Pittsburgh businesses get major boost from Batman film

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Superhero fans aren't the only ones glad to see Batman on Pittsburgh's Downtown streets. Many local business owners are getting an economic boost from the Caped Crusader's appearance.

Jack Cohen, owner of S.W. Randall Toyes & Giftes on Smithfield Street, said sales are up 50 percent since filming of "The Dark Knight Rises" started late last month.

Some of the sales include Batman memorabilia, such as toys and other novelties, he said. But those customers are apparently feeling a bit nostalgic for Batmans of years gone by, because Mr. Cohen doesn't carry merchandise affiliated with contemporary installments of the film series.

"We have bobbleheads, Batmobiles, figures, mugs and a few German steins," he said of his Batman inventory. "Even though the new movie isn't coming out until next year, everybody likes the old stuff anyway."

The store's new customers have included Christopher Nolan, the director of the film; his wife (and the film's producer), Emma Thomas; and their children.

"He told me he was the director and that they loved the store," Mr. Cohen said. "They were here with four kids. They had to buy something."

Tim Piett, manager of Ace Athletic on Forbes Avenue, said a number of the workers involved in the production have stopped in to browse the shop's selection of Pittsburgh-oriented sports caps and shirts.

"When they had breaks, a lot of the production people stopped in here. They're from out in LA, but they know a lot of Pittsburghers out there," Mr. Piett said. "Plus, there has been a lot more street traffic from spectators. When you get Batman and the Batmobile down here, it gives us a lot of recognition. We've only been here one year, so we could use that."

But the filmmakers don't just help businesses. Sometimes they force businesses to close.

Representatives of the film's production company said more than 100 Downtown businesses have been affected by street closures and detours. Businesses whose storefronts are in movie scenes have been asked to close on certain dates, but the owners have been compensated by the studio.

"They asked us to close on a Friday, and that's usually one of our busiest days," said Andrea Ryan, manager of Cardamone's Hair Salon at the corner of Forbes Avenue and Wood Street. "We were able to reschedule most of our appointments. ... And [the producers] reimbursed us. We averaged out our past eight Fridays and came up with a figure."

Even Trinity Cathedral made a profit as filming took place in and around the Downtown Episcopal church last week. Financial administrator Kate Ferrick said the church benefitted "substantially" from rental fees paid by the production.

"Our financial situation hasn't been the greatest," she said. "Our endowment took a hit because of the economic situation. It was great timing."

Tyler Mountain Water & Coffee, based in Monroeville, is among the businesses making money from serving the production crews.

"We've been assisting with shooting for the past few weeks," account executive Jim Vitale said. "We're on set about every third or fourth day."

By production's end Sunday, the company will have supplied the crew and actors with nearly 1,000 beverage cases and about 400 to 500 individual bottles of water, he said, equating to a revenue boost of more than $50,000.

In Oakland, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy rented out space for makeup, costuming and extras' holding tents, easing the burden on Downtown space. The conservancy rented much of Schenley Plaza for around $5,000 a day for 10 days, according to director of facilities Jim Griffin.

"It was a standard fee anybody would pay," he said. "There was no discount, although we typically don't have a rental that would last 10 days."

Other local services enlisted by "The Dark Knight Rises" production include Aramark (provided food for extras at Heinz Field shoots), W.L. Roenigk Inc. (provided bus transportation for extras) and Peak Security.

Dan Majors: dmajors@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1456.


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