THERE GOES THE NEIGHBORHOOD by Mike Dudurich
The Greater Latrobe-Laurel Valley Chamber of Commerce’s Neighbor-hood Visitor & Information Center is many things to many people. It is a bright, shiny tribute to the businesses and people of the area. It’s a showcase for history and memorabilia from the area. The VIC has proven to be ground zero for business transactions between members. And yes, it’s the home of the chamber staff that has constantly created buzz and excitement within the new GLLV organization. “I’ve been in a lot of chambers offices and this one is so unique,” said Unity Township supervisor Mike O’Barto. “I’ve heard nothing but good reaction about it.”
The new office officially opened February 2 and has had consistent traffic of local residents, visitors to the area and curiosity seekers. But occa-sionally, someone comes through the doors and says “Wow, I didn’t know this place was here. This is the best-kept secret around here.”
Don Orlando, vice-chairman of the GLLV board of directors and Director of Public Relations at Saint Vincent College, was behind the idea of moving from the office on McKinley Avenue in Latrobe to the present location in Sharkey’s Plaza on Route 30.
“Traffic and visibility were two big reasons for the move, and we were fortunate to accomplish that in one year,” he said. “On McKinley Ave., we might have a drive-by count of 12-15 cars a day. On Route 30, the average number of cars, depending on the day, is between 30-50,000. On a normal day, 30,000 cars pass the entrance. That in itself will considerably impact the number of people who are aware of where we are.”
Visitors to the center will find an-chor displays honoring Arnold Pal-mer, Fred Rogers and Rolling Rock beer, as well as ever-changing mem-orabilia that adorns the walls. And members have offered items from their businesses as the popularity of the VIC grows. The memorabilia sections of the center continue to grow and the chamber just introduced an expanded “Arnold Palmer Corner”… celebrating Mr. Palmer and his home-town.
“People have dropped in asking if we could use historic items,” said GLLV president David Martin. “We were for-tunate to acquire a few items relating to Mr. Palmer, such as a 1961 Sports Illustrated featuring him on the cover, and that is now part of the display”.
“When we do see people who come in and say they didn’t know we were here, we always ask them to tell their family and friends about us,” said Dolan Vogle, the chamber’s Ambas-sador Committee Chair.“Word of mouth is a big thing for us as we try to support our members.”
Gabe Monzo, executive director of the Westmoreland County Airport Authority, has had a couple of occa-sions to send airport visitors to the VIC. “People have asked me what there is to do in the area, where to get some-thing to eat, and I’ve sent them right over to the VIC,” Monzo said. “We also have info about it on our big sign facing Route 30.”
Perhaps Orlando said it best.
“When you come in, most everything is free. There’s no admission charge, and the advice you get is free. And in this age, that’s pretty remarkable not to have to pay,” he said. “Everybody has been very impressed with what is actually a mini-museum inside those four walls.”
With summer approaching, the hours of the center will increase, and Sunday hours will be added.
“We want to tell the story of what makes this area, or as we like to say, The Neighborhood … special and unique,” said Martin. “Why it is a great place to live, work, play and visit and tells the stories of its people and amazing history. You can always find a surprise or unique idea here … we’re very proud to showcase The Neighborhood.”
For more information, contact: David W. Martin, President. Greater Latrobe-Laurel Valley Community Chamber of Commerce; PO Box 463, Latrobe, PA 15650; 724-537-2671.