Just two miles off Interstate 79 is a small borough called Evans City, tucked in between Zelienople and Butler on Route 68, and only six miles from Mars.
Situated on Breakneck Creek, which also runs into Valencia and Mars, the borough was incorporated in 1882, having historically functioned as a Native American campground. The original name was Evansburg, named after settler and mill owner Thomas Evans, though the name was officially changed to Evans City in 1968.
“Evans City was founded as an early oil boom town; now it is a bedroom community for Pittsburgh and Cranberry,” said Donna Wise, store manager with H. P. Starr Lumber Company.
Like many small towns, Evans City has a main street, and while there are some empty storefronts, new businesses are coming to town and thriving, particularly due to the support of locals.
Stephanie Oliver opened Coffee Brake four years ago, a charming coffee shop/café combination in the heart of Evans City on Main Street/Route 68. She was looking for a site and found an empty building that used to be a Subway. “I knew there weren’t a lot of places to easily grab something on your way through town, so that’s how I ended up here,” she said.
Coffee Brake is supported by both a hometown customer base that have become regulars, as well as a good mix of customers just passing through town. “This area of Butler County is growing a lot, which is another reason I chose to open here,” said Oliver. “Since I opened, there have been two brand new housing developments built in adjacent communities, and I know that more housing plans are coming.”
In addition to Coffee Brake, other independent shops on Main Street include Little Foot Quilt Shoppe, Evans City Pharmacy and Gift Shoppe, and Wendereusz’s Candy & More, the latter of which whips up delectable homemade chocolates and decorative lollipops, and sells several flavors of Penn State Berkey Creamery’s famous ice cream.
Oliver’s father, Jerome Oliver Sr., recently put in an Ace Hardware in the location where Viola’s Market used to be. As it was the only grocery store in town, its absence was keenly felt by residents. Because of demand, Oliver utilized the empty space adjacent to Ace Hardware and once again fulfilled a community need by opening up a full-service, independent grocery store. Together, the business is called Ace and the Grocery Place, and residents flock to it.
“When I bought the building from the Viola family, I wanted to honor their legacy so we had the sign refurbished, and it is now displayed within our grocery store,” he said.
Oliver has been investing in the area since the early 2000s, bringing the first Subway sandwich shop to town. “The area is most definitely growing, and business activity is going up. Traffic count on Route 68 is tremendous and is equal to, if not greater than, traffic running through Route 19 in Zelienople,” he explained.
“The key is to create a unique and joyful shopping experience to get people to stop their busy lives going from Point A to Point B and give them a compelling reason to stop and spend their resources in Evans City,” he added.
Con Yeager Spices, which also has a location in New Castle, is coming up on the 10-year anniversary of its Evans City storefront, though the business has been around since the 1890s. The store sells spices, herbs & blends, sausage seasonings, products to cure meats and more.
Owner Kirby Huffman wanted to be in Evans City, as it was convenient for many of his customers. “Most of our customers come from Butler County, and we also get a good deal of business from Pittsburgh north as well,” he said. “Some of our customers will drive from far away once or twice a year just to come and see us.”
H. P. Starr Lumber LLC, around since 1946, opened its Evans City location in 1984, merging with Brookside Lumber of Bethel Park; the two are now sister companies. “We have helped customers build or remodel their homes, and now we are working with their children, building their homes or assisting with remodeling projects. Our customers have become like family and friends,” said Wise.
She added that H. P. Starr Lumber is more than just a lumberyard; it is also a project center. “We sell lumber, doors, windows, kitchens, decking, roofing, everything to complete your home,” she said. The store serves contractors and homeowners from northern Allegheny County and Butler County and also provides installation services.
When it was looking to expand, the business needed a location that had access to railroad and major arteries for shipping and receiving materials. “We wanted to be an asset to the community and not a burden; Evans City was the perfect fit,” said Wise, adding that the town is both quiet and quaint and has a small-town feel, though it is only minutes from major highways.
The business owners all agree that the key to success is mutual support. “We have a very supportive business climate here in Evans City. We pretty much all know one another and try to help each other out as much as we can. We are all striving for the same thing: success. We want our customers to be happy and to have a pleasant visit when they come to our town,” said Huffman.
Wise said that Evans City is a small town where people know and like their neighbors. “The businesses all work together and support each other and have strong values,” she said.
Stephanie Oliver said that it has been an awesome experience being a businessperson in Evans City. “I have this wonderful sense of community that I have never found before. I have a great relationship with the other businesses; we’re always checking in with each other. The library does some wonderful events. It is a nice community to be involved with,” she said.
One fun fact about Evans City is that the 1968 George Romero movie, Night of the Living Dead, was filmed there. In fact, the Night of the Living Dead Museum had a presence on Main Street until recently.
Other Evans City amenities include a public community swimming pool called the EDCO Park and Pool as well as a volunteer firehouse, a post office, and the Evans City Public Library, which features a newly renovated community room for events and meetings.
Stephanie Oliver said that newcomers might be surprised at all that Evans City has to offer, much more than meets the eye. “There’s a lot more business and retail than people see when driving through town. There is so much room for growth, and we are just seeing the beginning of what Evans City will become as the area grows around us. There are so many opportunities and groups working toward a revitalization and trying to move forward,” she added.