Businesses expected to breathe new life into Connellsville
A number of businesses are poised to open this year in Connellsville, but the talk of the city is the reopening of the Aaron’s Building.
The six-story building once housed a thriving furniture store in the city’s downtown. The furniture store closed in 1978, and the building sat empty for years, changing hands between various owners who promised to rehabilitate it.
In 2010, the Young Preservationists Association of Pittsburgh listed Aaron’s on its Top 10 List of the Best Preservation Opportunities in the Pittsburgh Area.
The city, concerned about pieces of the building falling to the ground, closed the sidewalk around the structure and began to consider razing it.
It was then that local entrepreneur Terry “Tuffy” Shallenberger purchased the building for $1 and began to invest in its revitalization.
“The Aaron’s Building is one of those buildings that can’t be replicated today,” Shallenberger said. He said the building had obvious problems when he purchased it, which led to crews removing the top two floors.
Shallenberger said the integrity of the building was solid. “And the detail and craftsmanship on the building was gorgeous.”
Shallenberger said he didn’t want to see the building torn down and was up for the challenge of reviving it.
“I’m fortunate enough to have the resources available that I was able to save it,” he said.
Shallenberger said the challenge he and the crews had when they started the renovation in August 2013 was maintaining the building’s historic details, including the original intricate brick and trim work.
Along with taking down the top two floors, crews constructed a new roof and replaced windows, but Shallenberger said the exterior of the building has mostly remained the same.
“We’re trying to make things look exactly as they did in its heyday, and finding the right replications can be challenging sometimes,” Shallenberger said.
To that end, Shallenberger said the crews are trying to reuse what materials they can, such as bricks from the top two floors that were torn down.
“We have some really talented craftsmen working in the building, and they’re doing a great job,” he said.
Shallenberger said it’s difficult to choose what he likes best about the building but the dome at the entrance is definitely on the list.
“At night when the chandelier is lit and the accent lights are on, it’s spectacular,” he said. “The detail in the dome with all the woodwork and curved glass is amazing.”
Shallenberger said plans for the building include a banquet facility on the first floor, and he’s considering high-tech conference rooms, apartments and an office or two elsewhere in the building.
Shallenberger said he doesn’t want to give away too many details about the progress of the building since he wants to hold an open house so the community can see what has been done.
“The first floor is nearing completion,” he said. “We have some more to do, but we’re definitely seeing the light at the end of the tunnel there.”
Shallenberger said everyone he’s spoke with has been enthusiastic about the work done on the Aaron’s Building, and he’s received encouraging comments on the Aaron’s Building Facebook page.
People honk their horns as they drive by the building as a show of their support, he added, and people have been understanding about the interruptions the project has caused, particularly part of a street being shut down.
Shallenberger said the public will have a chance to be a part of the restoration.
He’s looking for memorabilia to display in the completed building.
“We’re not really looking for anything specific, but anything authentic or old pictures and things,” he said. “I would like artwork and things to be able to show the history of the building through the years.”
The Aaron’s Building restoration is just part of a changing energy of Connellsville, he said, noting that there are good people working hard to improve the city and make a difference.
“But the Aaron’s Building is an iconic landmark for the city, and I think people are happy to see it being restored,” Shallenberger said. “I think people like to see the progression of the building and the work being done.”
Several other businesses are scheduled to open this year.
New Haven Trailside Treats
New Haven Trailside Treats will open on Crawford Avenue in the West Side.
Manager McKenzie Goforth said the business will offer self-serve frozen yogurt and a 50-item toppings bar. Customers will pay based on the weight of the yogurt and toppings in a cup.
Goforth said the shop will offer 10 types of frozen yogurt that will be updated regularly and include seasonal flavors.
“People are very excited to have something new and unique in Connellsville and a healthy dessert, too,” Goforth said.
New Haven Trailside Treats also will offer drinks and snacks.
Goforth and the owners are all family who grew up in Connellsville. The name of the business reflects their connection to the city — the West Side was once called New Haven, and Trailside is in recognition of the Great Allegheny Passage.
“The bike trail is unique and one of the wonderful things about our location,” Goforth said, noting that there will be outdoor seating, large restrooms and a bike rack to cater to people riding along the Great Allegheny Passage. “We want to provide a fun atmosphere and healthy treats for residents and tourists.”
Goforth said there isn’t a set date to open the business, but early spring is being considered. Plans are for the business to be open seven days a week.
The Bicycle Bistro, another business on Crawford Avenue in the West Side, had an opening date planned for about the time of this story’s publication.
Lori Echard, the bistro’s co-owner, said she was raised and lives in Connellsville. She noted that the Great Allegheny Passage was part of the inspiration for her business.
“We own a bicycle repair shop in Youngwood and it’s close to the bike trail,” Echard said. “We wanted another business and we know that the bike trail is here.”
The Bicycle Bistro will feature homemade soups and grilled cheese sandwiches with different kinds of cheeses and toppings. Other things are in the works.
“The menu will change off and on, depending on the customers,” Echard said.
The business will be bicycle-themed and geared toward those using the bike trail, but anyone in Connellsville looking for homemade food is welcome.
“Hopefully it will help bring more business into the city,” Echard said.
Coke Oven Grill
Another business set to open in 2015 will be the Coke Oven Grill.
The building is at 510 W. Crawford Ave. Plans for the business were announced during a Connellsville Planning Commission meeting in June.
The owners informed the planning commission that they want to serve hamburgers, hot dogs and french fries, and hope to attract people from the Great Allegheny Passage by installing a bicycle rack and a small bicycle repair station at the location.
Mark Hofmann is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-626-3539 or [email protected].