Western Pa. towns are brewing up business

Alisa Fava-Fasnacht will tell you that her smoked cheeses go great with beers and whiskeys. 

She’ll also tell you that it was the opening of the new brewery and distilleries in Washington, Pa., that convinced her to open a pop-up market this week about a block away on the city’s Main Street. 

“They’re the reason why we’re here,” said Ms. Fava-Fasnacht, co-owner of the Emerald Valley Artisans dairy farm out in the country in nearby Scenery Hill. This past Wednesday, she opened a store in the city to sell her cheeses, gift baskets and other local and regional foods. She’s describing it as a temporary pop-up shop for the holidays, but it could turn into a permanent market and farm-to-table restaurant in what was a longtime paint store. 

She is inspired by the transformations of other old buildings and spaces by her neighbors Red Pump Spirits, which opened in a storefront in April 2016; Liberty Pole Spirits, which opened in a former monuments works in July 2016; and especially The Washington Brewing Co., which opened with what had been the Upper Crust Italian Bistro in a renovated Studebaker dealership this September next to its sister business in a former Firestone store, The Washington Winery. 

As Christy Bean Rowing, executive director of Washington Citywide Development Corp., confirms, all those drinks businesses are buzzing, bringing people and publicity to a part of town that not long ago was pretty dead. 

“A lot can be said for the excitement and pride that Washingtonians have that now we have brewery,” Ms. Rowling said. She believes that beer is relatable and that the do-it-themselves spirit of these entrepreneurs resonates in the region’s communities. “We’re starting to form some identities out of these craft things.”

People in community development and government across the country know that having a brewery can help raise a community’s profile and provide not just jobs and visitors but also a comfortable place for residents to socialize, while spurring other businesses to open nearby.  

“Brew-vitalization” is what Gregg Primm called it in a panel he moderated last year for the Association for Pennsylvania Municipal Managers. He’s manager of Allegheny Township in Westmoreland County. It’s part of Westmoreland Economic Development Initiative for Growth, or WEDIG, with Upper Burrell, Lower Burrell, New Kensington and Arnold.

Mr. Primm had seen the success Millvale was having with its two breweries and he wanted some more of that action if not for his less-well-known township, for his area. He met longtime homebrewer Lee Layton and his wife, Erin, at a beer tasting and learned that Mr. Layton was looking for a place to open a small brewery and taproom. 

“As municipal manager, I wanted him,” he said.

So for about a year, he showed them several buildings in the area. This winter, the Laytons circled back to and wound up buying a former farm market in Allegheny, which they renovated and opened last month as Conny Creek Brewing Co. Naturally, Mr. Primm was at the opening, which was packed. 

“That’s exactly the end product of what I’m working toward,” he said. “We want people to come visit our township.” 

That’s why Collier commissioners changed zoning rules this summer to allow a brewery to open at a former Nike missile site. That deal isn’t finalized, but commission president George Macino hopes it will be. 

“It’s what people want,” he said.

Towns want businesses of all sorts.  But Sharpsburg’s incoming mayor, Councilman Matt Rudzki, saw what community catalysts breweries were being in other places, so he did all he could to encourage the local opening of Dancing Gnome Beer and then, in September, Hitchhiker Brewing Co. in the former Fort Pitt Brewing Co.

Both are bringing people to his town, which is riding a wave of good press. Local residents like them and the food trucks they bring in. They don’t even seem to mind the long lines that form for canned beer releases at Dancing Gnome. Previously, people weren’t lining up in Sharpsburg for anything. 

Mr. Rudzki even credits the breweries for helping to persuade branding company Deep Local to move its offices and 60 employees from the Strip District to another part of the old Fort Pitt brewery. “It definitely kick-started Sharpsburg,” he said. “Having the breweries put us on the map again.” 

Mars Mayor Gregg Hartung is hoping for a similar effect when Stick City Brewing Co. opens there early next year. That brewery and taproom is going into the borough’s former fire station, as the Adams Area Fire District has moved to a new headquarters on booming Route 228. Mr. Hartung confirms that other local restaurants are looking forward to having a brewery and thinking it might help them extend their hours. Mars was a dry town until residents voted to allow alcohol sales in May.  

The city of Duquesne wants a brewery so badly, it placed an ad this summer in Craft Pittsburgh magazine that said, “We want your brewery.”

Manager Frank Piccolino hasn’t given up in his quest to get a brewery with a taproom to open in his town and draw crowds like The Brew Gentleman does across the Monongahela River in Braddock.

In fact, someone is planning a production brewery in town but looks to sell and serve the beer elsewhere, so Mr. Piccolino said he’s still looking. “The city has lots of other empty buildings for others who might want to follow.”

Bob Batz Jr.: bbatz@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1930 and on Twitter @bobbatzjr.

CORRECTION: In a previous version of this article, the video contained a misspelling of Nick Salkeld’s last name.


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