Coronavirus strains Shaler, Etna, Millvale’s small businesses
Tuesday, March 24, 2020 | 12:01 AM
Allison Butka was overwhelmed by responses to their social media post about coronavirus’s impact on the printing business they co-own with partner Joyce Swope. (Butka prefers using the pronouns “they” and “them.”)
“It melted my heart,” Butka said.
Butka wrote in a Facebook post that Etna Print Circus, a brand selling custom T-shirts, buttons and posters, is part of a scenario where “one metaphorical coronavirus sinkhole might open up and swallow us like a PAT bus. We, and the business, are the bus in the sinkhole.”
The couple founded their queer- and trans-based (Butka, 31, and Swope, 35, identify as queer and Butka is trans) company out of their Etna garage in early 2017. The following year, Butka quit their job to focus on the business full-time.
They make their own designs available online and at events and provide custom pieces for clients. Etna Print Circus’s most popular item is its “yinz is a gender-neutral pronoun” shirt. The “open your hearth” design features steel poured out of a ladle into Pittsburgh’s skyline.
“Otherwise, it’s a big mix. A lot of it’s queer, all of it’s political. A lot of it just kind of reflects our little cult, pop culture-type stuff. The identity-based statements ended up being more popular than the art-based ones, which is really fascinating to me,” said Butka.
Swope is a professional face painter.
The coronavirus started to affect the couple’s livelihood around March 9, when organizations and businesses started canceling orders. Many of them were tied to events that planners canceled to quell the virus’s spread.
“Custom printing is a foundation of our income. A significant portion of our custom printing work is for events. With so many gatherings being canceled, this will have serious consequences for us,” Butka wrote on Facebook.
A canceled custom-print order resulted in a loss of $1,900, and a canceled face painting gig resulted in $450 of lost income. These are just two examples, Butka said, noting that people are canceling or postponing events through June.
Moreover, they purchased a decommissioned school bus at auction last spring with the goal of turning it into a mobile print shop for events. “Another massive financial variable for us,” Butka wrote.
Butka and Swope also recently paid an unforeseen bill due to their dog experiencing a veterinary emergency.
In order to garner funds, Etna Print Circus is hosting a 50% off or more sale.
Grant Bar & Lounge, Millvale
In his 42 years working at Millvale’s Grant Bar & Lounge, Roy Benn, co-owner, has never witnessed business as slow as it currently is under Gov. Tom Wolf’s mandate that restaurants ban dine-in service, offering only take-out and delivery, to help limit coronavirus’s spread.
The nearly 90-year-old restaurant typically employs eight, but Benn said the staff is down to two.
The Millvale institution, with its striking Eastern European-inspired façade and interior, boasts a menu of steak, seafood and its famous pies.
“We’re ready for anybody that walks in the door. We’d love to have them come down and support all the businesses they like,” Benn said. “Everything’s clean. We’re just waiting.”
The Blue Goose Saloon, Shaler
Bob “Benze” Benzenhoefer is donating his Shaler’s restaurant’s food that would otherwise spoil to local senior citizens or people who have difficultly accessing groceries.
“Our main goal is really to try not to waste a lot of food that we’ve already prepared. We’ve delivered some to some elderly people that can’t get out — I would much rather give food to them than for us to throw it away.”
The bar and grill has instituted some other changes since Wolf’s order, like offering delivery, selling six packs to-go and limiting service hours.
The menu’s most popular items include the hamburger, hand-cut steak and fish sandwich. “It’s typical American fare with whatever other things we can add. We do fried Brussels sprouts; we do some off-the-wall appetizers. We do a stuffed jalapeno that’s wrapped in a caramel sauce, a Jim Beam caramel sauce,” said Benzenhoefer.
The Blue Goose carries soup in the following varieties: the award-winning Thai, pickle, clam chowder, spicy corn, turkey chili and wedding.
Since everything is made-to-order, the cooks will prepare custom orders as long as they have the ingredients in stock. During this time of social distancing and self-quarantines, Benzenhoefer thinks that could come in handy.
“This is a weird time. I mean, nobody knows when their food’s going to run out or when they need something like that. So, if somebody calls and says, ‘Hey, I just need a pasta dish.’ I have foil pans that I will make a pasta. And I’ll say, ‘What do you want in it?’ They want chicken, they want a steak, they want shrimp. And then I have a variety of sauces …
“I really want to promote that, you know, we’re really a community-based place. I mean if people want something, we’ll make it for them.”
Nonetheless, the coronavirus has negatively impacted The Blue Goose’s business. Despite, the downturn, Benzenhoefer’s loyal clientele has supported the restaurant.
“We’ve had some great, great guests come in and buy gift cards and it truly is just because they’re trying to help us out.”