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New Kensington businesses look to bright future as year's last 'Fridays on Fifth' approaches

BRIAN C. RITTMEYER| Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021 1:28 p.m.

The last of the first Fridays on Fifth is coming this week in New Kensington, and business owners are hoping to keep the city’s momentum going through the winter until the monthly events return next year.

Held on the fourth Friday of the month, the first Fridays on Fifth was a surprise success in July, drawing people to downtown New Kensington who hadn’t been there in years, according to Nicole Vigilante, a member of the city’s Recreation Commission who handles social media for the event.

Featuring food trucks along Fifth Avenue between Ninth and 11th streets from 5 to 9 p.m., the event has included music outdoors at Voodoo Brewery and showcases the city’s businesses, old and new, that stay open for it.

“The response has been really, really positive and really enthusiastic,” said Vigilante, who opened Trovo, a shop on Fifth Avenue specializing in vintage and reimagined decor, in late 2019. “We were just blown away with how many people have come to each one.” Jermaine Jackson opened his restaurant, Fresh N Full, on Fifth Avenue in April and has been open for each of the Fridays on Fifth. He said he doesn’t get business just that night — people who discover his place are coming back for his menu that includes barbecue, burgers and unique egg rolls.

“It’s definitely pretty cool,” he said.

A resident of Pittsburgh’s South Side, Jackson said he heard of New Kensington’s rebirth and, noticing not many restaurants downtown, chose to come there for his first solo business venture.

“I like New Kensington,” he said. “I plan to move here one day. They’ve shown me a lot of love.”

Ashley’s Kitchen isn’t on Fifth — it’s on the corner of Ninth Street and Fourth Avenue — but owner Ashley Bodycombe said her eatery, specializing in stuffed breads and salads, has benefited from Fridays on Fifth, too. She opened earlier this year.

“It’s nice to showcase all these small businesses,” she said. “It’s nice to see some extra people. Everyone is so nice and happy at all the changes and all the new business going in.” Since the first event in July, tweaks have included spacing out the food trucks and setting up picnic tables where people can sit and eat.

“People really seemed to enjoy coming downtown and participating,” Mayor Tom Guzzo said. “It’s a great opportunity for our folks who live in New Kensington to come downtown and see all that’s going on. And we had large groups of people from surrounding towns come over and check out everything that is happening downtown.”

After this Friday, Vigilante said the Recreation Committee will have a wrap-up meeting to talk about when Fridays on Fifth will start again next year — April or May — and what can be done to keep the momentum going through the winter.

Next up: Holiday events To help bridge the gap, they’re planning events for Small Business Saturday, coming after Thanksgiving on Nov. 27. Other holiday events include a tree lighting followed by Guzzo’s annual holiday dinner at the No. 1 fire hall on Dec. 3 and a Christmas parade downtown on Dec. 4.

A Christmas market is being planned for after the parade, Guzzo said.

While the food trucks and their diverse offerings are what bring people downtown, “The goal of it is to bring attention to the shops down here,” Vigilante said. “I feel like it’s working.”

Christan Miller is excited for the last Fridays on Fifth. She’s decorating the window of her Fifth Avenue shop, Newage Artisan, for Halloween.

Miller, at tattoo artist, opened Newage Artisan in August. She describes it as two businesses under one roof, with tattoo and art supplies and things such as candles, sage and tarot cards.

While Fridays on Fifth are busy days, Miller said other days are still slow downtown, which she attributes to the city still cleaning itself up along with herself not fully promoting her own business.

But while others talk about New Kensington needing five more years to turn around, Miller thinks it won’t take that long. And with a five-year lease, Miller says she’s in for the long haul.

“I can’t wait to see what New Kensington’s like in two years. It’s moving very quickly,” she said. “I already know where it’s going. I believe in what’s going on. I am positive it’s going to be really, really good. I see so much change in this town. It’s incredible.”

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