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Old-time Charm, Modern Amenities Make Zelienople a Must-visit

Passavant House - Zelienople - Supplied by Butler County Tourism and Convention Bureau
Passavant House - Zelienople - Supplied by Butler County Tourism and Convention Bureau

Fifteen minutes north of Cranberry lies Zelienople—the borough with the unique name that locals often shorten to ‘Zelie.’

“Founded in 1802 by Detmar Basse, the town was named after his daughter, Zelie, and was combined with 'nople,’ the Greek word for town,” explained Tiffany Hernandez, Public Relations and Communications coordinator, Butler County Tourism & Convention Bureau.

Zelienople is the perfect fusion of old-time charm mingled with a sense of an up-and-coming neighborhood. It is the place to be on a weekend afternoon. A visitor to Zelienople might be surprised to come upon the variety of shops on Main Street—and the shops all have something in common: they’re all small businesses, with no chain stores in sight.

“Affectionately described as ‘similar to Mayberry,’ the quaint town of Zelienople is lined with locally owned businesses all while preserving the charm and delightful beauty of its Main Street,” said Hernandez.

But unlike Mayberry, Zelienople boasts 21st century offerings. “This town attracts visitors with its trendy boutiques, idyllic shops, gorgeous historic homes, unique dining options, breweries and a local art scene that provides many hands-on experiences and workshops,” she added.

Kelly Carney was inspired to open Eva Bryn Shoetique three years ago. When she was living in Scotland, she had a friend who owned a shoe store that was set in a village atmosphere; Carney’s friend offered to mentor her as she opened her own store in the states. After searching for just the right location, she kept coming back to Zelienople.

“It feels like an old-fashioned community village. It had the atmosphere, and the business association was committed to revitalization. I got very lucky; there’s a lot of older buildings in Zelienople, and I happened upon a new one,” she said.

One business new to the area is Rex Glass & Mirror, a business specializing in mirrors and shower doors along with cabinet door glass, stained glass, window glass and more. The company, which has been around for four generations with locations in the South Hills, Shadyside, and a production facility and showroom in Kennedy Township, opened a new location in Zelienople in 2021. COO John Kimicata said that he’s always wanted to have a presence in the north.

“As we looked at demographics and areas, this seemed like a great opportunity to locate ourselves in a place that seemed to be growing, that has new construction, and is also in proximity to other areas that have grown greatly like the 228 corridor, and Cranberry over to Mars,” said Kimicata.

Though Rex Glass is new to the area, it has already received a warm reception, with people from the community stopping in to check out the showroom. “We’ve gotten good traffic for the first four weeks and are looking for that to continue to grow,” he said.

Zelie also has some long-time businesses that anchor the borough. For example, a visit would not be complete without a stop at Baldinger’s Market, known primarily as a candy store that also sells coffee and food from around the world.

The candy shop opened in 1933. “The last local Baldinger died in December of 2007 at the age of 101, and the business almost closed, but there was so much local interest to keep it open that a local businessman purchased the name and contents of the store,” explained accountant Karen Skurcenski. “He patterned the outside and inside of the current building to duplicate the previous building.”

Businesses owners in Zelienople not only survived the worst of the pandemic but many actually thrived, with 13 new businesses opening over the past two years. Carney credits this success in part to the Zelie Open Air Markets, held each Thursday night from May through October. On those evenings, businesses stay open late and move their wares to the sidewalks, giving customers a chance to shop in a safe manner. Carney said that even the local breweries put their beer selections and pizza ovens outdoors, with live bands and music contributing to the lively atmosphere. Even after businesses reopened and life was relatively back to a new normal in 2021, the Open Air Markets continued.

“That really saved all of our businesses during this incredibly difficult time,” Skurcenski said.

To survive as a small business for 90 years is quite an accomplishment; but to also survive almost two years of COVID is equally impressive. “Baldinger’s is currently experiencing the labor problems that exist everywhere, but we are encouraged that we will survive and continue to thrive. The many fans of Baldinger’s will ensure that the Baldinger history continues,” she added.

Another key to the borough’s success is the growth of new businesses as well as the restoration of others. Examples include the Kaufman Hotel, which was built in the 1800s but later converted into a restaurant called the Kaufman Tavern, and The Strand Theater, which was built in 1914 and has since been transformed into the Strand Theater Initiative, a dynamic cultural center in the heart of town.

Restaurants abound, too, including a pair of popular eateries owned by a husband-and-wife team. Fiore Moletz owns Burgh’ers Brewing, a smash burger joint and brewery, and Michelle Moletz owns Della Terra Italian Bistro. Fiore Moletz said that he would not have made it through the pandemic without the overwhelming support of the community and patrons.

Della Terra, which explores “an ingredient-driven cuisine that pulls inspiration from the Italian cooking tradition to create meaningful food, celebrating the restaurant’s ongoing relationship with its local family of farmers and suppliers,” keeps with Zelienople’s tradition of respecting its roots.

“In an attempt to honor the history of our beautiful building, the third Mellon Bank building ever built, we pay homage to its past,” said Michelle Moletz. “The colors of the restaurant represent both Mellon Bank and Citizen’s Bank, who occupied the space before us. We chose period-correct lighting and finishes from 1940 to bring it all together.”

More than just a great place to own a business, shop and dine, Zelie is also a good place to live. “Zelienople has preserved its wonderful small-town atmosphere while offering many varied activities and unique small shops. It is quite flat and very walkable even though it is surrounded by beautiful hills, and it is a great place to raise a family,” said Skurcenski.

“Zelie has a thriving food, arts and music scene,” said Fiore Moletz. “There are fun murals and art inside and outside of just about every building. Zelienople still has that old-town classic charm but with all the modern amenities one might find in a more well-known part of the country.

“Zelie‘s Main Street is bustling with active people, butcher shops, farmers’ markets, one-of-a-kind clothing boutiques, art galleries like Curio, and jewelry stores,” he added. “It is the kind of place where you walk down the street and people still say ’hi’ to you.”

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