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Best of the 'Burgh 2018: Business and Education

From a pierogi you can't eat to a hidden toy chest to the rehab of a dying mall –– discover what our editors chose for the Best of the 'Burgh in business and education.

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photo by richard cook

Fifty years after its opening as the first enclosed mall in the state, Northway Mall in Ross Township was following a nationwide trend and floundering; tenants and shoppers were sparse. Enter Ohio-based developer LRC Realty, which renamed the mall The Block Northway and landed first-in-the-market tenants such as The Container Store and Nordstrom Rack. Food options include CoreLife Eatery and Wahlburgers, and other restaurants, as well as entertainment venue Dave & Buster’s, are set to open by the end of the year. Seating areas include smartphone re-charging ports. Drive a Tesla? Plug in at the new garage. LRC President Frank Licata is optimistic of the Block’s future. “Hopefully you’ll find a unique tenant mix and an atmosphere where you want to hang out,” he says. (theblocknorthway.com) —RC

photo by garrett bower

Set sail for “Easel Island” and go, go, Van Gogh to Artist & Craftsman Supply, an employee-owned emporium, currently expanding, packed with a myriad of resources and other cool stuff. Sure, there’s all the usual materials: easels, canvases, paints, pastels and more. But also served are crafters’ needs with tools for jewelry-making, leatherworking, candle- and soap-making, book-making, quilling and more. In addition, look for gift options, quirky items (how about miniature easels and itty-bitty pencils?), school supplies and hardware, as well as in-store demos and workshops. (5603 Hobart St., Squirrel Hill; 412/421-3002, artistcraftsman.com) —MM

Nicole Battle, President USBG Pittsburgh | Photo by Laura Petrilla

Fourteen service industry professionals founded the Pittsburgh Chapter of the United States Bartenders Guild in 2011. Now, with nearly 200 members, it’s the seventh largest chapter of the 50-year-old professional development organization, which has more than 70 branches throughout the country. While camaraderie, competitions and networking is part of the fun, Pittsburgh’s USBG members take ongoing professional development seriously, too. Last year, the guild’s board organized 70-plus educational events, including monthly Workshop Wednesdays, during which bartenders learn about history, flavor and mixology of wine and spirits in master classes with visiting brand ambassadors; all-day, national-level workshops such as BarSmarts and Academy Day; and field trips to historical sites such as the West Overton Distillery Museum. (facebook.com/usbgpittsburgh25thchapter) —HBK

photo courtesy planethemp

When Pittsburgh native Samuel Graeb was going to school in Montana, he attended a festival where he bought a pair of jeans made from hemp. “They were as comfortable as pajamas,” he said. Fascinated, the now-21-year-old researched the material more and found that hemp uses half the water that cotton does. Also, while cotton is responsible for 15 to 25 percent of world pesticide use, hemp requires none. Graeb was hooked on the idea and material and decided to open his own hemp clothing business in 2016. Based out of Carnegie, planetHEMP is a family-run business that sells sustainable, stylish clothing — and all clothes from small batch orders are hand-sewn by Graeb’s mother and grandmother. (planethemp.cool) —JM

photo courtesy stuart day guitars

It takes an extremely skilled hand to build high-end bespoke guitars, and local craftsmen Stuart Day happens to have a knack for it. Day, who repairs all types of stringed instruments, has built acoustic guitars for clients all over the world, dedicating hundreds of hours to perfecting each piece and tailoring it specifically to the client. After beginning his craft in California and honing it in Pittsburgh, Day recently relocated to a family farm in New Galilee, Pa., where he will allow his new bucolic surroundings to breathe some sweet fresh country air into his work. (stuartdayguitars.com) —CG

photo by chuck beard

The first autograph Don Spagnolo ever received was from comic book legend Stan Lee. It hangs, matted and framed, above his desk in the former Belle Vernon municipal building that now serves as home base for his company, Steel City Galleries. Today, the business is one of the world’s largest clearinghouses for autographed memorabilia and collectible advertisements. He currently has around 60,000 pieces available for sale, ranging from autographed items such as guitars, jerseys and footballs to historic artifacts. Even with a plethora of inventory, he’s always working to grow his collection. (114 Main St., Belle Vernon; 724/243-3546, steelcitygalleries.com) —JFC

photo courtesy americat COMPANY

When Diane Danforth was shopping for Christmas presents for her cats, she was surprised to find there weren’t many options of items made in the United States. As a consumer, she was frustrated, but as a businesswoman, she saw a niche she could fill. “I looked at the competition and saw there was no brand out there who specialized in Made in the USA cat products,” she says. “There were some, but they focus on single products.” Currently, Americat Company offers stainless-steel food and water bowls (plastic or ceramic can crack or scratch and bacteria can grow), scratchers made from nontoxic materials, and light-weight polymer identification tags with imaging that won’t wear off. Danforth, who has a MBA from Duke University and whose experience includes a stint at Johnson & Johnson, used the Chatham’s Center for Women Entrepreneurship as a resource in starting her business last October. “The reason [starting the company] was important to me was that my cats are very important to me,” she says, “and I want to know what the products are and where they’re made and that they’re safe. I want [my cats] to live long healthy lives.” (412/397-9000, americatcompany.com) —LD
Celebrate with many of the winners at the annual Best of the 'Burgh Party on July 19 at Stage AE. Learn more here.

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2018 Best of the 'Burgh

Best of the 'Burgh 2018: Readers' Choice Poll Results

Diners, food trucks, dive bars and more. Here's the most popular stuff in town.

Best of the 'Burgh 2018: Food and Drink

From a goat rodeo farm and dairy to a Spanish revival to a secret lunch –– discover what our editors chose for the Best of the 'Burgh in food and drink.

Best of the 'Burgh 2018: Fitness and Outdoor

From a way to be shady to a (literal) tailgate to letting the moon be your guide –– discover what our editors chose for the Best of the 'Burgh in fitness and the outdoors.

Best of the 'Burgh 2018: Arts & Entertainment

From waking the dead to a jazz conspiracy to an act of grand larceny –– discover what our editors chose for the Best of the 'Burgh in arts and entertainment.

Best of the 'Burgh 2018: Cultural Attractions

From a tiny history lesson to a secret garden to a hidden shrine –– discover what our editors chose for the Best of the 'Burgh in cultural attractions.

Best of the 'Burgh 2018: Business and Education

From a pierogi you can't eat to a hidden toy chest to the rehab of a dying mall –– discover what our editors chose for the Best of the 'Burgh in business and education.
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