’BURGH
SOLA SALON STUDIO
Setting up Shop

Even more businesses popping up along McKnight Road

Sola Salon Studio is "the Uber of hair salons."

That's according to Steve Bruener, who, with his business partner, owns 14 franchises of the upscale salons, including three in Pittsburgh.

Another one is planned for McKnight Road in Ross in July.

It's one of several businesses that soon will open or relocate along Ross' heavily commercial corridor.

Others include a Chick-fil-A, TJ's Buffet Sushi and Grill, Tuesday Morning and The Exchange.

"I think it's cyclical," Dominic Rickert, Ross' director of community development, said of the commercial movement on McKnight Road. "One leaves, and so far, it's been fairly decent turnover in some of these locations. I think it's just a natural cycle."

Headquartered in Denver, Sola Salon Studio has 300 locations nationwide. The hairstylists, manicurists, masseuses and other beauty professionals are self-employed but lease space for microshops within Sola.

Sola provides the infrastructure, utilities and Internet service, and can assist with building a professional's website and client scheduling.

"We have no equity in their business, but we have a big stake in making sure they do it right," Breuner said.

The Sola in Ross, where 28 beauty professionals will work, will occupy space in a building under construction on McKnight that was the site of two adjacent businesses: a Tobacco Beer Outlet, which relocated a block down the road about four months ago, and PaperMart, a party supply business that was among four Pittsburgh-area stores that closed in 2014.

Mattress Warehouse will share the building with Sola.

A Chick-fil-A and First National Bank have broken ground on buildings that will replace the former Baierl Kia.

Mike Ortmann, a franchisee who has operated Ross Park Mall's Chick-fil-A for 13 years, said he expects the McKnight Road location to open in the spring.

The number of commercial tenants overall appears to be on the upswing in Ross.

In June, there were 1,793 businesses paying mercantile and/or business privilege taxes in Ross, compared with 1,467 in 2011, according to the North Hills School District, which collects the taxes.

The redevelopment of Northway Mall, now known as The Block Northway, at the corner of Babcock Boulevard and McKnight Road, bodes well for other commercial enterprises in the area, Rickert said. Akron, Ohio-based LRC Realty's $85 million investment in the formerly desolate mall has pulled in new tenants, such as The Container Store, J. Crew Mercantile, Nordstrom Rack and Saks Off Fifth.

It also pulled an existing Ross business, Ulta, a national makeup retailer that relocated to the Block in May after spending 10 years in the North Hills Village shopping center.

Now, Tuesday Morning, a home décor retailer, will take over Ulta's old spot in March, said Mara Mrvos, executive director of corporate affairs for J.J. Gumberg Co., which owns North Hills Village.

North Hills Village also is replacing another former longtime tenant, Tokyo Sushi, which was in a freestanding building for 15 years, to the left of Best Buy, but closed about six months ago after the owner retired.

TJ Buffet Sushi & Grill will take over that spot, likely in March, Mrvos said.

The Block Northway is attracting new enterprises to Ross, but they are large corporate entities that drive up rents too high for independent small businesses, said Patti Fowler, owner of Flowerama, a flower shop that opened on the corner of Braunlich and McKnight roads in 1994.

About a year ago, Fowler relocated the shop about a half a mile away to Babcock Boulevard because her rent was growing unaffordable and she needed more store space and customer parking. Business is up 25 percent, she said.

The Exchange, a store that buys, sells and trades music, movies and video games, will be opening on the old Flowerama site, said Sandy Cikovic, a real estate agent at Langholz Wilson Ellis who sold the property in January. There is an Exchange about a half a mile away on McKnight Road, but the owner did not respond to calls and emails about the future of that site.

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