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Audit shows some items cost more at Pittsburgh airport's Airmall

Aaron Aupperlee
| Monday, Oct. 5, 2015, 6:39 p.m.

A Jerome Bettis Hall of Fame T-shirt, Pirates lanyard, bag of sunflower seeds, chicken wings, slice of pizza and a bottle of Mountain Dew cost more at Pittsburgh International Airport than elsewhere and violate the Airmall's “street pricing” agreement, according to an audit Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner's office released Monday.

Airmall Pittsburgh, which runs the shops, said it has corrected price discrepancies — ranging from a few cents to a few dollars — among the 12 items highlighted in Wagner's report.

“We believe wholeheartedly in street pricing for airport concessions, and we have created a comprehensive system of checks and balances to ensure that the passenger is being charged a fair price when they shop or dine at the airport,” Jay Kruisselbrink, Airmall's senior vice president, wrote in a letter to Wagner responding to the audit.

Allegheny County Airport Authority spokesman Bob Kerlik said, “We are committed to working with AirMall to ensure all items meet that threshold.”

Wagner's office took the airport authority, other authorities and the county police department to court when the agencies refused to let her auditors examine their books. All sides submitted written arguments in August. No court dates have been set.

The controller's office reviews prices at the airport each year. The lease between Airmall and the airport authority prohibits retailers at the airport from gouging customers. The agreement outlines where Wagner's auditors can comparison-shop.

“County leaders insisted on street pricing when the airport was built because of the significant commitment of taxpayer dollars to that facility,” Wagner said in a statement. “Those who paid to build the airport shouldn't have to pay more for a bite to eat or a gift for a grandchild.”

The audit found that a Jerome Bettis Hall of Fame T-shirt cost $34.99 at the airport's Hudson Gifts store and $32 elsewhere. A Pirates lanyard at Paradise Gifts cost $9.99 but $6.99 elsewhere. Food and drink prices varied 5 cents to a dollar.

Hudson and Paradise news and gifts stores and the Subway restaurant violated the street pricing rules in each of the past three years. Wagner recommended penalizing frequent violators, but her report did not mention specific penalties.

Shops at the airport were originally intended for the general public, but security changes after 9/11 closed the shops to all but ticketed passengers leaving or arriving at the terminal. The airport held a rare open house in December that allowed non-ticketed passengers to shop. Several high-end stores opened last year, and the airport recently completed a $10 million renovation.

Aaron Aupperlee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7986 or aaupperlee@tribweb.com. Staff writer Melissa Daniels contributed to this report.

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