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Abolished commerce taxes spurrs growth in Avalon

Pittsburgh Tribune ReviewBy Richard Byrne Reilly
Saturday, May 12, 2007

Attorney Steven Shreve has no regrets about moving his busy Downtown law firm to Avalon last year.

The sleepy town of 5,000, less than six miles from Pittsburgh, has well-maintained homes, low crime and stable property prices, Shreve said. He purchased a former movie theater with high ceilings and brick walls on California avenue and moved in with his staff in November. He closed another office he had in adjacent Bellevue.

“There’s a congenial environment for business and for living here. You can walk on the main drag. Avalon is strategically located. I can access (Route) 65 and (Interstate) 279 easily, and I have two ways of travelling north and south,” Shreve said.

He isn’t the only one. Doctors, attorneys, accountants and other small-business owners are increasingly setting up shop in vacant storefronts and houses, said borough manager Harry Dilmore.

They are doing so, merchants say, because they don’t have to pay business privilege and mercantile taxes. The borough abolished the taxes in August. The roughly $30,000 a year it lost in revenue, Avalon more than makes up in new commerce and vitality.

Two attorneys opened offices last year, Dilmore said, in addition to accountants, a private detective agency, and a computer communications specialist. Eight doctors and other medical professionals have a presence on California Avenue, Avalon’s main thoroughfare.

Dilmore, borough manager for five years, sees a future predicated on a successful small business community.

“We’re altering zoning ordinances that will spur small business development,” said Dilmore, who favors golf shirts tucked into Dockers-style khakis.

Dilmore will propose a measure May 16 to prohibit buyers from converting large, single-family residences into multi-apartment units. The borough wants to attract families and businesses that will keep the homes intact and in good condition. Financial grants the borough obtained through Allegheny County would help qualifying small-business owners clean up property and install facades, Dilmore said.

Like much of the county, Avalon deals with declining population, says Constance Rankin, head of the North Suburban Chamber of Commerce. Rankin is an attorney and publisher of a small newspaper in Bellevue. The borough’s population dropped from 5,294 in 2000 to 4,962 in 2005, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“Avalon is doing something about it. There’s an emphasis on code enforcement. A quality of life committee, residential cleanups, Dumpster days. They have brought in outside experts. They’ve done useful things to improve the quality of life,” Rankin said.

Avalon attorney and borough Councilman Patrick Narcisi, whose office is a few doors down from Shreve’s, founded the Avalon Quality of Life Committee last year. Tax abatement and tax breaks for home buyers and tweaks to zoning ordinances to prevent slum or absentee landlords to rent apartments to irresponsible tenants are crucial, he said.

“We’re really kind of on the edge. The borough can go down rapidly. You need to work hard to keep it from doing so,” Narcisi said.

His committee brings together the police, the building inspector, fire chief and representatives from local churches. He stresses the importance of property owners maintaining homes, and it recommends to the borough deteriorating properties whose owners should be fined. He wants to launch a database using a color-coded system that would rate properties from good to poor.

“We’re hoping this will have a positive impact on the borough,” he said.

Vicky Tedesco will open her children’s clothing boutique on California Avenue on Monday. Affordable rent, location and steady traffic flow sold her on Avalon. She is located across the street from the borough’s $2.2 million municipal building, which opened last year.

Press Craft Printers Inc. has been in the same location on California Avenue for 47 years. Owner Bill Miller inherited the commercial printing business from his father. He welcomes the newcomers — and efforts Dilmore and others are making to accommodate them.

Dilmore “is addressing different problems. He is trying to take the borough to the next level,” Miller said.

Richard Byrne Reilly can be reached at or (412) 380-5625.

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