‘I found my niche in life’
Bob Colligan ran a large business selling cement statues in Penn Hills for 20 years, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at his front yard.
There aren’t gnomes every three feet or flocks of cement flamingos outside his Harrison City home. Just two stone figurines representing his children — a little boy pushing a wheelbarrow and a girl planting flowers — stand out in front of his southern-style wraparound porch.
“I have a few things in my yard,” Colligan said. “Everyone likes something different.”
Colligan recently sold the 20,000-square-foot Brentano’s Cast Stone Outdoor Accents store. The iconic business stood at 520 Rodi Road since 1959. For almost six decades, its yard teemed with stone gargoyles, cobra snakes, bird fountains shaped like trees and Madonnas.
In 1975, a 15-year-old Colligan ventured down to Brentano’s from his home and got his first job behind the counter. By 18, he was learning to measure, detail and manufacture the cast stone inventory. Nearly two decades later, at 37, Colligan bought the business.
“It started as a high school job for me, but it turns out I just forgot to leave,” Colligan said. “I found my little niche in life very young.”
Offer too good to refuse
Colligan, 57, bought the family-owned business from Joseph and Marietta Morow in 1997. The store was known to have one of the biggest cast stone inventories in Western Pennsylvania. With 3,000 of its own hand-made molds, oddities such as satyr statues with demonic faces often stared through the fence surrounding the property.
Trends change with time and that pertained to Colligan’s inventory as well. What was popular 20 years ago is not in demand now.
“More recently, people are really getting into dragon statues,” Colligan said. “Planters, benches and tables are things that are usually a common standard, too.”
And if customers wanted a special mold such as a dancing dog or a personalized statue of their great-grandmother, Brentano’s could do it.
The thousands of statues and accents were moved when the property was sold — something Colligan said he hadn’t planned to do before being approached by O’Reilly Auto Parts. The company’s offer for the property was too good to turn down.
“I didn’t even have it for sale,” Colligan said. “But I thought, how many times in life do you get an offer like this of this value?”
Representatives from O’Reilly declined to talk about the purchase — listed in February at $875,000 in Allegheny County property records — or plans for the property. But Colligan said the aging buildings where he did his business will be leveled to make room for the auto parts store.
After the sale, Colligan sought cast stone businesses along the east coast to sell his inventory, but there was little interest. Turns out, the interest was right in his backyard. Lincoln Way Supply, a landscaping company in Monroeville, reached out to him when he was trying to sell his stuff.
The company, owned by brothers Joel and Jay Schroeder, has been selling products similar to Brentano’s for more than 17 years.
“We were considering making cast stone products of our own, until we came across Bob and his experience,” Jay Schroeder said. “We knew he would be a real asset.”
Colligan now works for Lincoln Way, manufacturing the stone for the molds’ new owners and managing day-to-day operations of that part of the business at 2870 Broadway Blvd. Within the short time he has been at the Monroeville store, he said he already has seen mutual customers of the two companies walk through the door.
In addition to acquiring Brentano’s assets and Colligan’s expertise, Schroeder said Lincoln Way is making new molds to accompany the old ones. Originally, Colligan said that 60 percent of his merchandise stemmed from his own molds. In his move to Lincoln Way, he and the Schroeder brothers — who also have a store in White Oak — plan to increase that number to 90 percent.
“I believe it will be good in the long run,” Colligan said. “I have been really fortunate through this whole process.”
Christine Manganas is a freelance writer.