Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority responds to lead concerns with series of community meetings

Posted By on Tue, Dec 6, 2016 at 4:07 PM

Sarah Bolenbaugh, an engineer at PWSA, shows a piece of lead pipe to the crowd. - CP PHOTO BY STEPHEN CARUSO
  • CP Photo by Stephen Caruso
  • Sarah Bolenbaugh, an engineer at PWSA, shows a piece of lead pipe to the crowd.
For the past 26 years, Adam Butkus has lived at 306 S. Neville St., in a home built in 1865.

After hearing about Flint, Mich., where lead contamination has made the city’s water undrinkable, he became concerned.

“I saw these horrific conditions,” Butkus said, referencing Flint, which was declared in a federal state of emergency for eight months earlier this year due to its water quality.

Looking at his 151-year-old house, he worried about his own water. So when the Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority released a report over the summer that showed 17 out of 100 Pittsburgh homes had lead levels above federal standards, he requested a testing kit for himself.

Butkus requested the kit in August. But after receiving and returning the kit in October, he has yet to see the results.

“I’m not really trying to give [the PWSA] a hard time,” Butkus said. “It’s just almost December and we’re still waiting.”

Butkus was one of 50 people who appeared at a Nov. 29 PWSA public meeting to hear a presentation from Bernard Lindstrom, the authority’s interim executive director, and other senior staff about lead in Pittsburgh’s water.

In a statement to Pittsburgh City Paper, following the meeting, the PWSA blamed one of the contractors hired to process the kits for not moving fast enough.

Per the contract, samples are supposed to be delivered to customers within 10 business days of the request, and should take around three-and-a-half weeks to process.

The meeting was one of seven planned by the PWSA, each dedicated to a Pittsburgh City Council district, meant to assuage citizen’s fears about the lead findings.

“We are not Flint, Michigan,” Lindstrom said. Instead, Lindstrom blamed poor testing in the past by PWSA for the seemingly sudden rise in lead levels of the past few months.

In District 8, water in 15 out of the 181 homes (8.3 percent) that returned their lead test kits was found above the federal limit of 15 parts per billion of lead to water. The district includes parts of Oakland, Shady Side and Squirrel Hill.

Elevated lead levels are most dangerous for children. Exposure to lead has been linked to aggression, anxiety and depression, along with other behavioral and emotional effects, leading the National Institute of Health to say that there might be “no safe lead level.”

Lead can contaminate water as it passes through lead-lined pipes — or pipes connected with lead-based solder — into people’s homes. In the presentation, PWSA explained that studies have determined that lead is coming from the service pipes leading from water mains into people’s homes. Responsibility for those pipes is split between the authority and the property owners.

But Steve Awodey, a Carnegie Mellon professor in the crowd, said mismanagement created the lead crisis, specifically during the two years the authority was run by a private company. According to a report published in Wired magazine in October, part of the issue might be that Pittsburgh handed over control of its water to a private company, Veolia, in 2012. Veolia operates in 68 countries and 530 other American cities.

Under Veolia, the PWSA switched its lead-control substance in Pittsburgh’s pipes from soda ash to caustic soda, a cheaper alternative, without consulting with Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection as legally required, Wired reported in October.

Awodey felt that someone had “to take responsibility for the changes that were made” that seemingly have created Pittsburgh's problem.

Lindstrom asked for understanding from the event’s crowd to help the PWSA reach its goals for the future, including open data on all replaced lead lines as well as a program to connect low-income homeowners with loans to help them replace old lead plumbing.

“I need more than just me,” Lindstrom said. “Our people and our city need to come together.”

But as he left the meeting, Awodey felt frustrated. The Point Breeze resident thought Pittsburgh had gained a lot of ground as a livable place in the past few years, but the lead revelation stood to reverse the city’s gains.

“Nothing will drive young families out of cities faster than lead in the water,” Awodey said.

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Pittsburgh celebrates Krampusnacht in Market Square

Posted By on Tue, Dec 6, 2016 at 11:23 AM

krampas.png

Krampusnacht, a European tradition that honors Krampus, a horned "half-goat, half-demon" who is said to punish misbehaved children during the Christmas season, took place last night in Market Square.

Revelers dressed up as Krampus and posed for photos before embarking on the Krampus Krawl, a bar crawl following the old European tradition called "Krampuslauf." According to the event's Facebook page, "the procession often takes on the appearance of a parade, with the hairy beasts performing for onlookers." There was also a balloon artist and the band The Cheer'ly Men performed for onlookers.

