Mark Kennison grew up near Washington, was an undergrad in Washington, and is now a businessman in Washington. It’s a good place, in his view, that could be better.
“There has been a lot of expansion in the area,” said Kennison, 29. “But Main Street hasn’t quite caught that growth. This is where people used to walk from store to store, where traffic slowed down because of all the people walking. I know our Main Street could come back to that.”
As a merchant, he is doing his part. At 9 a.m. Friday, he will open Italian Market and Rachel Rose’s Specialty Boutique and Coffee House at, respectively, 241 and 239 S. Main St. Kennison purchased a bookstore and adjacent gift shop, knocked out a wall and will run this, essentially, as one business with 2,500 square feet of space.
His new endeavor is a Byron Leftwich pass down from his current one, the Upper Crust, which has specialized in pizza and other Italian cuisine since it opened two-plus years ago.
Kennison said Italian Market, in essence, will be a first cousin of Upper Crust. There will not be a dining area, but items used to prepare the dishes up the street will be available. They will include meats and cheeses by the pound, freshly baked bread, fresh and frozen pastas, olive oils and vingears.
“About 80 percent of our items come from the Strip District (in Pittsburgh),” said Kennison, a North Franklin resident and Trinity High School graduate.
The coffee shop/boutique is named for his sister, who is 26 and a nurse at UPMC Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh. The gift shop portion will be on two floors, and Kennison said fashions and accessories – including cashmere scarves and jewelry – will be among the merchandise. There will be inside seating for customers who want to sip coffee or espresso while noshing on baked goods such as biscotti, Italian cookies and cupcakes.
Kennison said he has learned a lot from his father, Mark, a longtime local businessman, and from being an entrepreneurial studies major at Washington & Jefferson College. He said he is about a semester shy of graduating, but plans to finish his coursework in the next year or so.
In the meantime, he will continue to tend to his established business and tenderly nurture his new one while considering other opportunities. It is, in his mind, an area rife with potential.
“I’d like to help fill up every empty business space (in Washington),” Kennison said. “The more we can bring in specialty businesses, the more opportunities people will have walk around and see what is here, the better it will be for the city.”