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Accessible, Affordable Sharpsburg a Town on the Upswing

Like many Pittsburgh neighborhoods, Sharpsburg Borough has industrial origins. Founded in 1826 by James Sharp, who bought the land in a sheriff’s sale, it is the second oldest municipality in Allegheny County outside the city of Pittsburgh.

Though James Sharp may not be a household name, a more prominent Pittsburgher has Sharpsburg roots: locals may be surprised to learn that Henry John Heinz, founder of HJ Heinz, the Northside company that bears his name, was from the neighborhood.

“We’ve always been a working class community. Back in the day, Sharpsburg was founded with a lot of industry in mind and a lot of ancillary businesses arising out of the steel industry,” said Brittany Reno, founder of the Sharpsburg Neighborhood Organization.

A resident-centered community development association, the Sharpsburg Neighborhood Organization works on everything from public art projects to green environmental initiatives, to flooding and climate issues, to safety and affordability concerns.

Like many other neighborhoods whose economy relies on specific industries, the decline of those industries initially translated into a downturn in the neighborhood’s livability. “We had a beautiful, bustling, Main Street business district in the 1950s and ‘60s, but as the steel industry faltered, we felt that here,” said Reno. “We had decline and disinvestment, but many residents stuck it out and remained committed—and we came through.”

The borough is tucked away below Routes 8 and 28 and has a prime location on the Allegheny River. About 3,400 residents call Sharpsburg home, and despite the borough being less than one square mile, it has been able to attract many new businesses to operate alongside longstanding businesses such as Globe Electric.

One of the oldest businesses in Sharpsburg, Globe Electric was founded more than 100 years ago. Other well-established businesses include the Gran Canal Caffe as well as CC’s Café, both of which opened in the 1990s, and The Frame Gallery which opened 40 years ago. Though it closed in the 1950s, Fort Pitt Brewing Company operated for over 50 years in Sharpsburg.

A wide array of other unique businesses call Sharpsburg home, including Dancing Gnome Brewery, a small brewery and taproom that focuses on hop-forward and international styles. Founder Andrew Witchey said that he was attracted to Sharpsburg as a place to open his business for multiple reasons.

“I was looking for that community feel and was pretty specific about the kind of building I needed since we're both a production facility and a taproom, so the zoning and permitting had to fit,” he explained. “From a business perspective, Sharpsburg is centralized along many corridors including Routes 8 and 28, and the Highland Park Bridge. It allows easy access from pretty much any angle.

“The borough was extremely accommodating in making sure that we were successful in getting up and running, and the small town feel with a bigger metropolitan area so close by really made it an easy choice,” he added.

Witchey is also planning on opening a second Sharpsburg location later this year. “The new space allows us to effectively quadruple production over the next handful of years, so we'll be increasing our distribution efforts throughout Allegheny County so that our product is more accessible to those that are a bit farther out,” he said. “Ultimately, we're just working to get the taproom open so that we can continue to foster a positive and comfortable community both in craft beer and in Sharpsburg.”

Starting with a food truck followed by a storefront in Oakland, Braden Walter, owner of Redhawk Coffee Roasters, decided that Sharpsburg would be an ideal second location. “My wife, Mary, and I spent a good bit of time in Sharpsburg over the past few years and feel like it has a ton of charm and a lot of amazing people,” he said. “I’ve watched the transformation of Sharpsburg and felt like it was time to make a move.”

After Walter found the perfect space on N. Canal Street for his coffee shop, he and his crew worked “in a COVID bubble” for a year to get the building ready.

“Sharpsburg is definitely on the upswing with great breweries, galleries and community leaders that are the absolute best,” said Walter, adding that he also chose Sharpsburg because it needed a coffee shop. “I feel like Pittsburgh is very oversaturated in cafes in most neighborhoods so I saw Sharpsburg as a great opportunity.”

He added that he appreciates the tightknit and diverse community. “I think people would really be shocked to see how quickly things are changing for the better,” said Walter.

Witchey noted that Sharpsburg is an underrated art town. Indeed, art galleries and dance studios are finding their way to Sharpsburg, such as Art in Motion Pittsburgh, featuring international dance classes for all ages. Opened five years ago, co-owner Jennifer Gallagher said that she felt that Sharpsburg was the ideal location. She, like most other business owners, find the neighborhood to be friendly and welcoming.

“I think there are many opportunities for small businesses in Sharpsburg right now. The rents are reasonable and the location is ideal. Also, businesses work together to support each other through community events,” she explained.

After four years curating pop-up art exhibitions and installations in unique spaces around the city, Jeff Jarzynka opened ZYNKA Gallery in 2019 in a three-story building on Main Street with a conjoined larger corner storefront. The gallery features contemporary art primarily by established Pittsburgh artists; the active exhibitions schedule rotates every six weeks.

“Sharpsburg was and is attractive to me for multiple reasons—its authenticity as a neighborhood and community; its location and accessibility; its affordability; the forward-thinking mayor and borough council president; and the many other progressive businesses that have decided to call it home,” said Jarzynka.

The importance of culture and arts in a community cannot be understated. “Culture is a critical component to any neighborhood. It offers the community and visitors a way and place to be inspired and perhaps to discover and express something of themselves,” Jarzynka observed.

Recently, the borough had an art crawl to highlight public art, and in June, the Free Little Art Gallery, a similar concept to a Free Little Library, opened on Main Street. Visitors are encouraged to simply admire the art as well as to create art for the small space and even take art home with them to enjoy.

Sharpsburg attracts visitors from all over Pittsburgh. Besides an eclectic array of shopping and dining options in a walkable neighborhood along with art galleries, Sharpsburg features affordable homes, green spaces, and a marina.

Reno said that Sharpsburg is a caring community with a unique vibe and supportive small business climate. “So many people walk around town and pop in and say hi and ask how it’s going and check things out when a business opens up,” she said.

Jarzynka added, “Sharpsburg is a small riverside town with lots of character. Many residents have lived here a long time or a lifetime, while others are discovering it for the first time and deciding to call it home. There's a strong sense of community here.”

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