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Stanwix Street closure hurts, businesses say

By Adam Brandolph
Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The tunnel-boring machine for the North Shore Connector project is more than 50 feet underground, but businesses on the other side of the river at Stanwix Street are feeling the shock waves.

Some business owners say they have lost customers since July, when the road closed to motorists between Fort Duquesne Boulevard and Penn Avenue, Downtown. The street is open to pedestrians.

Howard Kernats, owner of Hair Fashions by Howard, estimated business is down 60 percent. “It’s been tough,” said Kernats, 66, of Robinson. “Everybody on this block is hurting bad.”

Others aren’t so sure.

Bob Zilch, owner of Metro News newsstand, said foot traffic usually slows down this time of year. He might have lost some business, but construction workers who buy cigarettes, soda and lottery tickets have made up the difference, he said.

Merrill Stabile, president of Alco Parking, said his nearby garage at Sixth Street and Penn Avenue still fills daily. “There might be some inconvenience to customers, and we want to see the congestion cleared up as soon as possible, but it’s not hurting us,” Stabile said.

Stanwix Street is serving as a receiving ground for the boring machine, which is digging a tunnel under the Allegheny River from the North Shore as part of the $435 million project of the Port Authority of Allegheny County’s light-rail system.

The machine is moving about 25 feet a day toward Stanwix, where it will turn around and dig a parallel tunnel.

Port Authority planned to plate over Stanwix and reopen the street in December, but delays with securing retaining walls pushed the opening to April 1, spokesman Dave Whipkey said.

Construction is scheduled to be completed in 2011. About 14,300 daily riders are expected to use the connector, Whipkey said.

Port Authority has posted signs to let people know the stores still are open, he said.

“It’s one of those things,” Whipkey said. “(Construction) could be taking place anywhere else, and another set of shops could be taking a hit. We hate the fact they’re losing business.”

More than 30,000 motorists a day are detoured around the construction, Whipkey said.

Kristen Trohat, general manager of Max & Erma’s restaurant, said the closure hasn’t affected the lunch crowd.

“But it’s hurting us at dinner time and on the weekends,” she said.

To help alleviate a 15 percent to 20 percent loss in business since construction began, Trohat said, the restaurant brought back its happy hour and is working on a marketing campaign with nearby parking garages.

Sol Gross, 86, owner of a mixed commercial and residential building in the heart of the closure, said the construction has hurt his ability to lure renters.

Fifteen percent of his apartments are vacant, the same as before construction began, he said.

When finished, the North Shore Connector will help his sales pitch, giving him “an added amenity” to offer prospective tenants, Gross said.

Adam Brandolph can be reached at or 412-320-7936.

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