Our photo intern Luke Thor Travis, who captured the scene in our photo slideshow below told us, "It was funny seeing all of the little kids and families clear out once they arrived."

Slideshow
Krampus Downtown
Krampus Downtown Krampus Downtown Krampus Downtown Krampus Downtown Krampus Downtown Krampus Downtown Krampus Downtown Krampus Downtown

Krampus Downtown

CP photo by Luke Thor Travis

Click to View 17 slides


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A 'Pittsburgh City Paper' conversation with journalist Simran Sethi, author of 'Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love'

Posted By on Tue, Dec 6, 2016 at 8:23 AM

bread_wine_chocolate_highres_final.jpg
Last Friday, Simran Sethi, gave a lecture entitled, “On the Emotional Geography of Biodiversity,” at Chatham University’s Eden Hall campus in Gibsonia. Sethi is a journalist and educator focused on food, sustainability and social change. She has spent years traveling the world interviewing farmers, brewers, winemakers, bakers and scientists in pursuit of discovering the importance of biodiversity to deliciousness and the well-being of our food system. Her book, Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love, follows that journey. Sethi sat down with City Paper to talk about the loss and love of our favorite foods.

When you say loss what do you mean by that?
Unbeknownst to most of us ... the most delicious and diverse varieties of the foods we eat are disappearing. I told the story of the loss of agricultural biodiversity through bread, wine, coffee, chocolate and beer, but the story extends to every food and drink we consume. It’s a loss of diversity in the soil and the microbes in the soil. It’s the loss of diversity in seeds, in pollinators, in plants, in animals, in fish, in every link of the food chain. The reason this is important is as we move toward what researchers are calling now the global standard diet, a diet that looks the same in most places in the world, we’re losing diversity and resilience in the kinds of varieties of foods that we grow. That means that we’re losing a backup system that we might need in the future.”

How might this affect the future of food?
When we grow foods in monoculture, we are really compromising our food system. The historical examples we have of that are the Irish potato famine where one-eighth of the population died when a single fungus wiped out a significant portion of the potato crop. Of course this is combined not only with agricultural factors like disease, but also with the political forces going on at any given time; but we see this happening over and over again. This happened with another disease that affected grape plants, known as phylloxera. That resulted in what’s known as the Great Wine Blight that occurred in France and Western Europe and affected the majority of grapes that were grown for wine. You look to Latin America and we see in Guatemala and Honduras a declaration of a state of emergency as the result of another kind of disease that has felled the coffee crop there. What we’re seeing is this kind of slow loss throughout the world and in large part, a result of a loss of accountability for how things are grown in far-flung places but also a demand for sameness, a demand that an industrialized system calls for which is highest yield at whatever cost.”

Why choose bread, wine and chocolate to illustrate this?
The book was originally all nutritional staples, so it would have been wheat, rice, potatoes. I was sitting in Italy, I spent four months there doing research at the food and agricultural organization of the United Nations and an NGO looking at agricultural diversity called Bioversity International. I was in my tiny flat in Rome trying to write this chapter on corn, boring myself for starters and thinking Michael Pollan wrote the greatest chapter on corn in the Omnivore’s Dilemma and I was like, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do. How am I going to pull off this book?’ And I thought at that moment, ‘oh I’ll sprinkle a little chocolate on top, throw in a little wine for color’ but that was never the crux of the book.

I went back to the United States. I ran into, at the farmer’s market, my sister’s neighbor, whose husband is a chocolate maker. His background is in botany and I thought “this is the guy I need to talk to for my chocolate sidebar.” I ended up going to visit him at the chocolate factory the next day. At the end of the interview, he says, ‘do you want to visit the chocolate factory?’ Chocolate has been every birthday cake, my wedding cake, it got me through my divorce. It was fueling every page of research for the book. Of course, I wanted to go to the chocolate factory.

We get to this machine that melts the cocoa solids back to liquid form and the smell is just amazing and I touch it, this machine, like it’s the Lord or a lover or something, I’m just reaching for it. He’s agog. He takes this picture of me in this hair net with these earplugs. You know, I mean I look absolutely ridiculous. And then I get on the train to go back to the East Bay, and I realized this is what I don’t want to lose. This is what fuels my life. This is what brings me joy.

