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Carnegie: Borough on the brink


The borough of Carnegie was incorporated in 1894 and its 1.62 square miles have weathered several changes in industry, including a time when distilling whiskey from the grains of nearby farms was the big money maker. Eventually, coal mining then steel became the major industries employing Carnegie residents.

It’s taken nearly 10 years since Hurricane Ivan flooded Carnegie for the commercial district to bounce back. Now, as the town’s picturesque Main Street adds more trendy and upscale businesses, a domino effect is taking place. The former steel town, named for Andrew Carnegie, is ripe with opportunity for business owners and residents alike.

Small Business Boom

Ashley Comer and Greg Romeo opened the Carnegie Coffee Company in the city’s old post office building on Main Street about a year ago. The airy space respects the building's history (the service counter still has the old metal postal boxes), while creating a cozy, contemporary atmosphere for coffee drinkers and telecommuters. It also houses Romeo’s pharmacy, the Medicine Shoppe, which he’s owned in Carnegie for 17 years.

“There was a hole in the market,” says Comer of their decision to open the café. “It definitely met a need for the community.”

Comer is working to make the space as community friendly as possible, which includes selling premium, Illy coffee for extremely reasonable prices and hosting open mic nights and inviting other businesses, and running a coffee bar at Off the Wall Performing Arts Center, also on Main Street.

“[Opening Carnegie Coffee Company] has been such a learning experience for us,” Comer says.  “We’ve had to try to appeal to people who live in Carnegie and those who don’t. It’s been really interesting and I think the more businesses that move in the better we’ll do.”

To that end, it sounds like Comer is in luck. Small, high-end businesses are continuing to move into Main Street Carnegie because of the reasonable rent prices. For instance a stationery store, More than Words Fine Papers, a gift shop called Modern Mercantile and a second Slice on Broadway pizza parlor, of Beechview fame. These shops mingle with established eateries such as Papa J’s Ristorante.

The final piece is bringing a decent grocery store to the borough. It has been rumored that East End Food Co-op will potentially be opening a Carnegie location on Main Street.

Residents and Real Estate

The U.S. Census bureau estimates that as of 2012, 7,961 people live in Carnegie. Over half of these residents own their home and the median value of an owner-occupied home is $102,500.

Realtor and Carnegie resident Jeff Stephan says that Carnegie has a mix of both old neighborhoods where homes exceeding 100 years old might cost anywhere from $75,000 to $150,000 and new neighborhoods where a 20-year-old home could cost upwards of $250,000.

“There are some great old Victorians in Carnegie,” Stephan says, describing the housing stock. “You can find that and contemporary and colonial [style homes].”

Stephan has lived in Carnegie since 1985 and is excited to see that businesses and their patrons are starting to come back to the borough since the 2004 flood.

“Carnegie is pretty much a friendly walkable community,” Stephan says. “It’s like a lot of other Pittsburgh city neighborhoods that are coming back, the commercial section drives the tax base. As that district builds up, landlords will fix up their places and be able to ask for higher rents.”

Improved housing stock will present a real opportunity for those interested in living a little outside of Pittsburgh. Carnegie is just west of the city and accessible by the G2, G31, 28X, 38 and 31 bus lines.

Culture

The Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall
is another big draw to Carnegie. Carnegie himself built and endowed the building that sits on Library Hill, looking over Main Street, seven years after the borough incorporated.

The library is home to more than just books —one of a half-dozen intact Grand Army of the Republic Posts is located within their walls. This room acted as a space for Union veterans to store flags and relics of the war until the 1930s when it was locked for 50 years. In 2010, the library raised nearly $7 million to restore the room, which is now a free museum.

Additionally, the library is home to theater company Stage 62, which produces four shows a year and is dedicated to creating theater for all ages at a price that makes it accessible to the community.

But the library isn’t where the cultural offerings in Carnegie end. The aforementioned Off the Wall Performing Arts Center is home to a repertory theater and dance troupe with performances on the calendar nearly every week.

Whether you’re on the way to the airport, headed home from Robinson or just because, Carnegie is definitely carving out a space for itself as a destination in the Pittsburgh area.
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