Update: The ribbon cutting is set for 4 p.m. on July 28 at the Hollander Project building.
It used to be a pharmacy, one of four in Braddock during the borough’s heyday.
By July, it will reopen as an incubator for female entrepreneurs to grow businesses as Braddock continues to find its economic footing after decades of decline.
This time, the For Good group, Gisele Fetterman and Who’s Next honoree Kristen Maser Michaels, renovated the former Hollander’s pharmacy location, 910 Braddock Ave., that will now serve as an incubator and coworking space for local female entrepreneurs.
Fetterman told The Incline there are a handful of entrepreneurs and businesses already signed on to use the space regularly or share the space occasionally — they include the founder of a local dance troupe, a tattoo removal service providing free removal of gang tattoos and those associated with sex trafficking, a seamstress, a baker, a doula, a notary public and a therapist.
There are also community programs, including a planned STEM lab for young girls and plans for free ballet classes, free yoga classes, free self-defense classes and free financial literacy courses for women.
Overall, the goal is tri-fold:
- Give local startups the platform and tools — free wi-fi and office space — they need to get established.
- Use the central location to develop a relationship — business and otherwise — between the entrepreneurs and Braddock residents.
- When the businesses outgrow the setting, find new Braddock startups to take their place, and on and on and on.
But most of all, Fetterman said this is a chance to give those who often lack it the opportunity to join the entrepreneurial economy.
“It’s wonderful seeing new businesses opening anywhere, but I think we have immense talent in our community and always wanted to see that come from within,” she said.
She added: “I’ve had people, mostly women, come to me with ideas and talent and wanting to open a space but us not having a space to offer them. […] Here we’re removing the barrier that makes it so hard to start a business by providing the building and space.”
Nationwide, rates of women entrepreneurship are rising dramatically. Even among African Americans, a group with a traditionally low rate of business ownership, the number of female entrepreneurs is growing.
According to Fortune magazine, “the number of businesses owned by African American women grew 322 percent since 1997, making black females the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in the U.S.” (Blacks are still wildly underrepresented in terms of business ownership in the U.S.)
In Braddock, a majority black borough that has struggled with poverty and outmigration since the steel industry’s collapse decades ago, much has been made of the economic changes underway there and the extent to which those changes are being shaped by — and the benefits shared in by — locals, particularly those of color.
And because of this, The Hollander Project could be revolutionary in a sense, helping to create a new economic pipeline for women and women of color in Braddock where traditionally there was none.
Lots of other places need the same, and you don’t have to look far, said Fetterman, who is married to longtime Braddock Mayor and Pa. lieutenant governor-hopeful John Fetterman.
“I think it’s needed in the Mon Valley but also in Pittsburgh. I hear entrepreneurs who say they can’t afford space in East Liberty.”
The first wave of tenants will be fully moved in by July 1, Fetterman said.
“I hope the ladies become so successful that they outgrow our space and they move on to something bigger, and we can do another round,” Fetterman said.
Tenants will pay rent, between $100 and $150 a month, to cover costs. There will also be leases, though the exact duration has yet to be confirmed. (Fetterman said it will likely be six months.)
The Hollander building consists of a shared storefront where entrepreneurs will be able to promote their businesses. There’s also an entry lounge and offices, a kitchen in the back and a space for the dance troupe to practice.
An official ribbon-cutting is expected to take place sometime next month.
An unofficial ribbon-cutting already took place when the dance troupe’s young members saw the space for the first time and burst through a red ribbon slung across the doorway. (Video of the moment can be found in the IG post embedded below.)
The building itself remains owned by Sullivan Plumbing and is being rented by For Good PGH for this project.
The project, which entailed extensive renovations on the old pharmacy building, was undertaken with help from the following funders: The Elsie H. Hillman Foundation, S. Kent Rockwell Foundation, The Pittsburgh Foundation, Peoples Gas, John Sullivan, Sullivan Super Service and MetaMesh. Partners include Carlow University, SETPoint and PGH Yoga Collective/Shining Light Prenatal.
“Our hope is that we can create opportunities,” Fetterman said.
“We want to continue to increase opportunities by not only offering amenities to residents — now you have a seamstress in town and a baker and a doula — but also by creating opportunities for these women. The talent is here but there are so many hurdles. I was raised by a single mother and a thing like this would have made such a difference in her life.”