Millvale’s businesses, starting with the opening of Grist House Craft Brewery in 2014, have put the borough on the map, according to Mayor Brian Spoales. People also are drawn to the borough’s central location near the 40th Street Bridge and Route 28, as well as its reasonably priced real estate. Perhaps above all, Millvale boasts a strong sense of community.
Tupelo Honey Teas owner Danielle Spinola compares Millvale, with its population of 3,800, to the fictional Stars Hollow, CT, where the TV show Gilmore Girls was set.
“People know each other and look out for each other. Business owners support each other. The police chief and mayor are some of the most caring people I know,” she said. “When someone has an idea to create or do something for the town, they are given support to bring that idea to life, because what is good for Millvale is good for us all.”
Spinola, a Millvale native, housed her shop in the Strip District and Allison Park before moving it to 211 Grant Avenue in 2015. “None of those locations felt like home; Millvale feels like home,” said the descendant of Thomas Girty, whose namesake creek–Girty’s Run–runs through the town.
Spoales said that when he grew up in the area, Millvale's reputation wasn't always the greatest. "It was known as a shot-and-beer town," he said, adding that over time, it evolved into a “thriving, metropolitan little town.”
Jacquelynn Michalik, who owns Asgard Raw Dog Food and Shedquarters Self Pet Wash & Pet Supplies, recalled when her father once owned an automotive service station in town.
“It's definitely a big difference from when I was a kid in Millvale; it kind of wasn't the place to be at night, but now Millvale is the place to be at any hour of the day,” she said.
“You can spend an afternoon just taking a walk and seeing things that you really didn't even know existed,” Michalik said. “We have Maude’s Paperwing Gallery, which is a metaphysical store that just opened here. We have Steel City Salt Co. There are so many places to stop and have a drink and have some great food. We have Attic Records. We have Jean-Marc Chatellier’s French Bakery and Yetter’s Candy.”
The Triboro Ecodistrict has assisted with the revitalization, coordinating sustainable community development throughout Millvale, Etna and Sharpsburg with a focus on equity, mobility, food, water, air quality and energy.
Last May, the nonprofit EcoDistricts organization granted EcoDistricts certification to the Millvale Ecodistrict, making it the second community in the world—Etna was the first—to attain this distinction. “Certified communities must commit to equity, resilience and climate protection at the heart of every decision, form collaborative governance, create an implementation roadmap to guide projects and programs and track and measure impact over time,” said Spoales.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Spoales said that nine new businesses have opened Millvale locations.
“You don't have to go far in your own neighborhood to get everything that you need to start a business,” said Michalik. “The community, especially the MCDC (Millvale Community Development Corporation) and our local government make it so easy to start a business here; they guide you through the steps you have to take and make sure that they give you the tools to kick off your success.”
Michalik opened Shedquarters at 419 Sedgwick Avenue in March; her friend and professional groomer Andrew Cole Berisford-Rangel owns The AuStella Pet Parlor at 421 Grant Ave. Michalik opened Shedquarters following the success of her business Asgard Raw Dog Food, which is located at 10 Sedgwick St.
Jaime Hahn, Hahn Funeral Home & Cremation Services Inc. supervisor, has presided over the Millvale Community Development Corp. for three years and serves as a Business Association of Millvale member. She said that Millvale’s businesses have adapted to the pandemic by enhancing their online profiles and offering curbside service.
For example, Lucky Sign Spirit offers to-go cocktails and Tupelo Honey Teas and Baby Love Tacos added outdoor pick-up areas. “There's been a lot of creative things that people have done to try and just make ends meet,” she said.
Hahn, who also grew up in the area, considers volunteering as a way to give back to the town that has given her so much. “Millvale’s creating a really neat vibe for the people who have been here and for the new people who seem to be working toward that common goal of making it better for everybody,” she said.
“We need to make sure that even though we’re moving forward, and as property values are starting to rise, citizens of all ages can still afford to live in Millvale,” Spoales said. “We want to make sure that they have access to whatever they need from food to clothing to pet care. We don’t want to outprice ourselves like some other towns.”
Beyond its businesses, Millvale is home to the 1.7-mile Riverfront Trail, which provides access along the Allegheny River to the North Shore, PNC Park, Heinz Field and the Three Rivers Heritage Trail.
“I love walking the waterfront trail that connects all the way down to the city; I use that a lot with my kids,” Hahn said. Similarly, Spinola is fond of hiking in Girty’s Woods, a 155-acre woodlands slope passing through Reserve and Shaler townships and Millvale Borough.
Millvale also hosts an annual music festival featuring hundreds of acts that attracts thousands of fans. This year’s event is slated for Aug. 6-7.
“The businesses here are all small and unique and they get supported by the community,” said Spoales. “If we didn’t have the citizens, the hard-working volunteers, none of these activities would happen. They bring a sense of closeness to Millvale.”