold. Very cold. "People like to buy their drinks cold," Wallace shrugs. So every employee wears a parka or hooded sweatshirt, often with the hood turned up. Even with the chilly conditions, it's not enough, explains owner Bob Deramo (see photo below left). Some buyers want their beer very cold. So Deramo's has always had the three huge freezers shown in the photo bottom right.

Grandfather Deramo had come here from Italy in 1900 with orders to work hard, save money, and send for his wife and sons as soon as he had a place suitable for them. Grandfather settled in Coraopolis, but after a few weeks in the mills he opened a bakery on Fourth Avenue. It proved very successful and he ran it for two decades. But during Prohibition, America was developing a powerful thirst, and Deramo gambled that as soon as it ended they were going to be drinking a lot for a long time. So he converted the bakery to a beer distributor. It opened in 1933 and the family has been running it ever since.

To relieve employees from continually lifting heavy cases of beer or soft drinks, Deramo's maintains a fork lift which buzzes around the warehouse. They try to keep cases of the most popular beers stacked along the drive through lane, but the craft beers and soft drinks they keep further away.

The Deramos have watched tastes change over the decades. Soft drink purchases have declined until they represent only about 10% of total sales. "Many of the old soft drink companies have closed, and the ones left have become more expensive. Plus, people rarely buy soft drinks by the case anymore except when they host a party, like at Christmas or graduation.

Deramo's can special order soft drinks, except for obscure brands. "We'll have someone say they were on vacation to the Grand Canyon or some place and they tried some soft drink and want us to order it. We can't always find those small companies."

Beer drinkers are also different. Bob Deramo looks over the stacked cases of Beer. "Our regular buyers now buy mostly Lite lines : Bud Light, Miller Light, etc. We don't sell nearly as many of the heavy dark beers as we used to." But then there are the craft beers.

"Craft beers now make up 30% of our total sales," Wallace says. "We can get most of them from our distributor. The really small ones, like the two new ones in McKees Rocks, don't make enough to ship it out to places like us. If you want their flavors, you have to go to their place. They'll pour you one fresh or maybe sell you a jug to take home."

Speaking of special flavors reminds Deramo of Old Frothingslosh, the famous Rege Cordic concoction. Sold only at Christmas, it came from County Hippety in Ireland. It was made from the famous Hippety Hops, which created a beer with the foam on the bottom. Today cans or bottles of Old Frothingslosh are collectors' items.

He doesn't have anything quite that exotic right now, but does have some intriguing brews : Two Hearted Ale, Tangier, Great Lakes and Mexican.

Deramo can special order any beer, either American or international. Many of the craft beers run $30 - $40 a case, but he does sometimes order $100 a case elites. "Those more expensive beers have a higher alcohol content. And they do some interesting things with flavors."

The most expensive beer he's ever ordered was $120 a case. "You get a true beer conneisseur, they'll pay a lot for an exotic drink."

He's also seen a huge increase in foreign beers. "Used to be, you had lots of breweries in America and that's what people bought. My Dad talked about a time when there were 30 breweries in Pittsburgh alone. Now, those are all gone. But Belgium, Germany and other foreign companies started shipping their beers here, and they're selling really well. We sell a surprising amount of Mexican beers."

However, that, too, is changing. "I remember when the guy went to Europe and trained as a brewer. He came home, put together several investors, bought one of those old breweries, and set up his own. When people heard he was going to brew small batches with higher alcohol content and special flavors, and charge $30 a case, they just laughed and said no one would pay that. But people did. So he taught all the skeptics it could be done. Now, several dozen small breweries have followed his lead. Now we have craft beers everywhere, and people are buying them."

Deramo's is a misleading business. It's in a century old concrete block building opening to an alley. It looks like a small business with limited inventory. But they're really running the same level of beverage supply outlet as a big franchise with a new, brightly lighted building where customers walk through a dozen aisles of drinks. Deramo's sells the same brands they do and can special order anything they can. It just happens to be a drive through rather than walk through building. And they sell a large volume. To keep them restocked, at least one delivery truck arrives every day, and some days two or three.

Bob Deramo knows he has one of the last of a dying breed with his drive through. "For a while there, they were almost all gone," he recalls. "But in the last few years a few new ones have opened up. So we're still pretty rare, but I think this is a very effective way to sell beverages."

