South Side landlord has big, sustainable ideas for her buildings

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Elisa Beck has big plans for the venerable Schwartz Market, a South Side fixture since the late 1920s.

Last August, she persuaded the owners they could boost business among the South Side's younger population, including non-natives and people who work in the neighborhood but prefer to buy groceries elsewhere.

With a struggling profit margin, the store began integrating its traditional inventory with organic and local food. It joined the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture. Ms. Beck, who owns the building but not the business, was making plans for a collaborative compost venture with nearby food businesses when the owners decided it was time to pass the baton.

"After 54 years in the grocery business, I would like to retire," said Marty Dorfner, who, with his wife, Audrey, and Richard and Donna Stanton, bought the store in 1985. Both couples decided to leave the scene together, he said.

"I am 68. I have an ice cream/dairy store in Bridgeville where I can work part time and have the rest of the time for myself."

He said the green plans Ms. Beck has for the property was not the reason for his decision.

Since March, Ms. Beck has been convening South Siders, sustainable-food enthusiasts and others to brainstorm ways to ensure a grocery future at 1317 E. Carson St. Her initial hope was for a cooperative similar to the East End Food Co-op, she said.

Pending a lease agreement, she has found in Wayne Hancock and Rade Opacic a willing grocer and a developer who say they want the focus of the project to be on fresh, local, clean and green.

Mr. Hancock proposes an IGA store, with the working name of Market on Carson-IGA. Ms. Beck said the store can transition from the current owners to new owners within 60-90 days.

Mr. Opacic is a developer. He discussed the possibilities of a solar-energy collection system and a roof garden and other initiatives to make the building energy efficient if not energy independent.

"We would never be able to afford the electric bill in that building" otherwise, he said. "It's going to take a group effort, but we know the owner of the building is on board."

Mr. Opacic said his family traces its roots back to the South Side and that his company has built in collaboration with LEED certified architects.

Bruce Corna of Bruce Construction has been discussing with Ms. Beck a sustainable renovation of the property, which is two buildings, one of which dates to the 1850s, the other from early in the 20th century, 18,000 square feet in all.

Cindy Snodgrass, who lives in Leetsdale, attended the last grocery meeting, saying "I'm willing to travel to get simple healthy food."

"What do you mean by that?" Mr. Hancock asked, taking note of people's ideas.

"As clean as I can get it," she said.

Ms. Beck, a founder of Sustainable Monroeville, said, "My vision is to have that building be the coolest, most sustainable property on the planet."

A complete renovation is necessary, and could cost $4 million, she said. "But we haven't gotten that far yet" to know what the project may involve, she said.

The long-term plan is to create a building that not only sells food but grows it on the roof. The site also will collect its own organic waste and the organic waste of nearby restaurants as compost, which could be sold to market patrons.

She said she intends to revive plans to compost collaboratively with several nearby businesses.

"I want to do vermiculture [worm] composting on the third floor," she said. "I want to kick it up a notch to make the building produce energy rather than use energy.

"The roof [garden] is going to be magnificent one of these days," she said, adding, "one of these years."


Diana Nelson Jones: djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626. Read her blog City Walkabout at post-gazette.com/localnews.


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