Monthly Archives: September 2018

Brick, mortar stores close, entrepreneurs seize opportunity

34538776_392391131262421_65When a local K-Mart closed its doors, Cece Tiberi and Pam DellaPenna bought some of the store’s clothing racks and put them into action at their church’s fundraising consignment sale. Tiberi and DellaPenna, president and vice president, respectively, of Christian Mothers of St. Cecilia in Grindstone, PA, working with a number of Christian Mothers members, successfully raised funds to help the church.

On the heels of this accomplishment, the pair decided to “do it for ourselves, because what girl doesn’t like designer handbags?” They found a suitable location at 3142 National Pike in Ritcheyville, PA, and “didn’t waste any time, so we couldn’t talk ourselves out of it” Tiberi said of their desire to set up a new business. Shortly after, Simply Chic Upscale Resale opened its doors to a waiting public on July 16, 2018.

Though it is a consignment store, “It’s more like a boutique. We sell crystal jewelry, gently used and new designer handbags, and household decor,” Tiberi said, adding “Our customers have told us we’re unique, but we’re taking different decor from different people who have unique tastes.” Also unique to Simply Chic is their own handmade crystal jewelry, which could provide just the right accent to their stock of designer clothing.

As brick and mortar retail outlets close, consumers have fewer opportunities to see and handle merchandise in real life. However, DellaPenna notes, “People still want to look at a store, and there’s not too much in the area.” With their location on historic Route 40, Simply Chic Upscale Resale provides not just an easily accessible real-world shopping experience, but one without real-world retail prices.

“You’re actually going to pay less here (for products) than Goodwill,” Tiberi enthused, continuing “They’re priced right today and they’re going to be priced right next week.” And to assure a pleasant experience for shoppers, Tiberi asks that clothes brought in for consignment are cleaned and free of wrinkles and pet hair. Once items are received, Simply Chic tags and racks them in an environment that is warm and, itself, chic. Simply Chic splits sales 50/50 with consigners.

High quality items available include Juicy Couture, Banana Republic, Michael Kors, Totes, Pink by Victoria’s Secret, Hollister, American Eagle. Abercrombie and Fitch, Vera Bradley, new LuLaRoe (all are new), Tory Burch, Kate Spade, and more, providing Simply Chic Upscale Resale an edge in filling the gaps left by area closures of Macy’s, Bon-Ton, and K-Mart.

For the boutique’s ambiance, special care was taken to create a welcoming, attractive setting because, as DellaPenna notes, “presentation is everything.” In addition to the ready-to-wear designer clothing gracing the racks, Tiberi said “home decor is hung on the walls, lamps go on the tables, and we light them so they look homey and cute.”

Striking a balance with upscale products upstairs is a flea market setup in the location’s basement, full of common flea market fare such as dishware, tablecloths, and other handy items. If a shopper’s goal “is to get the most for their five dollars,” Tiberi said, “they’re going to shop in the basement.” She notes, however, that with plans for upcoming shows, the flea market space may be sold out to make room for those events.

One of those events is a consignment craft fair on September 29 and 30 – Saturday and Sunday – from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. both days. Fall, Christmas, and Pike Days events are in various stages of planning, and a new web site is in the works. Meanwhile, be sure to find out about the latest sales while making a new friend at

Those on the hunt to find good food and good bargains for a good cause can also find Tiberi and DellaPenna, along with other members of Christian Mothers of St. Cecilia in Grindstone, working hard on the church’s semi-annual spaghetti dinners. Additionally, there is an annual calendar party, annual vendor show, and for the second year, an all-in-one Christmas tree raffle, flea market, and consignment show.

Potential Simply Chic Upscale Resale consigners and show vendors can call 724-970-5641 for further information and arrangements.

Story by Keren Lee Dreyer for Pennsylvania Bridges

Save the dates for an innovative season of Cal U Theatre

An Evening of Creative Works – The Blaney Theatre – October 4, 5, 6 @ 7 pm, October 6  @ 2 pm

This annual production is filled with a mix of genres and performance styles that provide a form of expression for our students.  One acts, dance pieces, devised performances, digital performance, Reader’s Theatre—the door is open for exploration. Subject matter may not be suitable for younger patrons.  

Red Horse – The Blaney Theatre – November 1, 2, 3 @ 7 pm, November 3 @ 2 pm

A devised production inspired by the work of the Mabou Mimes and Lee Breuer

A completely original retelling of the experimental 1970s production.  Red Horse is a collaborative creation; Actors create images allowing dialogue to give way to actor’s bodies in a poetic staging of the life of the Horse. Exciting for the whole family! Red Horse marks the twenty-second annual first year student show, and one of the first devised productions by first year Cal U students.  As always, a great deal of fun you do not want to miss!

