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UpTo Charleroi – Advance Your Business

UpTo Charleroi hosts networking event to build connections and advance your business.

 

On Wednesday, July 22, 2015 UpTo Charleroi held a business networking get-together in downtown Charleroi, PA, the home of Pyrex, America’s favorite oven-proof glassware. From July 20-31, UpTo is offering discounted design services to main street business owners. The evening event saw entrepreneurs with interests ranging from hospitality, desserts, and personal care products, to chairs made out of skateboards. As business cards flew, everyone snacked on gourmet popcorn generously provided by Charleroi’s own Ekernally Yours.

 

The glass business has had a strong history in Charleroi, just 30 miles south of The Burgh.  As steel mills clogged the airspace over Pittsburgh and sent soot-coated workers home each night to clean up in basement bathrooms, Charleroi was making sheet glass powered with natural gas. This somewhat cleaner process encouraged businesses and families in Pittsburgh to relocate to this town along the Monongahela River’s steep banks.

 

When boomtowns grew further east, Charleroi’s glass manufacturing attracted the attention of “boomtown makers,” or businessmen convinced they could turn the town into a thriving economic center. With an abundance of sheet glass on hand, over 1,800 elegant storefronts were erected in the 1890s. Most had a width of just 20 feet, but a length of 100 feet! What kind of store could fit this shape? “Shoeleroi” was coined in the following years, as shoe stores found it easy to set up shop with their naturally narrow aisles.

 

By the 1950s, the main plate-glass plant closed, and was turned into one of the country’s first mega-parking lots. As with Pittsburgh, the 1980s saw a decline in population as manufacturing centers closed down in the Mon River Valley. Charleroi’s number of operating stores went from 400 to 170, and the population declined. The town was left with a surplus of beautiful, historic storefronts and little capacity to occupy them. Located on the busy Route 88, Charleroi is positioned to gain economic development attention as the region becomes able to determine Charleroi’s needs and help the town develop solutions.

 

UpTo Charleroi held a small business fair Wednesday in their temporary, pop-up, storefront space, to introduce local entrepreneurs and business owners to resources available to small business.

Welcome to Small Biz Fair

Participants included:

  • Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission is an organization that establishes regional economic development priorities, especially manufacturing. Among its many activities, SPC offers services designed to better support small business owners to keep revenue and jobs as locally centered as possible, helping to finance up to 50% of a project.
  • Pittsburgh chapter of Kiva International, based in San Francisco. Kiva City Pittsburgh works out of the Pittsburgh Public Market and the co-working space, The Hardware Store. The organization makes small business loans with 0% interest to borrowers, whose income is usually below $100,000, providing much-needed fuel to power small business’ early costs.
  • The SMAART Initiative (Sustainable Marketplace for Arts, Artisans, Recreation and Trending businesses) is a project of The Mon River Valley Coalition, and is creating opportunities for those with business ideas to get a head start. Until the end of September, three small businesses or entrepreneurs can compete with business plans to receive $10,000 in start-up funding. Two of these awards are specifically for Charleroi business owners.
  • Bridgeway Capital a Pittsburgh-based agency that provides loans to non-profits and small businesses until they graduate to conventional resources.
  • Washington County Council on Economic Development  is a non-profit organization with a mission of providing loans to small businesses in an effort to support job creation for our region.  Though they are based in Washington County, they serve a six-county area.
  • University of Pittsburgh Small Business Development Center – Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence works with businesses of all sizes and at all stages, whether just starting out or expanding a successful enterprise. Resources include workshops and free consulting services which help establish and grow small businesses.
  • Badzik Printing Service cares about the customer. The attention to detail and relationships with  clients is what really makes them different. They strongly believe that every job no matter how big or how small starts with a hello and maybe a cup of coffee.

A variety of curious entrepreneurs and business owners from across the Washington county area attended and each had a special story, enthusiasm, and a desire to create something lasting with their unique talents and interests.

 

Charleroi_sign_logo

 

Melanie Stringhill Patterson runs Good Old Days House, a beautiful guesthouse in Washington County, decorated in styles from the 1950’s through the 1970s. “It’s like stepping back in time into your family home from childhood, or even visiting a favorite grandmother – the furnishings are all authentic, there’s even a pinball machine!” She attended the fair hoping to make connections that could lead to opening another event space for meetings and weddings on a piece of land her family owns that was formerly a brownfield site.

 

Debbie Devigne’s business is homemade personal care products and candles. Her items for sale included shampoos, lotions, lip balms, sugar scrubs.  This entrepreneur was particularly interested in the idea of a co-working space in Charleroi, as her apartment is getting too small to keep making her products efficiently.

 

Sweet Spot, a dessert bar is a new business for Donna Wolfe.  She is looking to set up shop in the Pittsburgh Public Market, located in the Strip District that operates booths for small sized groups selling everything from pork headcheese to brainstorming innovations.

 

Artists are also in on the entrepreneurial scene in Charleroi.  At Skate Chair, Tom Noone turns skateboards into chairs.  A practical and meaningful product for anyone who ever tried to pull an ollie in midair.

 

Last but not least, a young teen came in before the event started. He was on his way to his day job at KFC, but had noticed the chalking and balloons in front of the UpTo storefront. “I’ve had a few business ideas over the years,” he said shyly, “and I’ve noticed you guys here every day this week on my way to work.”

 

 

Join UpTo for another Open House on Wednesday, July 29th!

 

Story by:  Ann C. Green, with Dean Simpson & Jennifer Highfield

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