New Physical Therapist Hopes To Serve Elders, Athletes

Kevin Ewards is trying something a lot of people advised him against. He's trying to build an independent physical therapy practice where the licensed physical therapist is actually on the premises working with the patients.

Edwards, with degrees from Chatham College and Penn State and 19 years experience in the field, explains that this is a dificult decade for physical therapists. More and more practices have been bought out by the big medical corporations, and more and more doctors have been ordered by their complexes to refer patients to sponsored therapists. The big therapy practices are now satellite branches with therapy assistants doing the hands on work and the licensed therapist merely dropping by daily to monitor.

Edwards also has doubts about the mass treatment approach, in which a therapy assistant may be treating five or six patients simultaneously.

"One thing we offer here is 1-on-1 treatment," he points out. "There's a mountain of evidence to show that patients make far more improvement under 1-on-1 treatment."

Edwards specializes in back, knee and hip issues, in arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis, tendonitis, balance, and foot problems, but particularly specializes in neck injuries and pain.

Physical Therapy has come a long way from the 20th Century, when it mostly involved various kinds of massage treatments. There are specialists now in massage therapy. Edwards may use it, but it's not his primary focus. He may hire a licensed massage therapist to provide whole body massage care in cases needing that.

"We're equipped for heat, eletrical stimulation, ultrasound, cold laser and machine assisted strategies," he says, demonstrating each one.

Walking through his facility, which occupies the former Conroy's Pharmacy at 1541 State Avenue, across from the former Dr. Braden's home and office, is like walking through a modern fitness center. And it's going to look even more like one as Edwards finishes cleaning out the other half of the building and installing all the equipment over there.

"What people don't realize is that most pain, most problems, come from disuse," he goes on. "As people grow older, they spend less and less time walking, playing sports, riding bicycles, doing anything at all. So their muscles weaken. As the muscles around knees, ankles, hips and other joints weaken, problems begin. As core muscles weaken, people start having problems with their backs and posture. So often our first problem is to rebuild those muscles. We do that through carefully controlled exercise. That's why all the exercise equipment here."

But some of this exercise equipment is highly specialized and works in odd ways. The tall weight stack shown above is actually for working with back problems. "For you to lift the weights or pull on them you need your back muscles. We have people come in here who can't lift or pull even the lowest weights. There's nothing wrong with their arm muscles. it's their backs. It may take six weeks to build those muscles up."

Edwards is a big proponent of exercise balls, as seen at right. "We have a hundred different exercises we can do with these balls to help rebuild the core muscle mass." He wishes everyone would replace their desk chairs with large exercise balls, and approves of the schools replacing student chairs with balls. "Sitting on the ball forces you to assume proper posture and requires that your muscles work constantly to maintain balance. It brings your core muscles to proper tone and then keeps them there."

 

He has other equipment to work with neck and back muscles. The table at left allows him to work with stretching exercises, isolating specific muscle groups.

Edwards works with patients with balance problems. "We have people who come in here and can't walk a straight line. They can't stand on one leg for five seconds. They need a walker to get across their own living room. But we can help those people. In 6-8 weeks we can get them to where they can put down their canes and walkers and do fine."

He cautions that there are problems he refers on to other doctors. "If a patient has a tumor, a fracture, some serious injury, they go somewhere else first and have it taken care of. Then they come back here and we help them rebuild those muscles."

But he insists a lot of people are living with pain they don't need to have. "If you have muscles you don't use enough, then when you try to use them they'll hurt. Once we rebuild those muscles, the pain goes away." He especially sympathizes with people suffering back issues. "We can solve a high percentage of back issues. Not all, but I'd say 80%."

As for young athletes, he would like to work with students at Cornell and OLSH. "Way too many athletes try to come back too soon from injuries and then either reinjure the same knee or ankle or injure the other one as they try to compensate. While an ankle is in a boot or a knee is in a brace those muscles are softening from disuse. We can help them rebuild those muscles so they're ready to return to their sport."

He talks of patients who thought they needed knee surgery but really only needed a complete rebuilding of the muscles around the knee.

"Obviously, if someone is down to bone on bone in a knee, they need surgery," he admits. "But a lot of knee pain can be solved with building the ligaments, tendons and muscles around it. Then the patient regains the use of the knee and has no further pain."

Most insurance covers physical therapy. Some insurance policies require a referral from a family physician. Edwards has seen that become a major problem. "There are some insurance companies that are not taking any new providers or are not accepting any providers outside their established networks."

