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Downtown Connellsville coming back to life?

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Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012, 8:12 p.m.
 

Many Connellsville residents can remember the days when Connellsville's Downtown area — from the Crawford Avenue Bridge to Brimstone Corner and areas beyond on Pittsburgh Street — was bustling with businesses and people.

But over the years that has changed. Vacant store fronts, empty lots and some structures which need tremendous repair now occupy much of the main street area. Pedestrian traffic is less frequent as well.

But there is hope on the horizon, say some.

And with the opening of a new store in the former G.C. Murphy Building along Crawford Avenue and with the soon-to-be model train display/canteen coffee house coming, business owners along the stretch of road see this as a positive.

T&A House of Treasures opened at 109 W. Crawford Ave.

Tony Knopsnider and Amber Golden are the co-owners. T&A House of Treasures will sell furniture and household items.

They recently moved to Connellsville after running the business at the Laurel Mall in Dunbar Township.

“We had a lot of people stopping (a week before their opening) to see what's going on,” Golden said. “I'm amazed that people were pleased to see a new business in town.”

The excitement of a new business opening in the city's downtown area is not lost on the community. And other business owners who have stores along Crawford Avenue near the new furniture store said getting other businesses to locate downtown is a necessity.

Salvatore Cagnina, owner of Salvatore's Sewing Center Sales & Service, has operated his business along Crawford Avenue for 50 years.

“We need big stores here to attract the people,” Cagnina said. Cagnina said local government should give stores tax breaks to entice them into setting up shop in the city.

Cagnina said he remembers when the downtown area had people filling the sidewalks and visiting the line-up of stores.

“But as the malls started to open, the people stopped visiting downtown,” he said.

He's noticed the malls aren't doing as well with their foot traffic either.

“It's bad right now,” Cagnina said.

Denise Friel has been the owner of Atkins Music Center on Crawford Avenue for 20 years, but worked at the business since 1969. In that time, she has seen many changes — both good and bad.

She said the Internet has provided customers with the ease and convenience of window shopping as well as making purchases in the comfort of their own homes; however, she said her business can do Ebay and Amazon.com sales.

“We've also increased the number of music instructors,” Friel said.

Friel remembers when the store used to have two music instructors.

“Now we're up to nine teaching all kinds of different instruments and classes every day of the week. That keeps the foot traffic in my business,” she said, noting it is necessary for a businesses to sometimes make changes to meet the changing demands of clientele.

Friel said a business like Atkins must rely on the service side of the business that the Internet and big-box stores cannot provide. She said local businesses should rely on each other to make things better.

“We have to stop thinking of ourselves and help out the businesses around us,” Friel said.

Friel is glad to see a number of enthusiastic people working to fill the downtown.

“Enthusiasm generates enthusiasm,” said Friel.

Daniel Cocks, art coordinator at ArtWorks, agrees with that logic. Cocks said more pride has to be taken in not only the downtown area, but also the gateways to downtown. He credits clubs like the Connellsville Garden Club, Friends of Carnegie Free Library and the local churches for making efforts to beautify the city.

“What's bringing the community back is the people,” Cocks said.

But Cocks adds that more needs to be done to fill and clean the vacant buildings. More also needs to be done to promote the things that makes Connellsville unique.

Something unique is the Amtrak station in town. It's also the only Amtrak station in Fayette County. Cocks believes that having signage outside of town could help bring people to Connellsville.

“People passing by on (Route) 119 don't even know we have an Amtrak,” Cocks said.

Pat Wilders, owner of Pat's Bridal Boutique, said there has also been an effort to place emphasis on the Great Allegheny Passage and attracting those who use that bike trail to the downtown.

Wilders, who has owned her own business since 1990 and has worked in the downtown area since 1967, said she's happy to see people try to get things going again to revitalize the downtown but a population is needed to support those changes.

She does, however, think a business like the T&A House of Treasures will be a nice addition to Crawford Avenue and also believes the building that will house the enormous model railroad display as well as a coffee shop/restaurant and a gift shop named “The Connellsville Canteen” will be another attraction that will draw the people to the city's downtown area.

Mark Hofmann is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-626-3539 or mhofmann@tribweb.com.

 

 
 


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