MONESSEN – All but one unit has been leased at a former department store that was converted into an apartment building in the struggling city of Monessen in Westmoreland County.
The Homestead-based Mon Valley Initiative, which strives to revitalize former industrial towns, invested $2.36 million to rehabilitate the old Eisenberg’s Department Store, which sat vacant for about 15 years before work began to restore the building, part of which dates to 1915.
“It’s supposed to encourage people to put some roots down in this community,” said initiative spokesman Jason Togyer.
“It’s not a cookie-cutter apartment complex.”
Monessen Mayor-elect Matt Shorraw said he loved the end result at Eisenberg’s as a member of the Monessen Community Development Corp., an organization that is affiliated with Mon Valley Initiative.
“There’s been a lot of buzz about the place,” Shorraw said Thursday afternoon when the initiative opened the building at Fourth Street and Schoonmaker Avenue for tours.
“There are 12 apartments filled already. That’s impressive,” Shorraw said.
The department store was founded in 1908 by Hungarian immigrant Henry Eisenberg, and it remained family-owned until Ron Wilen of Bridgeville closed the business and a sister store in nearby Charleroi.
Wilen attended the tour Thursday, saying he was thrilled a part of his family’s history has been restored in Monessen.
He said by the time the store closed in 1997, his family had more customers in the local cemetery than it did in the city of Monessen, whose population dramatically decreased after a steel mill closed there in the 1980s, nearly wiping out the downtown shopping district.
“It’s nice that the building will continue to be an important part of the community,” Wilen said. “It means so much that our family name is on the front of the building.”
The two-story brick building has mixed-income apartments that rent for between $405 and $620 a month.
They are equipped with kitchenettes featuring attractive cabinets and black appliances. The floors are covered with a laminate surface that appears to be wood. The bedrooms without windows have cut-outs along the top of a wall facing windows to allow natural light to flow into the room. Other apartments have walls of windows.
“I think they are great,” said Dale Bizub, chairman of the initiative’s board of directors.
“It’s a unique project. This is our first department store,” Bizub said.
He said the initiative has acquired a former Presbyterian church in Braddock with plans to convert it, too, into apartments.