Why, Edwards asks, should a Coraopolis, Neville, Robinson or Moon resident have to drive to Sewickley, McKees Rocks, Greentree or Avalon when they can drive or even walk a few blocks or a mile to his office? And, he asks, why should a patient have to go to an office where they'll be part of a group treatment rather than come to him and get a series of 1-on-1 sessions?

But he does worry about rising problems with the practice of physical therapy. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, insurance may still cover his services but by law copays and deductibles are rising. And the ACA cut the allowable visits to specialists like therapists. "Some patients need 30 visits to properly recover but now the ACA reduces this. So our 1-on-1 care allows them to recover in fewer treatments."

He accepts Highmark Blue Cross, Blue Shield, Cigna, United Health Care, Workers Compensation, Tri Care, V.A., Aetna Better Health and various other insurance coverages. Medicare will cover his services as long as a referral is obtained.

But Edwards has already seen his patient load build. "We're the only physical therapist in Coraopolis. People have to learn who we are and what we do. We're not a chiropractor. We're not a massage therapist. We help people with pain and reduced function. Someone who loves to play golf or garden or even walk but can't do it anymore. We can restore them to where they can get back to doing those things."

Edwards is from Raccoon Township but his wife is from Coraopolis and graduated from Sacred Heart. They're looking for a house in Coraopolis right now. "This is a neat town," he says, "which looks to be on the edge of a resurgence. The Montour Trail, the old train station being restored, the classic downtown, the beautiful old houses."

His office phone is 412-262-1256.

Tootsie's "Just Right" For Owners And Fans

"I always wanted to own a diner," admits Colleen Melani. A Robinson Township native, she spent 30 years as a real estate executive with offices and apartments in five states. When the company closed during the 2008 recession, she started dreaming once again about that diner.

Cousin Mark Ferrelli did get an early start in the restaurant business. He worked at an Allison Park pizzeria at 16 and owned his own by 19. He left it to go to school, then worked for Cracker Barrel for eight years. He got out because of the time demand, seven days a week, 5:30 a.m. to midnight.

When they saw the building on 5th Avenue in Coraopolis for sale, they made a deal : They'd buy it but, rather than some other format, open as a classic diner, meaning breakfast and lunch only.

"It's still a 5:30 a.m. through 4 pm every day job," Colleen says. "But at least we can be home in the evening."

Not serving dinner solves two other problems. First, as Mark explains, people eating out today tend to eat much later in the evening, so a restaurant has a dead period from 2 - 7. And the much more varied dinner menu requires many more ingredients to keep in stock.

Ingredients are a major issue with Mark. "The biggest challenge in a restaurant is maintaining high food quality. To do that, you have to have the best possible ingredients. We buy locally, in smaller quantities and more often."

He and Colleen agreed from the beginning that if they were going to do this, they would prepare everything possible themselves. Tootsie, who is actually Deloris Melani, Colleen's mother, prepares the biscuits, Marinara Sauce, meatballs and other items at home every day and brings it in.

Colleen's husband buys a brisket, smokes it for a week, and makes their Corned Beef Ham, Reuben Sandwiches, etc., from it. Mark makes their potato chips himself.

"All this buying the best ingredients and doing everything by hand is more expensive," Colleen explains. "So we have no choice but to charge a few cents higher. But we gambled our customers would pay more for high quality. And they have."

Mom provides most of the recipes, and Mark and Colleen experiment on some new ones.

Two staff members, Cook Larry Flage and Cashier/Waitress Tracy Gemma, have been with them since they opened. But beyond that, it's a struggle to find and keep good help. The problem has worsened since they opened a second location, Tootsie's Too, near the airport in Moon Township at Park Building #5.

Right now, Colleen's big project is Fish Fry Fridays. During Lent, they reopen from 3-7 with "the best fried fish sandwich in this area." But she warns it's only during Lent. Then they're back to regular hours.

They're already carved out a reputation in town for large portions and very good food. Their loyal followers rave about their Breakfast Burrito, Western Omelette, Pancakes, Burgers and Sandwiches, Soups, Marinara Sauce, Meatballs, Biscuits and whatever the Special Of The Day Is. And that loyal following is growing.

Neither Colleen nor Mark expected their customer base to grow quite so fast. During the Breakfast and Lunch Hour the 36 seat restaurant is packed. But Colleen shakes her head when asked about maybe a bigger place. "No way," she insists. "This little place is just right."

