On September 17, 2004, Jim Riley and his employees watched helplessly from the roof of his All Pro Painting business on West Main Street as Hurricane Ivan pounded the community of Carnegie and the rising waters of the Chartiers Creek swamped his business. Dozens of stores and homes and even the fire department were severely flooded. The damage was swift and devastating and some businesses never recovered.
Riley, now 56, was rescued along with his employees that day and he rebuilt his company in the years that followed. By 2012 not only had other businesses ruined by Ivan been revamped and reopened, but many new ones cropped up. The turnaround was so impressive that Riley decided to invest again in the future of Carnegie, and he and his wife bought the longstanding Paddy’s Pour House and remodeled and launched it as Riley’s Pour House.
Then they sold their house in Mt. Lebanon and moved in above the pub.
“On one hand you think that it shouldn’t have taken so long for all of these empty storefronts to become thriving businesses again, but it took time,” Riley says. “Now, so much is happening in Carnegie. We’re excited to see what is coming next.”
Ten years after the flood left many in the town of nearly 8000 looking for opportunities elsewhere, Carnegie is seeing a revitalization in the form of much-needed commerce and foot traffic. The charming and walkable Main St. is lined with a variety of independent businesses, from antique stores to the new Apis Mead & Winery, offering six varieties of the honey-based wine and One Thirty One East, a world fusion restaurant. In the heart of the borough is the historic and beautiful Carnegie Library, lovingly restored years ago. The 1.6 square mile neighborhood has what you would call good bones.
“Carnegie is now a destination. It’s no longer a dead end,” says Hans Gruenert, who renovated a building with his wife, Virginia Wall, and launched Off The Wall Performing Arts Center in Carnegie two years ago. “The community has taken so many strides forward and we now have a huge variety of restaurants from high-end Italian to Japanese and Indian. There is nothing but good things in the future for Carnegie.”
Gruenert originally owned a theater in Washington, PA, but started looking for a new location in 2012.
“When we saw that community was not taking strides forward, we started looking around and we loved what we were seeing in Carnegie,” Gruenert says.
Apparently it was a good decision. The theater, which offers cabaret, modern dance, theater performances and special events including comedy acts, is booked solid until June 2015, he adds.
“When I talk to our audience members who come here for a performance and aren’t familiar with Carnegie, they all say they are shocked to see how progressive it has become. When you come here, you don’t deal with tunnel traffic, there is free parking after 6 p.m. and we have so many great places to visit. It’s an attractive option for dinner and a show, not a dying mill town.”
Destination restaurants such as Papa J’s, a stylish and popular mainstay which was forced to renovate after the flood, came back better than ever. And new businesses came in, such as a much needed coffee shop.
Ashley Comer and her husband, Greg Romeo, already owned a pharmacy in Carnegie when the Shadyside couple decided to renovate the former town Post Office on Main Street and open the Carnegie Coffee Company in June 2013.
Hurricane Ivan destroyed the only other pharmacy in Carnegie, Comer says, and Romeo’s business grew exponentially. When the couple decided to renovate the former Post Office, they opted to locate both their businesses there. The historic and now charming building features a mezzanine level and the original windows and antique mailboxes.
In just over a year, the coffee house has expanded its offerings to include breakfast sandwiches and lunch items and the parents of three are eager to see their business continue to grow.
They juggle the businesses with raising three children, ages 3 to 14, and Comer says most weeks they spend more time in Carnegie than Shadyside.
“There was a void in Carnegie for a coffee shop and we were so excited to be the ones to fill it. This keeps us busy but it’s a labor of love,” Comer says. “We are really getting to know the people of Carnegie. Being a part of this community is so special.”