And so the book then became this exploration of all these foods, maybe that people tell us to enjoy in moderation or to take out of our diet completely…What we need to do was savor them. I thought the easiest way to talk about this was through things that had meaning for me. Chocolate, as I told you, balm of my heart. Coffee. Every day of my adult morning has started with coffee… I wanted to speak from that place of love, of a connection that transcended like, ‘this is just a beverage or this is just a food’ to say, ‘these are the anchors of my life.’… I thought by foraging that emotional connection, that it would touch a place in people where they would do the same. “

Look for an extended audio version of this interview on this week’s Sound Bite podcast at pghcitypaper.com.

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Monday, December 5, 2016

Photo Slideshow: Duquesne breaks 15-year City Game losing streak by upsetting the Pitt Panthers 64-55

Posted By on Mon, Dec 5, 2016 at 2:22 PM

As our own Mike Wysocki told you in our current issue, the City Game, the multi-decade basketball rivalry between Pitt and Duquesne, hasn't really gone the Dukes' way in recent years. But that all changed Friday night when the Panthers fell 64-55.

Pitt had won the past 15 outings and many thought the then 6-1 Panthers were all set for another victory over the Dukes, who were 3-5 entering the game. Security tried to prevent the Duquense student section from rushing the court at PPG Arena, but they made it through to celebrate with their team.

Slideshow
Duquesne breaks 15-year City Game losing streak
Duquesne breaks 15-year City Game losing streak Duquesne breaks 15-year City Game losing streak Duquesne breaks 15-year City Game losing streak Duquesne breaks 15-year City Game losing streak Duquesne breaks 15-year City Game losing streak Duquesne breaks 15-year City Game losing streak Duquesne breaks 15-year City Game losing streak Duquesne breaks 15-year City Game losing streak

Duquesne breaks 15-year City Game losing streak

CP photos by Luke Thor Travis

Click to View 45 slides

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Pittsburgh workers walk off jobs and rally Downtown to protest for higher wages

Posted By on Wed, Nov 30, 2016 at 12:12 PM

Slideshow
Fight for $15 Pittsburgh
Fight for $15 Pittsburgh Fight for $15 Pittsburgh Fight for $15 Pittsburgh Fight for $15 Pittsburgh Fight for $15 Pittsburgh Fight for $15 Pittsburgh Fight for $15 Pittsburgh Fight for $15 Pittsburgh

Fight for $15 Pittsburgh

CP photos by Luke Thor Travis

Click to View 22 slides



On Nov. 29, hundreds of protesters took to the Downtown streets demanding that local fast-food restaurants, Giant Eagle grocery stores, and UPMC hospitals increase their minimum wages to $15 an hour and allow workers to form unions. The march was part of a national Day of Disruption, where cities across the country are protesting workers rights. 

More than 200 marchers shut down Liberty Avenue outside of the federal building and marched throughout Downtown to the McDonald's restaurant on Stanwix Street where CP News Editor Rebecca Addison reports some protesters were arrested.

Right before the march started, traffic was disrupted and more than 20 buses lined up on Liberty Avenue waiting for the march to start. More than a dozen police officers were present during the march. They provided escort for the marchers on motorcycles and bicycles. None were in riot gear.

Glenn Grayson of labor coalition One Pittsburgh spoke to the crowd before the
Protesters fill Liberty Avenue, Dowtown - CP PHOTO RYAN DETO
  • CP photo Ryan Deto
  • Protesters fill Liberty Avenue, Dowtown
 march about the frustration with stagnant wages for workers in the service industry. “Enough is enough with business as usual,” said Grayson. He also expressed anxiety that the group’s fight will be even harder when President-elect Donald Trump assumes office in January. “Our future president has declared that the current minimum wage is too high.”

One of the workers to walk off the job today to protest was Erika Lee, a shuttle bus driver for UPMC who currently makes $13 an hour. She lives in Mckeesport with her three children. Lee said she had to take a stand to fight for her and her co-workers’ rights, specifically allowing them to form a union, which UPMC has blocked for years.

“There has been no progress on forming a union,” said Lee. “There is constant intimidation. Many of us stood up today, but not all of us. Some of us, they feared retaliation.”

Linda Zinkhan works at the Market District Giant Eagle in Robinson Township. Her catering department recently joined United Food and Commercial Workers Local 23 and was drawn to protest because of the hardships she and six other employers went through in joining UFCW. Zinkhan said that management stalled contract talks and made workers attend anti-union meetings.