Cash Market Defies Odds In Grocery Niche

Jim Mancini stands in front of a produce rack in his Coraopolis Cash Market and shakes his head. "The grocery field is more difficult right now that's ever been," he admits. "It's difficult enough for the big chains, the Krogers, Food Lions and Giant Eagles. For us little guys, the family owned, small town, single outlet groceries, it's a real challenge."

Mancini's costs keep going up. Utilities, wages, taxes, the prices he has to pay for meats, vegetables, beverages, everything. But he can't raise prices.

"We have a loyal local customer base," he says. "They shop here to avoid the long drive out to Giant Eagle, Sam's Club, Costco, Target, WalMart or KMart. As long as we have the same prices. But if we raise our prices, they make that drive. They'll spend five dollars in gas to save three dollars at the grocery."

The big chains buy billions of dollars a year from growers and distributors. So they can threaten to take their business elsewhere unless the suppliers give them rock bottom prices. "We can't do that," Mancini explains. "We don't buy in enough volume to threaten anyone.So we have to think carefully."

He turned and pointed down the long rack of shelves behind him.

"We divide our stock into three categories. The Meats we take great pride in so we continually shop for the best quality. Our customers are willing to pay a little more for high quality meats. The general items like potato chips, soft drinks, snack foods, etc., we just look for the best deal. But all the rest of our stock --- Dairy, Fruits, Vegetables, Juices, Canned Goods, everything, we purchase from a single buyer. That allows us to buy in a very large volume. Those big chains divide down their purchasing. They buy Milk one place, Leaf Vegetables one place, Root Vegetables another place, Fruits someplace different, and so on. So by concentrating all our purchases in one supplier, we can nearly match the big chains in volume."

He admits to keeping a close check on his rivals, especially Giant Eagle. "Dad used to take me with him when he'd walk their shelves looking at prices. I don't do it as often as he did, but I do it pretty often. We don't worry about the places where you buy in bulk. But we make sure we're competitive with the others."

When Albert Mancini first opened back in the 1950s, his main interest was Meat. But as the Giant Eagle on Montour Street and A & P on 4th Avenue closed, it was time to expand.

And that was made possible by another major event : Pete Myl closed his Chrysler/Plymouth Dealership next door. "He'd been promising us for 20 years that when we retired, he'd sell the building to us," Jim recalls. "And he kept his promise. That gave us room to expand." He shows a reporter how across the back of the Cash Market, facing the loading docks and rail road tracks, the Pete Myl Garage sign still stretches all the way across the building. Jim stops and points around. "Right here," he says. "This was the original store. The Meat counter was right over there."

Back by the Deli, he held up a package of Isaly's Chipped Ham. Long a favorite of Coraopolis when Isaly's was a popular Mill Street business, Mancini still stocks the item even though Isaly's actual stores have been gone for 50 years. Now Isaly's is just a supplier.

"Did you know Isaly's also created the Klondike Bar?" he asked. "We still carry those, too."

Walking around the store, Jim can't get very far without someone coming up to him, saying hello, shaking his hand, hugging him and exchanging a few stories.

"One thing about a small grocery," he smiles, "We can cater to what our customers want."They want a particular kind of Bread, or Meat, or Ice Cream, we'll get it. There are people right now shopping in this store that were shopping here when I was a little kid."

As a full service grocery, the Cash Market offers baked goods, and even does a lot of baking in house. They sell Apple or Cherry Turnovers, their own store made Pizzas, even Snickerdoodle Muffins. But still, from that original opening, they offer the best Meats in the Western Hills.

"Those methods Dad used to prepare Sausages and Meats were brought over from the Old Country. He loved working with Meats. He took great pride in knowing how to do everything, including cutting it properly."

Today, Mancini feels fortunate to have Dave Cook as his Butcher. "He worked for Giant Eagle for a long time, but was working with us part time. When he retired from them, he just kept working here. People don't realize how a good Butcher can make or break a cut of Meat."

That's Mancini on the left and Cook on the right, standing in front of the very long Meats Counter which is the heart of the Cash Market.

Cobble Haus To Open Mid January

Cobble Haus Brewery, a local microbrewery specializing in small batch craft beers, is currently under construction in the former Gillis Furniture Building on 5th Avenue.

Owner Scott Mills of Latrobe plans a mid January opening. To acquaint Coraopolis beer lovers with his products, Mills is offering an open house Saturday evening, December 3, from 5 to 8 pm, coinciding with the annual Downtown Lighting Ceremony which celebrates the turning on of the town's Christmas lights.