Harry Connick Jr.’s The Happy Elf – Steele Hall Mainstage Theatre –   December 6, 7, 8 @ 7 pm, December 8-9@ 2 pm

Music and Lyrics by Harry Connick, Jr.

Book by Lauren Gunderson and Andrew Fishman

Based on the song by Harry Connick, Jr., and adapted from the television show written by Andrew Fishman

Beloved bumbling Eubie is back for one more year in Bluesville.  Join him, Gilda, Hamm, and the big man himself, Santa, for this heart-warming musical filled with the holiday spirit.  Steele Hall will be filled with elves galore as Cal U Theatre students and members of the local community come together to bring this show to life.  This production is suitable for all ages!

Edges – The Blaney Theatre –February 21, 22, 23 @ 7 pm, February 23 @ 2 pm

Music and Lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

Edges is the first musical attempt by award-winning composer/lyricists Benji Pasek and Justin Paul (of Dear Evan Hansen fame).  Edges is a song-cycle about burgeoning adults asking coming-of-age questions. This charming, witty and honest examination of adulthood explores what happens when we are teetering on the edges of our lives.

Unexpected: A Selection of Symbolist Plays, Steele Hall Mainstage Theatre – April 4, 5, 6 @ 7 pm, April 6 @ 2 pm

A night filled with the unexpected sure to make your mind to roam, your heart yearn, and your hairs stand on edge. One-act plays by Maurice Maeterlinck, Susan Glaspell, and Valery Bryusov will have you on the edge of your seat.  As symbolist plays traditionally handle thought provoking content, our selections are sure to provide a night full of surprises.

Commit to the Bit: An Evening of Sketch Comedy and Improvisation.  Steele Hall Mainstage Theatre – April 17 & 18 @ 7pm

Graduating senior Jeshua Myers, known to audiences for his portrayal of Ram (Heathers, the Musical) and Barfeé (The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee), Jesh will combine his training in theatre and improvisation in this showcase.  

An Evening of One Acts – The Blaney Theatre-   May 2, 3, 4 @ 7 pm, May 4th @ 2pm.

Join us as we welcome our new crop of directors with this evening of one act plays ranging from laugh out-loud comedies to through-provoking dramas. Some subject matter may not be suitable for younger patrons.

Brownsville man launches new biz after inventing smart meter

koseveckWhen most people have a leak in their water system they call a repairman; Mark Kovscek isn’t most people.

For Kovscek, who lives in Brownsville, a faulty boiler valve resulted in spending the summer at Amazon headquarters in Seattle working on perfecting and marketing a new smart home product to work with Alexa.

“It dates back to the summer of 2014. In August of that year my water bill was $50 higher. I kind of ignored it until September when it was $50 higher again,” Kovscek said. “The valve in my boiler was bad and it would fill up the overflow and put it down the drain without me knowing it.”

Kovscek said he researched systems that would detect leaks, but they were all more expensive than the money they would save in most cases. So he began designing his own smart water meter, resulting in the invention of H2know and Kovscek’s company, Conservation Labs.

“I found a way to measure sound waves and to convert them to water measurement,” Kovscek said.

Kovscek said each water-using device in a home has its own special sound frequency, letting H2know distinguish between a running toilet and a dripping faucet. H2know records all water usage in the house, not just the leaks, so homeowners can take steps to reduce their water usage if they would like.

“We can tell you not only that the water was running, but that the toilet was flushed seven times and the shower was run twice, and for how long,” Kovscek said.

Kovscek said H2know is designed to give homeowners information on how they are using water and can provide customized conservation measures, estimating that most homeowners could save as much as $250 a year through simple measures to prevent waste. The device, Kovscek said, also provides peace of mind by giving homeowners real-time information through a smartphone app and alerts.

“If it’s a catastrophic leak, we want you to know immediately, so you’ll receive either a call or a text,” Kovscek said. “We catch leaks within minutes, and not 30 days later like I did.”

Despite the technology, Kovscek said most homeowners could install the device themselves in a short period of time, clamping it to a pipe and connecting it to their wifi network.

Conservation Labs launched H2know at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this year. Kovscek’s demonstration was seen by people from the Environmental Protection Agency and, unbeknownst to him at the time, by Shark Tank investor Mark Cuban.

Kovscek is currently participating in the second cohort of the Alexa Accelerator in Seattle, a 13-week program sponsored by Techstars Seattle and Amazon for startup companies. There are nine companies, including one from Tel Aviv and one from Cambridge, UK participating in the program. Each is working on its own products with voice-related technologies.

“Techstars has a lot of these programs around the country. The one here is with Amazon, Alexa Techstars Program,” Kovscek said.

Kovscek said the 13-week program has been extremely beneficial with workshops to support business growth and working on the technical design to work with Alexa.