“It has been a clawing fight,” said Zinkhan.

Protesters outside the Stanwix Street McDonald's - PHOTO BY LUKE THOR TRAVIS
  • Photo by Luke Thor Travis
  • Protesters outside the Stanwix Street McDonald's

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Friday, November 25, 2016

Free Parking in Pittsburgh's Strip District for Small Business Saturday

Posted By on Fri, Nov 25, 2016 at 1:16 PM

IMAGE COURTESY OF STRIP DISTRICT NEIGHBORS
  • Image courtesy of Strip District Neighbors
The irony of Small Business Saturday is not lost on us at Pittsburgh City Paper. The event was created by the American Express credit-card company and is sponsored by the company to this day. The shopping day is meant to promote small businesses that make communities unique and support them so that money spent goes directly back to locals. But, since American Express charges businesses more to use its credit cards than Visa or Mastercard, many small businesses don't take American Express.

Nonetheless, the event has grown in popularity since its 2010 inception and the Strip District wants to take advantage of that momentum with one of Pittsburghers' favorite things: free parking.

According to Strip District nonprofit Strip District Neighbor's Twitter feed, all meters in the strip district will be free of charge tomorrow (Nov. 26) for Small Business Saturday. Strip District Neighbors also created a handy deal guide that details more than a dozen sales and deals of participating retailers, restaurants and bars.

Deals include 10 percent off all furniture at boutique furniture store Hot Haute Hot, 10 percent discount on all purchases at Mancini's Bread Co., and $5 off purchase of $25 at Bradley's Book Outlet.

The deals and free parking last all day. Check individual business' websites for their listed hours.


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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra reaches an agreement with management

Posted By on Wed, Nov 23, 2016 at 4:42 PM

PSO musicians and allies striking in September - CP PHOTO BY STEPHEN CARUSO
  • CP photo by Stephen Caruso
  • PSO musicians and allies striking in September
After a 54-day work stoppage, Heinz Hall will be filled with music again.

The musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and the symphony’s management reached an agreement today to end the strike by signing a new five-year contract.

“The management and Board of Trustees of the Pittsburgh Symphony are unwavering in a collective commitment to our orchestra's artistic mission and to its excellence — past, present, and future,” Melia Tourangeau, president and CEO of the symphony, said in a press release. “We asked the musicians to be a partner in the solution to the exceptionally difficult financial position we are working to correct and we are grateful for their sacrifice. They have, indeed, come together with us in a powerful way to help position the Pittsburgh Symphony’s future.”

The new contract includes a 10.5 percent decrease in musician wages in the first year, but one that will only effectively be a 7.5 percent cut due to “a generous contribution from an anonymous donor.”

After a salary freeze in the second year, wages will slowly climb back to their original level by the fifth year of the contract.

Also, the musician's benefits plan will be transferred to a defined contributions plan, while three open positions within the 99 piece orchestra will remain unfilled for the duration of the contract.

The strike, the symphony’s first since 1975 and second ever, began on Sept. 30 after months-old negotiations between the two sides in spite of federal arbitration.

The musicians, members of American Federation of Musicians Local 60-471, called for the strike after management refused to back down on demands for a 15 percent pay cut to the musicians, as well as reduced benefits and freezing three open positions in the orchestra, up to management's discretion.

Management called for the cuts to improve the symphony’s financial situation, including $11 million in debt and a $1.5 million budget deficit.

Musicians countered that the symphony’s financial situation was not as bad as management claimed, and worried the cuts would make the symphony less attractive and hurt its competitiveness for top performers.

While still upset at the scope of the contracts cuts, Micah Howard, chair of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Committee, is optimistic for the future of the orchestra following the agreement.

“These were painful and substantial concessions,” Howard said in a release. “But we agreed to work with management to face our financial challenges head-on. Both parties came together in the spirit of true compromise, to ensure that we can resume performing at Heinz Hall.”

Negotiations restarted in early November as both sides agreed to an independent audit of the symphony's finances.

The strike led to the cancellation of all symphony concerts up to Dec. 5, as well as shows by touring entertainers such as rock star Elvis Costello and comedians Brian Regan and Lewis Black who stood in solidarity with the striking musicians.

In honor of the new contract, the PSO will host two free concerts, on Dec. 2 and 4 at Heinz Hall.

