Downtown eatery considers moving in light of safety concerns

PITTSBURGH — Wiener World, a downtown fixture for more than a half-century, is considering options to move in light of growing safety concerns.

“We made it through a pandemic, and now we’re feeling that this is going to push us out,” said Denny Scott, owner of the 58-year-old business on Smithfield Street.

Scott provided Channel 11 with videos depicting what he and his employees say they witness regularly.

One video depicts a fight between two men on a busy sidewalk. Another shows an individual using a needle to seemingly inject drugs during broad daylight.

Scott said he additionally finds needles and sees “drug sales, urination, defecation, lewd behaviors” on a “daily” basis.

He and his staff members are concerned for their safety, and some customers no longer venture to the eatery.

“It’s something we shouldn’t have to deal with, just coming to work. We work in the food industry and shouldn’t have to be dialing 911 five times a day,” he said.

Wiener World is located directly next to the Smithfield United Church of Christ, which has provided space for unhoused individuals for decades.

Church leaders provide the shelter space, but don’t operate it. Rather, they contract with the county, which then contracts with “Team PSBG” to run the shelter.

Channel 11 visited the church on Friday.

“We’re very, very much aware of the environment that’s around us, and the different businesses” said Jack Wepler, the congregation’s president. “We are working with the county right now to try to mitigate some of those things and work with not just the county but also with the law enforcement in the area... and with the shelter individuals, the people that run the shelter, to try to figure out different ways that we can keep the shelter here, but try to keep everybody happy around us.”

“We want to be good neighbors, but being good neighbors is fulfilling the mission of Jesus Christ... feed the hungry, shelter the homeless. It is what we are called to do,” said Jon Colburn, parish administrator.

A county spokesperson told Channel 11 that Team PSBG “have several staff working there nightly and they have had security services provided/paid for by the county every night since they have been open.”

Scott, however, said that he has not seen a security presence. He has, however, noticed increased police patrols.

“We’re happy for that, they’re great, I’ve met more of these guys than ever before and they’re doing work that’s really needed and we’re really welcoming, but they seem to have their hands tied a little bit,” Scott said.

Scott said he has met with Mayor Ed Gainey, and felt like his concerns were heard, but the problems aren’t dissipating soon enough.

The eatery’s lease runs through the end of June, and Scott is considering other locations to relocate to.

Gainey, and other city leaders, addressed the safety concerns downtown during a press conference on Thursday.

In regard to the concerns on Smithfield Street, Gainey said, it’s “something we have to continue to work at.”

Scott said he wants to see more accountability from all involved. He said the area is lacking affordable housing, mental health services and addiction counseling.

“I want the folks who are unsheltered to get the help that they need so desperately and deserve,” he said. “No one should be like that, especially in America.”

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