A Conversation With ... Casey Clark
Catch up with Casey Clark, who is on a mission to bring change to Charleroi and the Mon Valley.
Charleroi native Casey Clark is no stranger to running a business. She opened Off the Wall Arts on McKean Avenue in 2013, after purchasing and renovating the building that it’s located in. She’s been a huge advocate for growth and rebirth in Charleroi, helping to bring new businesses downtown. Her latest venture, in the building that she also purchased right next door to Off the Wall Arts, is Perked Up Cafe. One look around the coffee shop and you can see her artistic touches – giant Scrabble letters spell out COFFEE, a decorative honey pot that was thrown at Off the Wall with cascading crystal drips and an extensive collection of old magazines (more on that later) all adorn the space. In addition to running two businesses, Clark is busy raising two children, son Hayden, 12 (and a half, he’s quick to point out!) and daughter Hailey, 10 (but almost 11, as she is quick to point out), with her husband, Eric.
Perked Up has been a labor of love, and a long time in the making. It opened in June, and there’s been quite a bit of buzz, no pun intended. “Now that the doors are open and people come in and say this is amazing – that’s what hits home and what gets your heart,” Clark says.
We sat down to talk with her – while drinking delicious caramel macchiatos – about making small changes and, hopefully, a big impact on the Mon Valley.
Q. Let’s start with Off the Wall Arts. Why Charleroi?
A. I graduated from Charleroi High School, I was born and raised in Fallowfield. I live in Carroll Township now, so when we needed a place to go for the art studio, it didn’t matter where I landed because I’m a destination location. People come here from the Ohio Valley, from Waynesburg, Wheeling – it doesn’t matter. It just made sense for us to purchase what we could afford and execute what we could. So that’s what we’ve done. But we outgrew that space, which is why we bought this. So I have an office upstairs, Mackin Engineering moved up there with us, Hot Shotz Photography is there, and this (Perked Up) was our up and coming project.
Q. You were an integral part of these buildings and their revitalization. How did you get the idea to throw a coffee shop into the mix?
A. As a coffee addict myself, we were lacking options here in town. There are a lot of people that come into this area to work every single day – and where are they going? Where are they stopping, what options do we have? So I was sitting next door working every single day and found myself having to leave Charleroi to go grab coffee or a quick sandwich, more light fare. And then, this building came up for sale! We ended up purchasing it. It took us a year to execute and remodel and get it open for business.
Q. How has business been?
A. Fantastic. We had such a warm welcoming from the community. We have an entire book full of thank-you notes just for being here. A lot of great feedback, a lot of repeat customers, a lot of smiling faces. I’m humbled by all of the reception. We’re thrilled about the buzz. I didn’t anticipate the overwhelming response to the café. I know we were very well welcomed. Truly, we shouldn’t have to leave Charleroi to have something fantastic. We have the River House Cafe, we have Rego’s, we have other restaurants in town. We have a lot of mom-and-pop shops that have been here for years that are so relevant, we just needed another little place to stop so we could keep enjoying what’s here. We have a lot of busy bodies that come in here, before going to work at the hospital, because their shifts start at 7. I tell them, if you drive past and you see the chandeliers on, please come in because we’re here.
Q. How are you balancing everything?
A. Coffee! A lot of coffee. The first two months have been trying. I have the best staff here, I really do. They keep me in check, they tell me what we need, and they’re running the show, which is fantastic. I’m just here to have coffee and do some work, to smile at all the faces that walk in. It’s like “Cheers,” I want everybody to know everybody. Lack of sleep is my balance, just trying to keep it all together. I rely a lot on my staff and my family for support.
Q. Tell me about the old magazines.
A. I’ve been collecting magazines for probably about two years. The end result is going to be (displayed on the cafe’s tables) all Mod Podged, quirky little articles, little pieces from 1940 or earlier. How not to become shark food, because that’s totally relevant. My grandparents passed away, and in the middle of cleaning out their estate, I found all of these. It’s going to take a long time to go through all of them. It’s pretty exciting. I have a lot of work to do with all of them, but I have a lot more magazines next door from the late 1800s until about 1920 that are all in sleeves. It’s pretty cool stuff.
Q. Do you feel that the café, combined with the revitalization of these buildings and the new businesses in them, is spurring more activity along McKean and in Charleroi in general?
A. Boy, I’d love to believe so. I’d love to think that other people would be inspired by what we’ve done and take the initiative, jump feet first, don’t think about it and see where it takes you. That’s exactly what I did with both businesses. I just knew that I Iove to paint, so off I go next door. And here, I love coffee, and here we are now. There has to be some other kids out there like me who just want to do something awesome. And if I can say that we had anything to do with a little more revitalization in Charleroi, I’m proud of that.