U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, a big man in Washington, D.C., talked small business in Washington, Pa.
Murphy entered Rachel Rose’s Coffee House and Gift Shop a little after 11 Monday morning to address a small group of small business owners from the city. He fielded questions and offered advice and support during a 25-minute session on South Main Street, where recent revitalization has been impressive.
“The great thing about America is that you can grow something like this,” said Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair. “We have to clear the way for businesses like this to grow.”
The congressman urged small business owners in a given community – in this instance, Washington – “to work together” for the well-being of all. “This is what makes a town great.”
The coffee shop and adjacent Italian Market opened Nov. 30. Mark Kennison Jr. owns both shops, along with the Upper Crust restaurant a few doors up.
The Kennisons got assistance from local office of the University of Pittsburgh Small Business Development Center. The family then invited Murphy to visit after the business was operating.
So there he was, addressing the interests of Donna Griffin, owner of the Upper Crust building; John Elmore and Paul Todd, part-owner and general manager, respectively, of Mr. Gyros on West Maiden Street; Kennison and his parents, Mark Sr. and Monica.
Mark Kennison Sr., general manager of his son’s businesses, initiated many of the discussions. He talked about how Main Street – in the day – had vibrant, uninterrupted rows of department stores and shops.
He realizes that shuttered storefronts are too common along the city’s spine today, and that “big-chain” stores likely will continue to gravitate to suburban malls. But he said there are encouraging signs.
“People are saying that South Main is a nice place.”
The trend has to continue, though, and Murphy and the owners agreed that merchants must appeal to and work with city government to foment more change.
“Groups have to work together, everyone has to work together,” the congressman said.
He cited Irwin, Westmoreland County, as a small town that planned then successfully revived its business district, and keeps it humming with festivals that draw crowds to its shops.
“I’ve seen these things work in other towns,” Murphy said. “People are willing to stay in a town after work. Can you make plans like this for downtown Washington?”
Parking – long and short term – is a concern there.
“Delivery drivers for our business and other businesses have difficulty parking. A lot don’t have places to park in front of the buildings,” Todd said.
One doesn’t need to feed a meter to walk, and a buildup of shops would appeal to professionals working downtown who otherwise may head to a mall at lunchtime.
Murphy proposed bike racks, believing they would “entice more young people” to eat and shop around the city. Washington & Jefferson College, after all, is a two-minute ride.
Mark Kennison Sr. is bullish on the possibilities.
“I have a burning desire to see Main Street come back,” he said. “I think we have something started. If a lot of citizens are involved, we can make this work.”