You might not find any real-life little green men in the borough of Mars, but the town is proud to be associated with the Red Planet, even if it’s just in name only. A replica of a silver spaceship sits in the middle of town, reminding visitors that they have arrived in a charming, out-of-this-world neighborhood.
Mars is a borough in Butler County that has experienced a small business and housing renaissance, perhaps due in part to the expansion of Route 228, which allows more traffic to flow into the area. The town also draws visitors with some regular events, such as its annual Applefest in downtown Mars each October. To honor its affiliation with the planet, the borough holds a Martian New Year’s celebration. And this year on April 9 is the Mars Eggstravaganza, billed as Mars’ first adult Easter Egg Hunt.
Despite the otherworldly name, its residents and business owners are very down-to-earth.
Vintage Finds on Grand has been in Mars for a decade, born out of owner Terri Riley’s lifelong passion for interior design and collecting art and antiques. “I wanted to open my business in a lively, small walkable town in the North,” she said. “I love having whole families come through my door while they’re out on a walk. Or the high school kids who pop in on their way home from school. I’ve met so many locals and have become one myself now; I like hearing the kids play outside and ride by on their bikes.”
Riley describes Mars as having a vibrant downtown with a variety of businesses. “We offer an inviting small-town atmosphere that lets you get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. You can get your hair cut, dine, pick up fresh baked goods, purchase a dress and some beautiful jewelry or maybe a fab piece for your home, all in walking distance,” she said.
Salvaged PGH opened in Mars in 2015. The business is a multifaceted architectural salvage company with the primary goals of reclaiming, restoring and repurposing.
“Our owner and crew deconstruct barns that would otherwise be demolished. We also purchase live edge slabs from a mill. Our reclaimed barn wood, live edge slabs and otherwise salvaged materials are then used to create and build custom-made pieces,” said Jill Kaiser, general manager. “Ultimately, we do our best to prevent materials from going into landfills.
“We were looking to purchase a space large enough to accommodate our growth and demand, more specifically in the northern part of Pittsburgh,” she continued. “The Mars/Cranberry area is thriving and seemed to be a fitting place to plant ourselves for the long run.”
Kaiser added that the company plans to construct multiple additions to its existing building, add services, and create annual events for the community.
Stick City Brewing, a brewery manufacturer with taproom space on the premises, is a relative newcomer to Mars, opening on Grand Avenue four years ago. “Our vision as a company is to inspire people to connect to and protect the wild world around them,” said owner Nick Salkeld. “We focus on three main aspects for our mission: to act as curators of raw materials to showcase terroir in beer, to generate inclusive communal pride through the enjoyment of beer, and to use the business as a means to protect wild and natural areas and waterways.”
As part of the 1% for the Planet Movement, the brewery donates at least 1 percent of its annual sales to environmental nonprofits that protect wild areas and waterways.
Salkeld is from Butler County and appreciates all of the small towns that make up the county. “Mars is a great town with great people and a great history. The townsfolk welcomed Stick City with open arms from the first day we announced our goal to open here,” he said. “The Martian themes throughout the area are truly unique and bring an additional brightness. In fact, we have a quite a few little Mars aliens hidden throughout the taproom; it is all part of the experience.”
Five years ago, Dr. John Pawlowicz, co-owner of Pawlowicz Dentistry, opened up a branch of his dental office in Mars. The business dates back to 1964, with its roots in Lyndora, a city about 15 miles north of Mars, also in Butler County. Dr. Pawlowicz’s specialty is restorative dentistry and surgical implant placement for full mouth rehabilitation, and the practice also works with patients who have snoring issues from obstructive sleep apnea.
Dr. Pawlowicz said that it was an easy decision to locate the dental office in Mars, as many of their patients were moving into the Cranberry-Mars area from Butler and expressed interest in an office in that location.
Dr. Pawlowicz and his brother, Jason, with whom he owns the dental practice, have strong ties to the Mars community, as they have raised their families there. “We’re part of the Mars community; Mars was a natural spot for us,” he said.
He added that other business owners are supportive, and, akin to a small town with a homey feel, everybody knows your name. “It’s been really great to have a business here,” he said.
One of the oldest businesses in town is Mars Bank, which was chartered in 1900. “As the town attracted workers in the late 1800s, there was a need for paycheck cashing services. After operating for a few years, the company chartered as Mars Bank,” said Stephen Eckert, senior vice president marketing.
“Over the years, Mars Bank continued to grow, and the bank grew with the surrounding communities,” he added. ”The bank added locations but has always been headquartered in Mars.”
Eckert said that Mars, and surrounding Adams Township, are a great place to live and work. “Mars features a classic small-town main street with the bank, a library, and businesses. Across from the bank a small green space (owned by the bank) features an alien ship that welcomes many visitors and is a must photo spot,” he said.
Salkeld feels that Mars has a supportive business climate. “The borough and other business all work together during normal days and through the many festivals and events that occur throughout the year. We could not imagine Stick City being anywhere other than Mars. This is home,” he said.
Dr. Pawlowicz agreed. “It has a little bit of everything. People are very nice and kind here, considerate. There have been a lot of up-and-coming businesses moving into the area; it’s growing, so you get a little bit of light industrial and all of the modern conveniences of a big city. It is just a nice, little pocketed area in which to raise your family,” he said.
Perhaps because of its quirky name and homage to Martian culture, Mars attracts visitors from all over the region, including out-of-towners.
“Obviously, the name is a defining characteristic of the town. From the spaceship to Mars New Year, you can’t go far in Mars without some allusion to the Red Planet or aliens,” said Eckert.
“Folks looking for a welcoming town with a quirky and eclectically unique vibe should most definitely stop by for a visit,” added Salkeld. “They will be rewarded with businesses owned and operated by locals, and in addition to engaging local staff, will often find themselves interacting directly with owners.”