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Advocates for Martin Esquivel-Hernandez rally at Philadelphia immigration office

Posted By on Wed, Nov 23, 2016 at 11:39 AM

Alma Brigido, wife of Martin Esquivel-Hernandez, interviewed by Philadelphia-area Spanish language TV news - PHOTO COURTESY OF MONICA RUIZ
  • Photo courtesy of Monica Ruiz
  • Alma Brigido, wife of Martin Esquivel-Hernandez, interviewed by Philadelphia-area Spanish language TV news
Last week, advocates fighting for Martin Esquivel-Hernandez, a Pittsburgh undocumented immigrant from Mexico who is currently facing possible deportation, took to the Downtown Pittsburgh streets to demand U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) release Esquivel-Hernandez, so he can return home to his wife and three kids, one of whom is an American citizen.

Now ICE is hinting this isn’t going to happen. ICE officials issued this statement to Pittsburgh City Paper when asked if they had plans to release Esquivel-Hernandez: “ICE intends to take custody of the individual after the full resolution of the pending federal charges, to include any potential conviction and subsequent prison term.”

Esquivel-Hernandez has no prior criminal record and has been a volunteer in the Latino community since arriving in Pittsburgh. He attempted to enter the country illegally four times to be with his family, before finally succeeding in 2012. He has been charged with felony re-entry, but his lawyer is currently negotiating for a lesser sentence. If negotiations succeed, the only thing keeping Esquivel-Hernandez from being released from a private prison in Youngstown, Ohio, is ICE maintaining a detainer on him.

On Nov. 21, the Esquivel-Hernandez family and his advocates from Latino-rights group Casa San Jose took their request directly to the ICE field office in Philadelphia to demand that ICE regional officer Thomas Decker release Esquivel-Hernandez.

“Martin is a man that has always found ways to help others without thinking of himself,” said Esquivel-Hernandez’s wife, Alma Brigido, in a press release. “Thomas Decker and ICE, you use your power for injustice, depriving us from having the possibilities to support our families. We are all the same, you all have families, so do we."

More than 50 rally attendees, including 14 from the Pittsburgh area, protested outside the ICE office and held a 30-foot orange banner reading “Bring Martin Home.” Gabriel McMorland, of the Pittsburgh advocacy-group the Thomas Merton Center, attended the Philadelphia rally and said that ICE officials didn’t address the protesters, but he was confident their message was made.

“ICE did not come outside,” says McMorland. “But I think they knew we were there. Our banner was bigger than a minivan.”

Esquivel-Hernandez traveled 5,000 miles on an eight-month ordeal to reunite with his family, sleeping in abandoned homes, crawling through thorny bushes and avoiding rattlesnakes. The U.S. Attorney’s office of Western Pennsylvania, deemed him a “flight risk” in court documents, and he has been detained in Youngstown for six months.

McMorland disagrees that Esquivel-Hernandez is a flight risk. “This is a man who has risked his life to get here,” says McMorland. “I struggle to imagine who can be less of flight risk. He risked his life multiple times to be with his family in Pittsburgh. Why would he leave?”

The rally was supported by Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizen Coalition, a statewide immigrant-rights group. The rally also marched to Arch Street Methodist Church in Philadelphia, where another Mexican undocumented immigrant, Javier Flores of Philadelphia, has taken up asylum to avoid deportation. Flores has a wife and three children, all of whom are U.S. citizens.

“We recognize that the struggle to keep families together and push back against the harsh enforcement policies of the Obama administration is not about just one city or one family,” said Sundrop Carter of PICC in a press release. “That is why we are building a statewide movement, so we can fight side by side to protect our communities, and fight for just and humane policies.”

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Pittsburgh organ donor's family meets the lives he saved

Posted By on Wed, Nov 23, 2016 at 10:26 AM

Mary Grace Hensell - CP PHOTO BY STEPHEN CARUSO
  • CP photo by Stephen Caruso
  • Mary Grace Hensell
When John Chomko, 59, was told he had pancreatic cancer, he knew from the start his odds for survival were minimal.

“When I was diagnosed, the doctor told me to settle my things,” Chomko says.

Even after multiple procedures, his prognosis did not improve. The cancer had been removed from much of his body, except for parts of his liver. Without a donation, he would die.

Five years ago, on April 1, at 6 a.m., he found out he had his donation, because of the tragic death of Brian Hensell, 24, who had been killed in a car crash two days earlier.

