Walking along Smithfield Street, in Downtown Pittsburgh, you’ll likely notice a collage of makers. Photos of ceramicists on the wheel, woodworkers in their studios. Nestled below Mellon Square, the photos stand out among the banks and hotels. Behind them, and the tall glass windows they’re on, is a space that’s fueling Downtown’s role in Pittsburgh’s creative economy: PG&H.
A lot happens here. On pre-pandemic mornings, the space first opens as a coffee shop, brewing Redhawk. If you’re not taking your coffee to go, you can sip it in a mug or cup made by a Pittsburgh ceramicist (yes, it tastes better this way). As the day rolls on, a store comes to life – the space is now open for safe, distanced shopping only –filled with beautiful, handmade products from dozens of the region’s best makers, and a team that’s eager to tell their stories. Stylish and modern, it looks like something out of a magazine, which is the reason it’s become the William Penn lobby for the creative set.
And, though you wouldn’t see it at first, it’s also a classroom of sorts. While other retailers evaluate each item almost solely by how well it sells, PG&H takes a more holistic approach. “We exist to not only introduce Pittsburghers and visitors to our region’s makers,” said Samantha Stickle, the store’s manager, “but to support makers as they learn the ins and outs of retail and wholesale, test new products, and develop their brands.”
The PG&H team meets with each new maker featured in the store to set goals and work through a checklist of items that will prepare them to better work with retailers in the future. Everything from ensuring they’re pricing their products profitably to determining whether they’ll require stores to order a minimum amount of product. This guidance prepares makers to sell more effectively with the retailers around the city that focus on locally-made goods, including at love, Pittsburgh, Small Mall, Wildcard, and others.
The vision for PG&H is bold, and so were the folks behind it. It emerged as the result of an inventive partnership between Bridgeway Capital’s Creative Business Accelerator (CBA) and the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership. The CBA had prior success launching Monmade, an initiative that works with developers and designers to get locally made fixtures, furniture, and equipment into new and reclaimed buildings. And the Downtown Partnership had helped to lead the transformation of downtown into the city’s cultural center.
“Downtown is the economic hub for the Pittsburgh area, so having the Downtown Partnership as a partner in our work is an unparalleled opportunity,” said Adam Kenney, Director of Bridgeway Capital’s Creative Business Accelerator. “Their commitment to makers runs deep, and the regional creative economy is stronger for it.”
With PG&H, both organizations wanted to offer something compelling for consumers – folks here and across the country who were interested in bringing beautiful, locally made items into their homes and lives. The CBA and Downtown Partnership worked together to not only launch the store on Smithfield Street, but to establish PG&H as the region’s maker brand and PGandH.org as a platform where consumers can encounter Pittsburgh’s best makers and their products.
“As more people spend time downtown, we want encountering makers to be a part of that experience,” said Jeremy Waldrup, President and CEO of the Downtown Partnership. “The Creative Business Accelerator is on the forefront of advancing Pittsburgh’s maker economy, so they were a natural partner in bringing PG&H to life.”
The partnership has resulted in some big wins. Recently, through the Downtown Partnership’s existing Gift Card Give Back program, and with funding from the CBA, they launched a Maker Edition of the Gift Card program. Maker supporters can purchase gift cards from 21 participating maker businesses, and get a bonus 50% added to the gift card total. Among the offerings are eclectic jewelry from Collarbone Jewelry, handcrafted outdoor equipment from Daggerfish, goods from Frank & Myrrh that celebrate African diaspora culture.
Frank & Myrrh, along with several other makers, are members of ORIGINS, a CBA program that supports and spotlights Pittsburgh’s African American makers. A section of the PG&H is devoted to ORIGINS-affiliated makers.
PG&H has also involved non-maker businesses in its effort to support makers. Last fall it paired four makers with four of the region’s best breweries and distilleries for a Bear Gear competition.
E.H. Schwab, a metal spinning shop in Turtle Creek, designed a custom, spinning holiday ornament with Grist House;
Worker Bird, a talented illustrator and designer, joined forces with Voodoo Brewery to create custom bandanas;
Brian Ferrell, a metal- and wood-worker, designed and developed beer coasters with Church Brew Works; and
Commonwealth Press, a custom design and print shop in Beltzhoover, made totes for Arsenal Cider House.
These collaborations gave makers additional experiences partnering with clients, and access to new audiences, whose trips to tap rooms across the city now became opportunities to learn about the region’s maker industry.
In the coming weeks, the PG&H store will begin to expand its hours, as it takes baby steps toward fully reopening. “As people spend more time in their homes, they’re looking for inspiration and to feel refreshed,” said Stickle. “Every home needs something beautiful and unique.”