New Clairton business activity a welcome sight

| Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011

In a town that's seen its share of economic setbacks over the years, a recent flurry of small business activity in Clairton is viewed as a welcome development.

Five new businesses have opened in the city this year, including a tattoo parlor, automotive garage, two convenience stores and an Internet sweepstakes cafe.

The town currently is working with a developer who is looking to build a Save-a-Lot supermarket and restaurant at the site of the old Blair Heights housing complex.

Mayor Rich Lattanzi says the city needs large projects like that one but is thankful that, in the meantime, smaller entrepreneurs are investing in the local economy.

"I'm excited about the big things on the horizon but these smaller businesses are keeping us going," Lattanzi said.

One of the most recent businesses is Planet Tattoo at 401 N. State St.

Owned and operated by Don Nevills and his wife Paula, the parlor opened last week.

"I've been tattooing for 16 years," said Nevills, a Clairton native who recently returned home after spending years running a parlor in Orlando, Fla.

During his years in the Sunshine State, Nevills had the opportunity to tattoo wrestling personalities such as K-Dogg and Saturn and American Gladiator stars like Sky and Siren.

The artist said he's brought hygiene standards with him from Florida, which has much higher regulation standards for tattoo parlors than Pennsylvania. Nevills said the standard for his shop is that it be kept doctor's office clean and that new, sterile tattooing needles be used on every individual customer.

Piercings also are available at the shop and Nevills said full-color tattoos are his specially.

When it comes to hiring Nevills is looking for an experienced tattoo artist or making purchases to support the businesses, Nevills, who recently was appointed to the Clairton Redevelopment Authority, said he always tries to put Clairton residents and businesses first.

"I'm trying to make this city bounce back," he said.

Dennis Helman, who runs Helman Automotive out of a garage behind his home at 638 Twelfth St., also has a community-first approach to doing business. Helman, who does state inspections for automobiles and motorcycles, said he offers discounted prices to his fellow city residents whenever possible.

With more than 40 years of experience doing mechanical work, including a job he held as a diesel mechanic on tow boats, Helman said there isn't much he can't do when it comes to engines. His shop reopened this year after being closed because of zoning issues that he successfully resolved.

"I'm here to make money but I'm also here to help my city," said Helman, who also does lawn mower repairs and work on classic and luxury automobiles.

Another new business, this one in the heart of the city's business district, is Dee's Mini Mart. Formerly operated as Twist & Shout, on St. Clair Avenue, the business is now operated by the folks who run JJ's Deli Mart in McKeesport, according to Dee's manager Candace Strube.

"We're trying to promote Clairton and bring it back," said Strube, adding that since the shop became Dee's in March, Italian submarine sandwiches have become a customer favorite.

"They're nice and thick," she said of the subs. "We use a half pound of meat and cheese" on every one.

Another neighborhood store that opened this spring in the city's Wilson neighborhood is Vee's Corner Store at 524 N. Sixth St. Owner Veronica Burnsworth said her shop is closed temporarily because of a family member who is ill but that it hopefully will reopen next month.

When it does reopen, Burnsworth said she hopes to go back to selling daily lunch and deli specials plus all the things you'd expect at a small neighborhood store such as soft drinks, snacks and candy.

Finally, for folks who want to try their luck playing slot machine-style sweepstakes games on the Internet, there is the Mega Internet Cafe, which just opened in the Dollar General Plaza.

Cafe manager Andy Miller said customers can use the business' 30 computer stations to access the Internet or play games-of-chance for pay out.

Miller said the sweepstakes concept currently is legal under state law and markets itself toward patrons who are fans of bingo.

The business is open seven days a week, offers free snacks and soft drinks to players, and runs Steeler game day specials.

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