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Pittsburgh's House of the Dead caters to zombie craze

| Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012, 9:05 p.m.
Jasmine Goldband
Owners of the House of the Dead store Chuck Cramer and Stu Neft at their Lawrenceville store Thursday, September 27, 2012. Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Jasmine Goldband
Owners of the House of the Dead store Stu Neft and Chuck Cramer pose with their custom corn hole game at their Lawrenceville store Thursday, September 27, 2012. Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Jasmine Goldband
A zombie on display in the window of the House of the Dead store along Butler Street in Lawrenceville Thursday, September 27, 2012. Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Jasmine Goldband
A large collection of zombie posters for sale at the House of the Dead store along Butler Street in Lawrenceville Thursday, September 27, 2012. Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Jasmine Goldband
Shot glasses on display at the House of the Dead store in Lawrenceville Thursday, September 27, 2012. Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Jasmine Goldband
Arvin Clay of Wilkinsburg looks through DVD's while shopping at the House of the Dead store in Lawrenceville Thursday, September 27, 2012. Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Jasmine Goldband
A custom corn hole game for sale at the House of the Dead store in Lawrenceville Thursday, September 27, 2012. Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review

To hear Chuck Cramer tell the story, Pittsburgh wouldn't stand a chance in a zombie attack. Tunnels would be clogged, bridges would collapse and finding higher ground would be next to impossible.

“There'd be no getting out of here,” Cramer says with a chuckle.

Until we can come up with a better escape plan, Pittsburgh appears to be safe enough for what is believed to be the first zombie-theme retail store.

It's here at the House of the Dead shop where you can buy T-shirts (including those of the “Monroeville Zombies,” the fictitious hockey team made popular in 2008's “Zack & Miri Make a Porno”), graphic novels, DVDs and other fun items that celebrate the undead and the movies that made them so popular.

There's even edible chocolate-candy brains and other brow-raising zombie stocking stuffers, just in time for the holidays.

“Hollywood is seeing that zombies are popular, but in Pittsburgh, they've always had a following,” says Cramer, who co-owns the shop with Stu Neft. “We're the zombie capital of the world, so why not?”

Cramer and Neft opened the shop Sept. 15 at Butler and Main streets in Lawrenceville, occupying what was, at one time, an old clock- and watch-repair store.

Decorated with movie posters and blood-dripped zombie mannequins, House of the Dead pays homage to the deep zombie roots left in Pittsburgh following the success of George Romero's films, which include the 1978 cult classic “Dawn of the Dead.” That film was shot, in part, at Monroeville Mall on a $500,000 budget, but grossed more than $50 million worldwide, making it, perhaps, one of the most-successful zombie flicks ever.

The pair admits it took a while to convince a bank to loan them money to start a business that specializes in slow-moving re-animates. But they think the shop fits better in Pittsburgh than anywhere else.

Plans are in the works to show an in-store screening of the season premiere of AMC's “The Walking Dead” on Sunday.

So, why do stories about the brain-noshing undead resonate with so many people?

“People love to see the human dynamic,” says Neft, who gave up his gig managing a lacrosse-goods store to help run House of the Dead full-time. “They want to see how humans react in an apocalyptic situation.”

Cramer and Neft have gotten the word out about House of the Dead by setting up booths at last month's zombie-theme “Run for Your Lives” 5-K in Butler, and the Horror Realm film convention in Bethel Park.

They plan to do the same at Saturday's Zombie Fest at West End Village. (Sign up at www.pittsburghzombiefest.com.)

This won't be a seasonal fad, Cramer and Neft say. While they expect to see a spike in sales until Halloween, they're open to the idea of expanding to include all things horror-related at some point, if things take off.

“If a store that caters to the zombie culture and zombie phenomenon is to be successful anywhere ... Pittsburgh's the place for it,” Cramer says.

Chris Ramirez is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at cramirez@tribweb.com or 412-380-5682.

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