Mount Washington business owners say Mon Incline closure having huge impact

PITTSBURGH — On a typical summer weekend, you normally see people lined up waiting to ride the Monongahela Incline. It’s been closed for a week now, and Mount Washington business owners say that week is really impacting their bottom line.

“I do understand things break, but I just want that sense of urgency that we have,” said Todd DiFiore. “When my espresso machine goes down. My ice cream machine goes down. I stop everything and get on it, and it gets fixed.”

Todd DiFiore opened Grand Brew and DiFiore’s Ice Cream Delight on Shiloh Street nearly 30 years ago.

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“The Mon Incline accounts for 95 percent of my business during that time from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and we can’t have any disruptions,” said DiFiore. “In that time period, that’s when you work seven days a week. 16 hours a day. There are no days off.”

Len Semplice, owner of Redbeard’s Bar & Grill, says it’s about 40 percent of his business.

“The Mon Incline is everything to Shiloh Street,” said Len Semplice. “The number one tourist attraction in the City of Pittsburgh is Mount Washington. People love going up to the incline, overlooking the city, and you take that away from us. I know, myself, Redbeard’s we’ve lost 50 percent of our business.”

The Mon Incline sees about 10,000 riders week. So when Pittsburgh Regional Transit closed the incline last Friday after two cars got stuck with a dozen people inside, business owners say they immediately felt the impacts.

“Very impactful,” said DiFiore. “You could feel it. The street almost feels like a movie like The Walking Dead kind of a thing. There’s just nothing going on here at all. You could hear a pin drop without that incline and our normal tourism and visitor experience.”

Just like they say they felt when it was shut down for about 8 months for an $8 million rehabilitation project.

“We just went through two years of COVID,” said Semplice. “Eight months of the incline [rehabilitation], and now we’re going through it again. It’s been a week now. We’re already on a week. And it seems like no one really cares about it. They’re just like okay. It’s broke. There’s no urgency to get it going.”

PRT says they’ve been shuttling people from the Duquesne Incline to the Mon Incline to help while also checking in with business owners.

“Let’s be realistic, no tourist wants to come up on a PAT bus up Mount Washington,” said Semplice. “They want to come up on the incline.”

DiFiore says the buses meant to shuttle people back and forth between the inclines during the rehabilitation just sat there.

“I had to watch four buses sit here on Shiloh Street, empty, running diesel fuel,” said DiFiore. “Nobody going back and forth. No passengers completely dead. Still had to pay all the bills. Felt like I was on an island by myself.”

Pittsburgh Regional Transit Spokesperson Adam Brandolph says the rehabilitation project caused many of the businesses to suffer longer than they expected. He says they believe the condensation issue with the Mon Incline has been fixed and are just running some final tests before reopening it. He added that PRT wants nothing more than to reopen the Mon Incline because they’re missing out on revenue too.

“We just need them to have a sense of urgency like we do,” said DiFiore. “I guess they don’t know or maybe they don’t care how important that incline is.”

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