If you think construction on Smallman Street in the Strip District is a pain, imagine how business owners feel.
As part of its Capital Improvement Program, the Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority (PWSA) replaced waterlines between 21st and 23rd streets. After nearly a year of work, the project finally wrapped up at the end of April. Meredith Meyer Grelli, co-owner of Wigle Whiskey, took this slow-moving project in stride.
“As a whiskey company, we have, perhaps, an unusually long-term and patient view of business,” she explains. “We’re used to waiting five years to bring a new product to market because of how long our whiskey sits in barrels to age.”
Wigle’s distillery is located at 2401 Smallman St. near the epicenter of the madness, which also includes a Peoples Gas project. Starting in September, the city is planning to overhaul parking, bike lanes and pedestrian pathways along this busy thoroughfare.
Wigle offers drink specials making light of their plight. Last month, when their front entrance was blocked for three days by traffic cones, the company concocted the Smallman Street Water Line Cocktail. They also offer $5 beverages during weekday happy hours that commence at 5 p.m., when road crews leave for the day.
One saving grace: The distillery has a parking lot, accessible via Spruce Way, on the side of the building. So visitors might not be as deterred by the construction-fueled absence of parking spaces.
Kaya, big Burrito Restaurant Group’s island-inspired eatery at 2000 Smallman St., has seen its lunchtime crowd dwindle due to lack of parking since construction started.
Corporate Chef Bill Fuller urges motorists to make another loop around the neighborhood.
“Penn Avenue often has spots, especially in the evening,” he says. “Also, the city has told us that they are not ticketing in the evening between 19th and 21st on our side of Smallman, even though it is marked no parking. So if you want to play a little parking roulette, have at it!”
On May 25, the restaurant will take over Smallman Street during its annual KayaFest block party, offering live music, Samba dancers and a special outdoor food and drink menu — and perhaps celebrating an end to the construction.
Other businesses have created incentives for people to visit. In April, Contemporary Craft at 2100 Smallman held a whiskey tasting event featuring Kingfly Spirits (a new Smallman St. business) and barware handmade by two Pittsburgh-based glass artists.
Stephanie Sun, marketing manager for Contemporary Craft, also keeps art lovers updated on detour routes, parking lot options and street spots through the website and monthly e-newsletters. There are numerous signs posted in different locations around the construction site meant to help pedestrians navigate their way to the venue.
Sun says many patrons made special trips to Contemporary Craft to support the organization during its construction woes.
Throughout it all, she’s kept an open line of communication with PWSA.
When Contemporary Craft voiced concerns about construction fences blocking their outdoor signage and impeding foot traffic, the city acted quickly to move the fence and brought additional signage to help direct pedestrians around the construction, Sun says.
PWSA will receive an award next week from the Society of American Military Engineers for this project, in part because of their communication and coordination with the businesses.
Smallman Street businesses hope Pittsburghers will continue supporting them through every phase of construction.
Happy hour, anyone?