Knowing how close he was to death, and looking at how he survived, Chomko feels grateful for each day that goes by.

“You have a higher sense of urgency to do things in your life,” he says.

On Monday night in Shadyside, at Family House, an affordable, home-like residence for the families of Pittsburgh hospital patients, Donate Life Pennsylvania and the Center for Organ Recovery and Education hosted a dinner to let Chomko and other organ recipients give thanks in person to the family of the man who saved their lives.

Hensell, had his heart, liver, pancreas and kidneys given to three men. Melvin Protzman, 63, received Hensell's heart; Brian McTiernan, 61, received his kidneys and pancreas; and Chomko, his liver.

Monday was Hensell's family's first chance to meet all the recipients and their own families. His mother, Mary Grace Hensell, had met Protzman about a year after his transplant, but had yet to meet Chomko or McTiernan.

“My son gets to live on in each and every one of you,” she said. “My son wanted it, and we wanted it too.”

At her side was her brother Louis Sico. He saw the meeting as a chance to make sense of his family’s personal loss.

“I’m so happy to see the families that ... his life has tremendous meaning [for],” Sico said. “He’s lived on through three people.”

Hensell's mother also handed out small books to each of the recipients of her son's organs, featuring pictures of him and details about his life.

“I just want you to know him a little bit like how we know him,” she said to the three men.

The combined families then sat down for dinner. As the table was slowly covered in food, Protzman, the recipient of Hensell’s heart, gave a short prayer and asked everyone at the table to say what they were thankful for.

Looking at Hensell's mother, he remembered when they first met and how they bonded over her loss.

“Mary Grace, I am thankful for you and all the things we have done together to remember Brian,” Protzman said. “My gift to you, is you can listen to Brian’s heart whenever you wish.”

With a small picture of her son — engraved with “a heartbeat lasts a mere second, but your son’s gift is eternal” — looking on from behind her, Mary Grace Hensell felt solace. By meeting the assembled recipients, she felt that they would always honor her son for the second chance he gave them.

“I just want them to remember Brian,” she said. “The worst thing for a mother is for your son to be forgotten.”

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Friday, November 18, 2016

Steel City Holiday Pop-Up Shop comes to Downtown Pittsburgh

Posted By on Fri, Nov 18, 2016 at 5:14 PM

CP PHOTO BY REBECCA ADDISON
  • CP photo by Rebecca Addison
Downtown Pittsburgh will have a new tenant this holiday season. Officially opening on Black Friday, Steel City, an online clothing and accessories retailer, has taken over the storefront at 625 Smithfield St.

Run by husband and wife team Brandon and Carly Grbach, Steel City sells vintage-inspired shirts, sweatshirts, hats and more. And all of their wares celebrate Pittsburgh.

"It's mostly '60s- and '70s-inspired apparel," Brandon says. "We try to take the touristy kind of shirt and we upscale it with quality material."

Brandon found out about the Smithfield Street location during online clothing retailer ModCloth's pop-up shop there earlier this year. And thanks in part to a grant from the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, Steel City will inhabit the space through Christmas Eve.

"I love Downtown. It's so iconic and I just wanted to give it a try," says Brandon. "With a brand like Steel City, it's all about Pittsburgh, so where better than the heart of the city."

Brandon first got involved in apparel design after dropping out of the University of Pittsburgh. "I just took up apparel design as a Hail Mary," he says.

He was hired to create a Pittsburgh zombie T-shirt, and his design, which parodied the Pittsburgh Pirates logo (substituting the pirate with a zombie and giving him a baseball bat wrapped in chains with a gun thrown in for good measure), was turned down by the client. But it was popular elsewhere and gained Brandon notoriety after former Pirates player A.J. Burnett wore the shirt in pre-game interviews.

Today Steel City is the only independent brand featured by the NFL. And they once raised $14,000 in two weeks for Breast Cancer awareness.

"It really has been a collaboration of a lot of people to make this work," says Brandon.

Carly says a large portion of their clientele are "expat displaced yinzers." Forty percent of Steel City's online sales are to out-of-state buyers. And they've even sold to a couple of boutiques in Japan.

For a sneak preview of what they offer, check out Steel City's soft opening tonight from 7-9 p.m. during Light Up Night's festivities. Stop in for refreshments and a 15 percent discount on everything in the store.

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