By Jamie Wiggan
Gazette 2.0 Staff Writer
Broadway Avenue bustled June 7 as residents and out-of-town visitors weaved their way through a dense course of stations, enjoying art, wine and community along the way.
The event’s tagline, “come discover the hidden gems of Sto-Rox,” rang true for many visitors who were surprised to find that a three-block stretch of Broadway is home to two woodworking businesses, a newsroom, an independent movie theatre, a nanobrewery and a regionally acclaimed breadmaker. All these and more were represented during the art and wine crawl.
Although the night was an unquestionable triumph, it was born out of trying circumstances.
Last year, as winter began to set in, business was slow for R.J. Carrabbia, who owns the Broadway Brunch diner in Stowe. Devoted to the community he grew up in, Carrabbia was determined to remain there despite the challenges of doing business in a town with a “bad reputation.”
“I’m trying to help the neighborhood,” he said.
Looking for ways to engage more customers, Carrabbia reached out to Taris Vrcek who heads the McKees Rocks Community Development Corporation (MRCDC). They agreed the biggest struggle the community faced was its reputation. The best way to address that would be to showcase its impressive range of talent and enterprise, much of which has emerged over the past few years.
Six months later and Carrabbia said things are already looking up.
“Look at all the new business…positive vibes are replacing the negative attitudes,” he said. “New folks are coming into town.”
J.P. and Julie Collins are two such newcomers, who last fall exchanged the bohemian glamour of San Francisco for the gritty allure of Stowe Township. Both artists, the couple pitched in with the planning phase for the crawl.
J.P. produces art in his home workspace—Pylon Studios—and was showcasing his textural paintwork inside PMA Tattoo, where Ashley Corts of soon-to-open Black Forge Coffee House served her signature blends of hot- and cold-brew. Shop owner Sara Eve Rivera, who transplanted her successful tattoo business to Stowe last fall, was also a pivotal force behind the crawl’s success.
The desires for simplicity and authenticity that brought the Collins’ from the West Coast to Western Pennsylvania also play out in his work.
“The style and techniques represent the workspace I work in,” he said. “That’s what’s beautiful about gouache [a kind of thick oil paint], it’s easy to clean up.”
Broadway’s vibrancy does not just rest on a surge of new talent, though.
Mancini’s has been carving out a name as one of the finest breadmakers in the region for nearly 100 years. Still growing, yet sticking to its roots, the bakery is in the final stages of a 6,000-foot addition to their homesite on Mancini Way. Owner Mary Mancini Hartner was serving up signature pepperoni rolls outside an open studio space adjacent to the bakery.
Inside, paintings by Fabrizio Gerbino and Amy DiMichelle formed a welcoming backdrop for other artisans showcasing their wares.
“We didn’t have to leave the community to find all this,” said Vrcek. “We have some great local artists.”
The common denominator for all these folks?
Their talents and heart are hard at work in the Sto-Rox area.
The list goes on. In a mock studio along the sidewalk, MarySue Flick was painting the Parkway Theatre, sometimes stopping to talk to interested visitors about the eclectic range of stage props on display from her work in children’s theatre. Next stand over, Gillian Preston, who moved into a studio space in McKees Rocks last fall, was exhibiting her unique brand of glass jewelry.
In total, nearly 40 organizations were represented at 16 different crawl stations. Branded as an “inclusive” event, artists and artisans were joined by insurance brokers, carpenters, restaurant owners and even a tow truck company—Tomei’s—which provided a flatbed as a stage for musical entertainment outside of Broadway Brunch. The common denominator for all these folks? Their talents and heart are hard at work in the Sto-Rox area.
The MRCDC and the other event organizers hope this will be the first of many. Plans are already in place to stage another in the fall.
Carrabbia is eager to carry the momentum forward and reignite his hometown.
“We need to work together to create that spark,” he said.
Article reprinted with permission of Pittsburgh Westside News’ Gazette 2.0