Triboro Ecodistrict businesses adapt under Covid-19
Above: Outdoor patio seating at Double L bar in Millvale that was added to accommodate COVID-19 restrictions.
Over the last five months, coronavirus cases have fluctuated throughout Pennsylvania and small business owners have had to adapt to changing regulations instituted by the state to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Guidance for retail and businesses in the restaurant industry is provided on Governor Tom Wolf’s website, which has been helpful for many, but the transitions are difficult nonetheless.
“It sucks. I don’t know how else to say it,” said Linsey Marie Thomas, owner of Double L in Millvale.
Her father bought the bar in 1984, and after his unexpected death, Thomas took over. She lived above the bar from the age of two to 19 and said she is a “born and raised bar brat.” When she began running the business, she wanted the atmosphere to be a step above a dive, but have the nostalgic, hometown bar feeling and she believes she’s achieved that.
Before the pandemic, Double L closed for renovations and reopened as a non-smoking bar, and they are also a designated Sustainable Pittsburgh Restaurant.
Since March, Thomas has continued to adjust with the regulations and closed the bar for a short time in July when the virus was spiking. They are currently open for dine-in or takeout options and have indoor and outdoor patio seating.
“It makes a difference to support smaller local places,” Thomas said. “Everyone that works in my bar lives in the neighborhood and the area, so you’re not just supporting me, you’re supporting them, too.”
For businesses opening during the pandemic, like 2 Sisters 2 Sons in Sharpsburg, it hasn’t required as many modifications considering they built their food business around takeout-only. Co-owners Denise Joseph and Marlene Siddo opened the location with their sons Michael Brown and Kwasi Prince on July 6 and have experienced a healthy flow of customers every day since. They were previously located in Wilkinsburg, but closed in 2015 due to building issues and have been mobile until now.
Brown said customers from around the city and county have stopped in for food with some coming as far as Ohio.
“There was at least a minimum of one person a day opening the door to ask if we were open yet and wanting to place an order, so we knew that we were going to get consistent traffic, but we didn’t know it would be like this,” Brown said.
Joseph and Siddo are the head chefs, while Brown and Prince focus on keeping the daily operations running smoothly. Joseph said she is elated with their new location and that the Sharpsburg community has been very welcoming. Her family is close-knit, and she can tell the borough is, too.
“I want to say thank you to everyone supporting us, we appreciate the love,” Joseph said. “Keep coming and we will make sure we work with you and that everybody is happy.”
They are working on getting multiple phone lines to take more orders over the phone, which take about about 15-25 minutes to cook, because as Joseph said, “you don’t want to rush good food.”
Similarly, it’s best not to rush quality fashion. Kiya Tomlin’s retail business in Etna produces everything in-house, which she said gives her and her staff control over clothing quality and the ability to personally manage inventory, so they aren’t producing items “that nobody wants or having to meet other factories production minimums.”
“It allows us to be more resourceful with our fabric waste so we’re not just throwing it out and can use it towards other things, whether it’s making samples or donating or creating other things with it,” Tomlin said.
For now, the space is open by appointment only, but when the shut down order was enacted in March and Tomlin closed up the shop, she was committed to keeping her team paid and employed. After the first week of the shelter-at-home order, Tomlin said she received a text message from a friend about a hospital system in Indiana asking for home sewers to make masks because they were experiencing a shortage.
“That hadn’t been on the radar in Pittsburgh yet, but it was starting to come about in other areas so when I saw that I thought that is something we can do,” Tomlin said.
She was connected to Allegheny Health Network and began producing 400 masks a day to donate to support staff individuals and those not in direct contact with COVID-19 patients. Tomlin said they kept this up “for a good month or two” until masks became more available.
Tomlin said those masks were also donated to Triboro police, firefighters, and neighboring businesses, and she is thankful for how proactive the borough has been in releasing information helpful for small businesses.
“I think we normally intentionally support each other, but there was even more of an incentive to make sure we supported one another through this, all being small businesses, to stay afloat,” Tomlin said.
Due to Tomlin’s donated mask production, she was contacted by Highmark and her team is one of several other businesses contributing to Highmark’s initiative of donating 1 million cloth face masks to the Highmark community.