Proud to be from Pittsburgh: Community helping small businesses during pandemic

Proud to be from Pittsburgh: Community helping small businesses during pandemic

PITTSBURGH — Numerous restaurant owners say the past few months have been tough, but they are thankful for the community's support and a Facebook group, which helped keep their doors open.

"It hurt us bad," said Sugar and Spice owner Keith Hennin.

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Like many businesses, the South Hills ice cream and candy shop were partially closed while the stay-at-home order was in force. The candy store, which sells chocolate making supplies, was closed during Easter, one of its busiest times of the year.

"I believe that we probably would've closed," said Hennin. "I don't know if we would have reopened."

His extended family saw the struggles Hennin was facing and wanted to help him and other small businesses. His 27-year-old niece decided to start a Facebook group for small businesses to post what takeout specials they have.

"Within a week, it took off really had like 5,000 people that joined in the first week," said Ashley Shanahan.

The group is called "Pittsburgh PA Quarantine Small Business Take Out Delivery 2020" and was created on March 17.

"It's important because a lot of small businesses don't have brand recognition like a lot of the chains or like franchises," explained Shanahan.

Two months later, the group now has nearly 20,000 members from all over the Pittsburgh area, and it's exceeded Shanahan's expectations. She says it's become an additional job to her full-time job. She is managing the posts and making sure no negative reviews or comments are left.

"We only do positive reviews, we don't allow negative reviews on the site, because we think that's what like, you know, Facebook and Google reviews are for," said Shanahan.

The group has since evolved from posting takeout specials to businesses now posting outdoor seating options and whether they are dog-friendly. Customers are also posting their new favorite places to eat.

Heenin said this group was lifesaving, "I mean that Facebook group was the prime target for keeping myself alive. And I guarantee a lot of other small businesses alive during this time."

Other businesses agree, like Union Pie Company in Carrick. The business has only been around for 1.5 years, and it noticed a change one day during the quarantine.

"It blew up from there," said Union Pie owner, Tony Lupinacci. "We were just inundated: one day the phone started ringing extra, and we knew something was up."

A customer posted a review of their meal and tagged them in it. Lupinacci's wife Nicolette said it nearly doubled business some days and they were able to keep their staff working and offer hazard pay.

"People were seeing restaurants' food, non-photoshopped in real-time. You eat with your eyes first. So it was really important that customers could see or potential customers see what they were really getting," said Nicolette.

Nicolette said she too is thankful that Shanahan started the page and didn't think she realizes how much she's helped people. "It's a huge trickle-down process because we can pay our employees, and we can pay our suppliers that were really suffering through this time."

The Lupinaccis and Heenin feel thankful that one person's thoughtful actions could help people explore new places.

Ashley Shanahan is making us proud to be from Pittsburgh.

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