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‘Isaly’s Building’ in Irwin Saved by Main Street Deli

Wednesday, November 24, 2010
By Norm Vargo

Lou Botti is realizing a childhood dream.

“I used to love it as a kid when my family went to shop in Irwin. I knew we would end up at Isaly’s for an ice cream,” recalled the North Huntingdon contractor.

“I would think to myself: Someday I’d like to own an Isaly’s.”

It’s not an iconic Isaly’s, Mr. Botti, 41, now owns. It’s the landmark Hamilton Building along Main Street, which many in town still call “Isaly’s.” For 43 years it housed the immensely popular dairy store, deli and bakery until it closed in 2004.

Earlier this month, Mr. Botti opened the Main Street Deli and Bakery in that space. The store offers cold deli sandwiches, pies, assorted pastries baked on the premises, milk, bread, buns, lunch meats, cheese and ice cream, the Hershey brand.

Mr. Botti plans to add a full kitchen later.

The interior was renovated to give the deli a retro look. A meat slicer left from the old Isaly’s sits on the back shelf.

The familiar white slate marquee sign with the black script lsaly’s logo remains.

“The sign is not intended to mislead people. I don’t own an Isaly’s, I don’t sell Isaly’s products,” Mr. Botti said. “It’s that the sign has a historical significance in Irwin’s downtown. The dairy store-deli was a destination for folks. Old-timers still call it “Isaly’s.”

“Lots of memories are in there, including mine,” Mr. Botti said.

“Customers keep bringing in mementos and souvenirs from the old Isaly’s. They want to share their treasures with me. It’s unbelievable,” he said.

A little history:

The late Art Lewis founded a dairy store in Irwin 65 years ago. The business outgrew its building.

When the Hamilton Building in the heart of downtown became available, he bought it.

About that time, Isaly’s began franchising. Mr. Lewis recognized the potential for a dairy store-deli in Irwin. He negotiated a franchise that would become so popular that he opened another Isaly’s in the Norwin Shopping Center in North Huntingdon.

Bakery goods were baked in the Irwin Isaly’s daily and delivered to the other store. Mr. Lewis retired in 1986 and sold that business to concentrate on the Irwin store.

Potential deals to purchase the three-story brick Isaly’s Building and the delicatessen, which was being operated by family members, fell through.

The structure deteriorated. Borough officials were considering condemnation.

“What council didn’t want to do was to tear down that landmark building and leave a vacant lot right in the middle of the downtown business district,” said Councilwoman Danyce Neal.

“We all were hoping somebody would buy it and restore,” Ms. Neal said.

Urged by Donn Henderson, the Irwin Main Street manager, Mr. Botti purchased the building in 2007.

He immediately corrected a multitude of building code violations to make the structure sound.

Then he renovated four apartments on the upper floors. All were rented before completion.

“I really was interested in those apartments,” said Mr. Botti, who estimated he “has put about $300,000” into the building.

“My initial plan was to find somebody to put in a deli,” he continued. “Three investors looked at it, but no deal materialized.

“I figured three years was long enough to wait. I decided to open one.”

Mr. Henderson said he hoped the deli would attract investors to invest in other businesses in the community.

For details, call 724-515-5525.

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Phone: 412-471-5808  |  Fax: 412-471-1633