Thursday, January 31, 2008

The ultimate energy drink

In a world where energy drinks occupy increasing numbers of shelf-feet in grocery stores, I was amused to notice that the coffee shop I frequent appears to be offering Ch'i itself as a beverage.

Portion of coffee shop menu offering "vanilla chi"

It is an interesting typo, but at least they are not using the redundancy of other shops that offer a beverage they call "chai tea" (which being translated means "tea tea").

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

All Together now ... let's revitalize Tarentum's downtown

logo for the Allegheny Together program, which emphasizes the letters ALL beside the word TOGETHERThere was standing room only in the council chambers at the Tarentum borough building last night for the first of the Key Issues workshops in the Allegheny Together Program.

As I glanced around the packed room, I could see that a strong cross-section of Tarentum's businesses were represented: Choppers Bar and Grille, the Tarena, Superior Sports Cards, Site Signatures, Joan's Kiln Korner, Seita Jewelers, Ringer's Pet Dog Training, Dusters. The Valley News Dispatch (that had publicized the workshop with a news story and an editorial was also represented. There were certainly many others who I did not see or know.

Council President Carl Magnetta welcomed everyone to the workshop, commenting on the high attendance by the public at the meetings in the Tarentum. He introduced Mark J. Peluso, Executive Director of Town Center Associates, who ran the workshop.

Mr. Peluso commented on how exciting it was to be in the first minute of the first workshop in the Allegheny Together program. Tarentum is one of the four pilot communities (Elizabeth Borough, Stowe, Swissvale, and Tarentum) for this program of Allegheny County.

Lance Chimka, Project Manager in Allegheny County Economic Development, said that Allegheny County has 43 traditional business disctricts, of which 19 are in distressed communities. He commented on how walkable the Tarentum community is. The past county council revitalization programs were good but did not meet all the communities' needs. The recipe Allegheny County is using now for revitalization includes long-term planning, a focus on bricks and mortar, capacity building, and business attraction.

Marilyn Whitelock, Community Relations Coordinator of the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, the lead consultant in the Allegheny Together Program, said that the foundation has been preparing planning documents including design guidelines, a market and real estate analysis, and a review of our historic architecture.

Another organization supporting Allegheny Together is CTAC (Community Technical Assistance Center) which has been involved in community development and will be providing centralized workshops for the participating communities in line with the National Trust for Historic Preservations Main Street Strategies with the four points: Design, Economic Restructuring, Promotion, and Organization.

Mr. Peluso gave an overview of how towns like Tarentum developed and changed from their origins when walking was the primary way of getting around, to the present when the downtowns have new possibilites for adapting and being re-energized. He discussed issues affecting streetscape, building facades, and signage.

At the close of the workshop there was a discussion about the role of West Tarentum with respect to this downtown revitalization program. The strategy involves working with a focused area, and being located outside that area does not exclude a location from getting some of the benefits of the program. But it became clear that the business district along West Seventh Avenue was not considered part of Tarentum's downtown.

When I think about Tarentum's revitalization, this division between two business districts is one of the most painful issues I see. The traffic flow from Red Belt/Ross Street to the Tarentum Bridge prevents Tarentum from experiencing a larger, unified business district with all the benefits that it could bring to the town. There are many businesses along West Seventh Ave, including Tarentum's only grocery store. Although food is available at the Rite-Aid, it does not carry fresh meats and vegetables. All the businesses along West Seventh could contribute to Tarentum's revitalization. The division between the business districts is one issue Tarentum must face sooner or later.

There are a number of upcoming events scheduled for Tarentum's Revitalization program.
On January 30 at 7 PM a Design on Main Street workshop will be held at the Brashear Center on the Southside. This is one of four workshops provided by CTAC (the Community Technical Assistance Center) for the Allegheny Together communities.

The Key Issues Workshop on Business Development will be February 20 at 6:30. This workshop is part of the Allegheny Together program. Originally scheduled for the Tarentum Borough Building, the heavy turnout for the first workshop indicates that a new location may be needed for future workshops.

The Key Issues Workshop on Promotion will be March 19. This workshop is part of the Allegheny Together program. Its location may also be shifted from the Borough Building.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Tarentum Station opens

sign for JG's Tarentum Station GrilleLast week JG's Tarentum Station Grille opened in the Tarentum train station. We had Pasta Misto Vegetale with chicken (which came in an enormous serving), Louisiana Chicken, and the crème brûlée for dessert. It was a good meal, all very tasty, in a very nice setting.

I am looking forward to seeing how the re-opened Tarentum Station will progress.

It seems like restaurants are opening all over the area. Villa Ballanca opened Saturday in Lower Burrell in the site of the former Arthur's, and I have not yet had a chance to find out what they offer. I've written recently about P&M Pizza in Arnold, and Steel City Grille in Lower Burrell. The appearance of all of these restaurants recently is a counterpoint to the messages I have been hearing over the last couple years about how the big restaurants at the Pittsburgh Mills are putting a pinch on local restaurants.

I suspect that these new restaurants are not simply a new generation of lemmings headed for the cliff. Steel City opened in a highly visible location and had crowds coming in as soon as they put out banners to announce they were open. (By offering better hours than Babe's, Steel City made it possible for me to visit and discover what they had to offer.)

P&M Pizza is in an almost invisible location, but brought in a large crowd primarily through word of mouth passing among people who knew the history and missed the old hang-out.

Sadly, Lees Chinese Restaurant closed its 4th Ave. Tarentum location last month. I suspect that changes to the recipes Greg Honzo had used may have eroded customer loyalty.

But whatever is happening in the Valley's dining scene today, it seems to be something distinct from the old, tired, and probably false story of businesses limping toward closing because of stiff competition from the mall.

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Thursday, January 03, 2008

P & M Pizza has grand opening

hand tossed pizza at P & M Pizza in Arnold, PAToday was the grand opening for P & M Pizza at 1609 Fifth Avenue in Arnold, PA.

An Arnold institution since WWII, the restaurant has been closed for four years. Philip McKinley bought the restaurant in April last year and has used the last eight months to repair and renovate the interior. In addition, he has put much effort into recreating the distinctive taste of P & M pizza that he remembers from his youth.

This grand opening is so fresh that the restaurant does not even have printed menus. They only sell one thing — pizza — and the menu is on the wall. We ordered a hand-tossed sausage pizza with pepperoni on one side and green peppers on the other. Both sides were quite pleasing to the diners in our party. I am looking forward to going back.


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