In Brief Featured

10:02am EDT July 22, 2002

Everybody knows that learning your way around Pittsburgh takes a lifetime, but at least one segment of the region is doing something about it.

The Pittsburgh Airport Area Chamber of Commerce, in an effort to ease the directional difficulties of Pittsburgh West, has developed a simple solution: a map.

The detailed four-color map includes street listings for Carnegie, Crafton, Edgeworth, Glenfield, Green Tree, Haysville, Heidelberg, Ingram, Leetsdale, McDonald, McKees Rocks, Oakdale, Osborne, Pennsbury Village, Rosslyn Farms boroughs, and Collier, Crescent, Findlay, Kennedy, Moon, Neville, North Fayette, Robinson, Sewickley and Stowe townships. And let's not forget the various routes to Pittsburgh International Airport and, of course, Robinson Town Centre and The Point.

The maps cost $3 by mail or $2 at the Chamber's Moon Township office at 986 Brodhead Road. If you can't find the office, ask for directions-or call (412) 264-6720.

Now, if you could just find your way into Pittsburgh

Actually, the nonprofit Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, which represents many businesses in downtown Pittsburgh, is hoping its feverish new marketing campaign will do just that.

The program is being spearheaded by Harry Finnegan, a native Canadian who moved to Pittsburgh more than a year ago as executive director of the PDP. His mission: to greatly improve retailing downtown.

The campaign is being introduced with image advertising in print and on the radio, with a slogan that says, simply, "Downtown. Get Into It." It also includes a shopping/dining guide-with a map of downtown.

At the heart of the campaign is yet another campaign, this one aimed at one of the most talked-about problems facing shoppers: parking. To ease the problem-or at least improve the perception-the PDP has launched "Easy Streets," a program created in Seattle that provides parking and transportation validation to shoppers.

The validation comes in the form of tokens given by participating stores to patrons who make at least $20 in purchases. Patrons use the token to get $1 off parking at participating lots and garages, $1 off a cab ride with Yellow Cab or a free one-way ride on a PAT bus within zone 1. The PDP is supporting the program with window decals, advertising and counter displays for participating stores.

"It's a transportation program that provides value," Finnegan says during a recent media blitz. "I'm not saying it's the be-all, end-all, but it does enable businesses to do something to deal with parking."

The catch is that the PDP has to convince retailers to purchase tokens at face value from Mellon Bank, the master distributor, or from any other participating downtown bank. Finnegan admits it's not necessarily an easy task.

Says Finnegan, half-jokingly: "We're thinking of calling it 'Not so Easy Streets.'"

For more information about the new marketing push, including the Easy Streets program, call the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership at (412) 566-4190.

Bags, bags and more bags

When entertaining family members at his Polish Hill home during a holiday last year, Robert Thomas watched as people pulled plastic grocery bags from drawers and cupboards all over the kitchen while loading up left-overs for their trips home. That's when the idea hit him: What American homes need is a container designed specifically to hold the bags for recycled use later.

And Voila! After extensive library research and more than a few design ideas, Thomas, 44, developed "The Bagg-ler." It's a plastic box with a hole on each of the four sides, from which plastic bags can be dispensed. Thomas, a former cab driver, says he assembles the boxes himself and makes his own labels, while contracting out the boxes to a local plastics manufacturer, with help from Goodwill Industries. And he has a Web page to support the product (

Because of the recycling message he includes with his product, Thomas recently won an award from KDKA-TV as part of its Wastebusters campaign (a program created by North Side-based entrepreneur Michael Jones).

Says Thomas in his marketing materials: "The future of our children and grandchildren depends on the subtle and small changes we make now. Small actions don't seem too small when millions of people are doing them at the same time."

And it won't hurt his next holiday gathering, either.

For more information, contact (800) 310-3315.

More SBA LowDoc

The U.S. Small Business Administration has been saying for some time that it wants to become more responsive to small businesses and their financial needs. It recently made good on its promises.

The SBA has introduced new and improved LowDoc and SBA Express loan programs that include an increase in loan maximums from $100,000 to $150,000, expansion in the number of lenders involved, and 36-hour (or less) processing time.

"The results thus far indicate that simplification, standardization, and centralized loan processing can produce substantial increases in SBA loan processing efficiency and effectiveness," says the SBA in an official statement. "This appears to have been accomplished with little or no negative impact on the overall quality of the agency's portfolio.

For more loan information, contact the SBA at (800) U-ASK-SBA.