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One year later, Carnegie coffee house exceeds odds

| Monday, June 9, 2014, 9:40 p.m.

Failure was never an option for Greg Romeo and Ashley Comer.

When the Shadyside couple began to renovate the former Carnegie Post Office at 132 East Main St. into an independent coffee shop, they had their detractors.

“When we were planning this, people would ask us, ‘Why do that in Carnegie?'” Romeo said. “But you have to build it before they will come. We knew this town needed a coffee house.”

When the couple started planning in late 2011, there were 20,000 coffee shops in the country, according the Pittsburgh area branch of the Small Business Development Center, which provides support to business owners. The top 50 — which include Starbucks, Seattle's Best and Peet's — make up 70 percent of coffee sales.

What sets the Carnegie Coffee Company apart, Romeo said, is the communal atmosphere. An upstairs loft can be rented for parties or meetings. Comer, who designed the interior, said wanted to create a cozy, European feel. And it's affordable, Romeo said.

“This is a place where you can spend $3 and sit for three hours,” he said.

Customers have responded to the communal atmosphere.

“We have a crazy volume — we're always busy,” Comer said. “The community response has been more than anything we expected.”

The idea was to be strictly a coffee shop, he said, but the business quickly became a café through customer demand. Romeo and Comer are now looking to expand their menu to include more lunch and dessert options, as well as more “afternoon snack” items.

“We didn't plan on that,” Comer said. “But it's been so much fun to watch it grow and evolve.”

Romeo, a pharmacist, also runs the Medicine Shoppe out of the same building. It opened several months after the coffee shop.

He said he expected the pharmacy customers to become the coffee shop customers, but the customer base has been diverse.

“Over the past year, we've met a very different crowd of people in Carnegie,” he said. “We're seeing young people and families – we were used to an older crowd.”

Beyond their evolving business, they have also watched Carnegie's business district along Main Street change as well.

Its location has made a centerpiece to the business district, borough Mayor Jack Kobistek said.

“It's the perfect example of what we're trying to do in this community,” he said. “It's a nice, locally owned small business. They took an old building and reused the space in a wonderful way.”

Romeo called the first year a learning experience, and he expects the next year to be much the same.

“We want to keep expanding,” he said. “We want more growth. We're going to continue to adapt and work on what the community asks for.”

Megan Guza is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5810 or mguza@tribweb.com.

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