by Francesco Pasqualino
Penn Hills is great place to do business. I should know, because I've owned a restaurant in Penn Hills for over forty years, and each year, business is better than the last. Though we still have many customers who have been with us since our opening in 1971, our success is driven by an equal mix of new and old customers, from both in and outside of Penn Hills. Being in the restaurant business, I have the opportunity to talk to many other Penn Hills business owners. Overwhelmingly, most tell me business is great. Along with existing businesses expanding, many new businesses have opened in the last few years.
Not many communities can boast of having 6 supermarkets within its borders. Along with Community Market, a family-owned business since 1927, there are 2 Giant Eagles, 2 Aldis, and a Shop n Save. Along with the supermarkets, Penn Hills is home to multiple Walgreen's, Rite-Aids. Get-Gos, Mc Donalds, and Dollar Generals, among others. And most were built within the last few years.,
Another great example of a recently-opened business in Penn Hills is U-Pull-&-Pay. Located on 22 acres on the site of the old East Hills Shopping Center. U-Pull-&-Pay is an environmentally friendly self-serve auto salvage yard with over 1000 vehicles stacked on car stands in neatly arranged rows. This impressive operation takes the auto salvage business to a whole new level.
Other businesses that have remodeled or expanded in recent years include the S&T Bank on Frankstown Road. A few years back, S&T tore down there old branch, and replaced it with a new building on the same property. I would say they are the pioneers in the commercial success Penn Hills is enjoying today. The Dairy Queen on Verona Road did an impressive remodel after a runaway truck slammed into their building. I challenge anyone to find an ice cream restaurant in the entire Pittsburgh region that looks as good.
Penn Hills has also quickly morphed into a medical community. Reproductive Health Center did a spectacular job in remodeling the old Tivoli's Restaurant into a state-of-the-art, holistic, fertility center. Premier Medical poured tremendous resources in its acquisition and construction of the site of the former Bally Fitness. In medical education, The Institute of Medical Careers on Jefferson Road has more than doubled its parking lot to accommodate its growth. With the Pittsburgh School of Massage Therapy, Penn Hills is also a leader in holistic health education. This is all in addition to the many "Mom and Pops", medical and dental practices continually improving the quality of life to residents of the greater Penn Hills area.
There is no doubt the national chains and large corporations love Penn Hills. But Penn Hills' greatest strength has always been its small, locally-owned businesses. Turner Dairy is the best example of a great Penn Hills business and neighbor. Penn Hills has been the home of Turner Dairy since its humble, pastoral beginnings by Charles Turner in 1930. Generations of Turners have continued his legacy of delivering quality, locally-sourced, national award wining products. In the beverage and dairy industry, there is no better name than Turner.
On the same street as Turner's, there is another great family business, Penn Hills Lawn and Garden Center. Originally located in a small rented location across the street from their present location, they have managed, in a few short years, to do the difficult task of acquiring multiple properties to expand and grow into one of the finest lawn, garden and gift shops in the area. With community events and workshops, Penn Hills Lawn and Garden is another business that reaches well beyond the borders of our community. And if one great garden center is not enough, Penn Hills has two. Frankstown Gardens has been growing (pun intended) their family business since 1939.
Penn Hills is home to many family businesses that have relocated to our community, such as Leonard Labriola Italian Food Stores. The original Labriola's started in the 1920's on Larimer Avenue, and moved to Penn Hills in 1969. Their Penn Hills location is considered the flagship store of its small empire of Italian specialty food stores. More recently, a few other businesses have relocated their entire operations to Penn Hills. In 2009, Stoecklein's Bakery relocated from Blawnox to Penn Hills. If you haven't tried Stoecklein's, you're missing out on some of the area's best, made-from-scratch baked goods. In the Penn Hills Shopping Center, brothers Peter and Jay Cravotta recently purchased the entire building that houses Giant Eagle and relocated their Office Furniture Warehouse to the space above Giant Eagle. Not only have they created a spectacular showroom highlighting both new and used office furniture, the two young entrepreneurs have also secured Planet Fitness as a tenant. There are numerous other businesses, small and large that call Penn Hills home. I can't begin to mention them all.
I am proud to be a part of the future of Penn Hills. But it's not just businesses that make a good community. Penn Hills has many desirable residential communities. Sperling's Best Places website, which analyzes quality of life data for major publications, rates Penn Hills as "... a good time to buy in Penn Hills township. Home Appreciation is up 1.6% in the last 12 months." Crescent Hills was voted as the "Best Overall Neighborhood in the East" by In Community magazine. The Eastern area of Penn Hills, near the borders of Oakmont and Plum, boasts of homes with large tracks of land with a relaxing, rural, natural look. The area is the perfect setting for the 60 acre Springwood Conference Center. Recognized for both its elegance and magnificent natural beauty, Springwood is a great setting for weddings and other celebratory events. There are also streets like McCully Drive, in the Jefferson Heights area, where one can find grand estate homes with historical significance.
I realize that Penn Hills, like every other community has faults. One of the problems Penn Hills faces is a few too many vacant commercial properties. The reality is that in many of those properties, the owners, for years, have not invested any money for upkeep and improvements. A dilapidated, dated building without character has little chance for a good rental, especially when the only advertisement is a hardware store "For Rent" sign duct taped to the building. What is encouraging, is that Mayor and Council, aware of the problems Penn Hills faces with some of its aging housing stock, has become very proactive in fighting blight. The Municipality has just hired additional Code Enforcement officers, and Mayor and Council recently enacted tougher ordinances for rental properties. Mayor and Council, along with the Planning Department, Code Enforcement, Police Department, School District and many civic organizations are working together to meet challenges, and insure Penn Hills continues to be a great place to live and work.
Originally published in a slightly different version in The Penn Hills Chamber of Commerce Newsletter.