Downtown authority tasked with promoting McKeesport businesses
McKeesport is renewing its commitment to the downtown business community while encouraging a supportive network among outlying entrepreneurs.
Earlier this month, city council approved renaming the Downtown McKeesport Business District Authority to a condensed McKeesport Downtown Business Authority with a newly defined mission to “promote and advocate for existing businesses and attract new businesses to the city.”
“Our administration has always made it a priority to bring new businesses to town and generate revenue for McKeesport,” Mayor Michael Cherepko said. “To guarantee that we are successful in those goals, we must ensure that we are welcoming new opportunities while meeting the needs of our current businesses in town.”
When Cherepko took office in 2012, city administrator Matt Gergely was charged with streamlining city accounts and initiatives, which included the reorganization of programs intended to stimulate or support the local economy.
The Downtown McKeesport Business District Authority was established by city ordinance in June 1980 to organize and promote the interests of stakeholders in the downtown business district, i.e. business owners. Over the years, projects included funding for holiday decorations, garbage cans, parking meters and lighting.
After a few decades, the organization fizzled with a decline in programming and a high rate of retail turnover in the downtown area.
In recent months, Gergely partnered with city council in finding active business owners who would sit on a revived authority board. They appointed councilwoman V. Fawn Walker-Montgomery as chairwoman and Kool Kutz, Kool Suppliez owner Corry Sanders as vice chairman, Gergely as secretary/treasurer, along with Michelle's House of Beauty owner Michelle Pritchard, Uncle Bub's restaurant owner William Holiday, Natale Sporting Goods owner Dan Natale, and Trib Total Media/Daily News general manager Rob Hammond.
“Today, McKeesport has a Downtown Business Authority board that's comprised of individuals who are invested in their community and their businesses,” Cherepko said. “They truly want to see their city grow from an economic standpoint.”
Pritchard, whose business opened in 2000, said it's important for McKeesporters to want local business to thrive and to know that they have a role in making it happen.
“We want our money to stay in our community,” she said. “Things are accessible to buy right here in McKeesport. You don't have to go to the mall in West Mifflin. You don't have to go to the Waterfront.”
Sanders, who opened Kool Kutz in 1999 before expanding with Kool Suppliez, said creating a positive environment marked by friendships among business owners will help to encourage McKeesporters to patronize city businesses.
“Business is business,” he said. “It doesn't matter if we sell some of the same items or if we are competing from time to time. Everyone should be able to work together. I know that if things are better for me in the downtown business district, it should also be better for my neighbors.”
The city recognizes a need to make business owners feel welcome and appreciated, Walker-Montgomery said.
“Without them, our economy would be nothing,” she explained. “We're going to do everything we can to keep business owners active and make sure they stay here in McKeesport.”
The authority's next project will be to compose a welcome letter, inviting city business owners from all neighborhoods to register as members of a McKeesport Business Association — one of three subcommittees managed by the authority. The others are parking and safety.
While many McKeesport businesses are members of the Mon Yough Area Chamber of Commerce, Walker said, the McKeesport Business Association could function as a tight network of business owners who may have city-specific concerns and ideas.
“In the future, we would like to hold informative workshops for business owners on leases, contracts and advertisement,” Walker said.
The administration looks forward to city businesses and linking entrepreneurs with resources that can help them move forward, Gergely said.
“We're excited for the potential of bringing business back to this city and seeing people enjoy themselves downtown,” he said. “The ultimate goal would be to once again make McKeesport a destination point.”
Dan Natale, second-generation owner of Natale Sporting Goods which was opened in 1947 by his father Daniel F. Natale and Anthony “Flash” Natale, said McKeesport is a great community with loyal shoppers.
“This is an ideal location,” he said of the Mon Valley hub that's just 12 miles from downtown Pittsburgh. “When my family first started this business, there were six or seven sporting goods stores in town. The McKeesport people have always been good to us.”
Continuing his business' commitment to McKeesport, Natale is expanding his Fifth Avenue storefront with an addition to separate shipping and receiving from the retail operation.
Cherepko said the city must provide every opportunity for business owners to achieve generations of success in the city.
“It is amazing to see the rich tradition of family-owned businesses that remain in McKeesport generation after generation,” the mayor said. “We want to help them expand and guarantee their success for many more years to come.”
Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1956, or firstname.lastname@example.org.