Mills is also conducting an IndieGogo fundraising campaign to raise the remaining $12,500 he needs to furnish the tables and chairs in the bar area.

Mills has been working on the facility since September.

After graduating from Latrobe High School and completing his degree in Mechanical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon, Mills spent several years in Germany and Belgium, where he not only fell in love with the taste of their beers, but studied their brewing techniques.

He laughs about it now, but his first attempts at brewing used kits he bought by mail order. It was easy to do, but it allowed him to experiment with different flavors and learn the basics.

The Cobble Haus beers he produces will be mostly German and Belgian inspired flavors, which tend to be a little darker and heavier. But as he builds his customer base, he promises to branch out into other tastes.

Mills is not a restauranteur but realizes people want food with their beer. So he's working on partnerships with local restaurants so he'll be able to offer not only "bar snacks," but full entrees. Right now, he's in discussion with two restaurants that are right across the street.

Mill lives in Moon Township and during the day works for a Robinson Township engineering firm.

He chose Coraopolis because not only was property available and affordable, but the town has a reputation of 150 years of blue collar workers with a love of good beer. Segneri's, Berardi's, Lester's Tavern and the Montour Hotel were famous local landmarks and Segneri's and the Montour Hotel are still popular. He really wanted a location on Mill Street, which he thinks has a "classic small town feel," but found a site as close to it as he could.

Mills' equipment began arriving in August and has aleady been unpacked and set up. His first load of kegs is in place. Current work is focused on the "front" of the facility, meaning the bar and tasting room. Right now it's merely a shell but Mills and friends are working on plumbing and electrical circuits and should be ready by Saturday.

He can't actually begin brewing until he obtains his federal permit, which is now in process. That permit will not permit him to bring in beers made anywhere else. As a microbrewery, he'll only be able to serve beers he makes on site. So he'll have nightly offerings of eight beers. Four will be staples, which he'll make constantly. Four will rotate. He'll probably use a list of about 16, with a monthly rotation, so he makes a batch of each one every fourth week.

American Bridge Stacks Contracts

Pennsylvania and the nation continue to struggle with a high unemployment rate, but it's not affecting American Bridge Company. They'e stacking up one major bridge contract after another. The photo at right shows the Tappan Zee Hudson River Crossing, an American Bridge project replacing the previous century old structure.

And that's only the beginning. With contracts to build new or replacement bridges in Edinburgh, Scotland; San Francisco; Chincoteague Island, Virginia; and Nassau, ABC is as busy right now as it's ever been.

American Bridge Company was founded in 1900 when JP Morgan merged 28 smaller fabricating and construction companies into one massive factory, which he located along the Ohio River near the villege of Old Economy. A company town was built to house the ABC workers and was named after the company : Ambridge.

American Bridge remained in its namesake town for 99 years but the factory had become obsolete. In 1999 ABC abandoned it and opened the new facility in Coraopolis. Several times rumors had the company closing its Cory headquarters but they proved unfounded. Since then ABC has become more competitive than ever in the specialized steel construction industry. Where during the 20th Century they built their reputation in bridgebuilding, in the 21st they've expanded into buildings, ferris wheels, skyscrapers, harbor facilities and other structures.

But as the accompanying photos illustrate, American Bridge Company still very much dominates the bridge building field. They've built up over a century of skills and insights in the fabrication and assembly of steel parts into bridges. "Our rivals in Asia bid for these same jobs and they can do them cheaper," an ABC official told The Record. "But no one can do them better. When a nation or state or city builds a major bridge, safety and longevity are the key considerations. We win those competitions."

American Bridge Company jobs can be found on internet sites like Indeed.com, Monster.com, etc. They range from engineering jobs which require college degrees to high tech construction jobs which don't require college degrees but do require specific skills, an intense work ethic and a tolerance for heights, as seen in the photo at right. These jobs pay well and provide great benefits and they're not going to be outsourced. They usually require willingness to travel, sometimes to far corners of the U.S., sometimes to foreign countries.

"Those little kids who grew up building things with their Erector Sets, they're our best employees," one executive said. "That's what we do. We build things. But unlike the Erector Sets, we don't start with a box of pieces. First we have to design the pieces. Then we have to make them. Then we ship the pieces and the men to the sites and put the bridges or whatever together."