Steelers' training camp brings influx of customers to Latrobe businesses
For businesses near the Pittsburgh Steelers' summer home at St. Vincent College in Unity, preparing for the surge in foot traffic of football fans making their way to and from campus is an annual tradition.
The St. Vincent College Bookstore in the Robert S. Carey Student Center has refined its training camp routine over the years. At the top of the staircase players use to travel between the locker rooms and practice fields, the bookstore is in prime position to cater to crowds of eager autograph seekers.
“We really draw the crowds, mainly because of where the players autograph the souvenirs,” said bookstore director the Rev. Anthony Grossi. “... A lot of people forget Sharpies and sunscreen and different sundries that we are able to offer them.”
The bookstore increases its staff from three to 13 during training camp, and Grossi said the 10 student workers hired for the Steelers' three-week stay help the store juggle the demands of pro football fans and online textbook orders for the upcoming semester.
“Actually, we're filling orders online at the same time,” Grossi said. “Students are pre-ordering their books, so we have to fill those orders at the same time that we're assisting the Steelers fans.”
The St. Vincent Gristmill, on Beatty County Road just north of the main campus, has had a slight bump in business during Steelers camp, but its relatively secluded location doesn't draw as many fans.
“We are getting a little bit more business than usual, but it's not that great a number of customers,” said gristmill director the Rev. Andre Melli. “They don't come to this side of the campus when they come to see the Steelers. Even to the church, not too many people come over here.”
Four Seasons Brewing Co., on the Lloyd Avenue Extension in Latrobe a little more than a mile from campus, is enjoying its introduction to the training camp rush.
“We definitely have seen an influx of people that would have never stopped here if it wasn't for Steelers training camp,” Four Seasons co-owner Christian Simmons said. “That's without a doubt. ... I would say we've doubled or tripled sales in the past week from them being here.”
The brewery, which opened in September, has draft accounts with 45 bars and restaurants across the region, and offers samples and refillable 32- and 64-ounce growlers.
“We're still new enough that not everybody knows about us, which is OK,” Simmons said. “For the time being, Steelers training camp is definitely helping getting us more of a variety of customers coming in. We had a gentleman in here, and he was like, ‘Yeah, we came to Latrobe, we Googled breweries in a close vicinity of Latrobe, and you popped up first.' ... They were a mile away, so they came here first.”
Simmons set up maps of the state and the country in the brewery recently, encouraging visitors to place pins to indicate their hometowns, and the busy summer has pumped up the number of perforations in both maps.
“It's been busy — training camp and pretty much the entire summer as well,” co-owner and brewmaster Mark Pavlik said. “There's a lot more people out doing things, buying beer here and buying beer at our draft accounts, so we're actually selling more beer through the accounts as well.”
In anticipation of a big crowd on Friday for the Steelers' practice at Latrobe Memorial Stadium, Four Seasons welcomed Pittsburgh Smokehouse to set up a tent in the brewery's parking lot to sell barbecued beef brisket and pulled pork sandwiches and smoked chicken wings.
“I had never been out to the brewery myself, so I drove out and just said, ‘Steelers season's coming up. Training camp's a mile down the road from you. I'd like to be one of the first people to try to drive out here and try to start a partnership up,' ” Pittsburgh Smokehouse marketing manager Tim Harden said. “I started looking at the schedule when they released it, and I'm like, ‘That Friday is perfect. It's a dinner crowd. Hopefully people maybe stop before they head over at 7 o'clock. Maybe get a sandwich. Maybe get a growler and tailgate in the parking lot.'”
The smokehouse serves dinner Tuesday through Saturday in the Italian American Citizens Club in Wilkins Township, travels to breweries and events throughout the region and offers catering. By about 9 p.m. Friday, Harden said, he had sold out of wings and had gone through more than 70 sandwich buns.
Simmons made sure the brewery was well-staffed on Friday, expecting the combination of the Steelers' night practice downtown and the added attraction of the food vendor to boost business.
“On a typical Friday, Mark and I would be here, and then on top of that, we'd have like three or four volunteers at most. Today we have five volunteers, an intern, Mark and I are here; and then we have somebody that can actually deliver kegs for us to a bar if they need it as well. We're pretty stacked right now.”
Greg Reinbold is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2913, or firstname.lastname@example.org.