“We met a lot of people. These people act as mentors and help us get the product to market. The real tangible benefit is that Amazon and Techstars are investors in Conservation Labs, so that brings money in,” Kovscek said.

Kovscek said that at present prototypes of H2know are in a few dozen homes, but he is now testing with companies that reach millions of homes.

“We expect the first pilot-ready devices in October or November. We’re expecting to have the final production run in the second quarter of 2019,” Kovscek said.

The H2know devices may also be pre-ordered through Conservation Lab’s Indiegogo account,

Story by Christine Haines for Pennsylvania Bridges

Tips from TechBoxz: Setting alarms with Alexa

alexaIn past articles, we have talked quite extensively about the four major Home Assistant options: Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Home, Microsoft’s Cortana and Apple’s Siri. By way of other publications, friends, and family you are more than likely knowledgeable in the most common commands they use, like turning on your TV or a lamp just by asking them, but did you know they can also create and share shopping lists, add appointments to your calendar, change television channels and remind you of tasks in need of attention? All four can perform each request with varying success, but Alexa still holds a slight edge. Add to this Microsoft’s recent collaboration with Amazon, and Cortana may not be around very long.

Full disclosure: I’m a bit biased towards Alexa. When I first became interested in home automation, Alexa was the only game in town. Siri was great, but her real strength was running an iPhone. She just hasn’t grown beyond dialing numbers and taking notes. As the years rolled by, Siri, Cortana, and Home added more features, but I already had an investment in Alexa. I will expand coverage and write a proper review once I’ve purchased the hardware for a break down of Home, Cortana, and Siri’s personal assistant abilities. For now, I focus on Alexa.

Alexa can be voice activated from your phone, Fire TV or an Alexa enabled device like the Echo or other third party devices such as Sonos’s One. Alexa can be accessed using the Alexa App to delete old recordings, see expanded options and skill settings or change account information. Here is a brief rundown of one of those areas.

Open the Alexa App and follow the selections: HOME > REMINDERS & ALARMS>

From here, we can add and review the currently set Reminders, Alarms and Timers. Though they sound very similar each has their own unique function. Alarms are the most fully featured of the three. Once set, Alarms go off at a specific time, can be snoozed, can be set to re-occurring and will continue to sound until turned off. Reminders are very similar to your phone’s notification function. A Reminder will go off at a specific time, but unlike an alarm there isn’t a snooze option and the alert only sounds once before turning itself off. Personally, I don’t see a need for the notification feature as it’s just a limited version of an Alarm. Timers are also limited alarms but serve a purpose I now can’t live without, the ability to easily set multiple alerts at specific times that delete themselves after I’ve turned them off. For those who spend a lot of time in the kitchen, imagine the ability to set five different timers, one for each item being prepared. I haven’t burned or overcooked anything since finding this option and my trusty LavaTools instant-read thermometer. Spouse Approval Factor = Ten plus.

When I started this article my goal was to impart some of the specific steps to find and use some of Alexa’s lesser-known features. I’ve underestimated the size and scope of that task. I now look at this as the introduction to a multi-part tutorial. If you have any questions or suggestions email See you next month.

Story by Eric J. Worton for Pennsylvania Bridges

Art drop brings scavenger hunt fun to promotion

ArtDropInvitePic-(1)Advertising for an annual big event typically involves shouting from social media rooftops and taking out ad space in local magazines or papers. But, for the second year in a row, Charleroi’s own Valley Art Club will employ an “art drop” as a fun way to lead art lovers to its annual juried exhibition. Hosted again this year by the Monessen Public Library, Valley Art Club’s 76th annual show kicks off with a public reception on Sunday, September 30, 2018 from 1 – 4 p.m., with exhibits on display until October 11.

During the exhibition, a Valley Art Club member will usually be present to answer questions and show visitors around said Francine Miceli, six year board member of the club. Most of the works on display will be for sale, while some artists offer prints as a more economical way to get art into the hands of a fan.

For the art drop, Valley Art Club members hailing from Belle Vernon, Charleroi, Coal Center, Grindstone, Monessen, Monongahela, Stockton, and West Newton will prepare original, one-of-a-kind works on a 5” x 7” medium using pencil, pen, or pastel.

“Most members are participating, and at least 25 original pieces will be dropped during the first week of September. They will be dropped in an envelope with the Valley Art Club logo at churches, doctor’s offices, libraries” and other places, Miceli said. Members will distribute works in their own town, increasing the drop’s coverage area.

The lucky finders will get to be keepers of the artist’s original, one-of-a-kind work. Though they’re sure to be pleasantly surprised by the quality of artwork that can fit on a 5” x 7” medium, the club asks one small favor, as Miceli explains, “We hope they do contact us in some way to let us know how they liked it…some artists have their card or an e-mail on the back and would like to be contacted to let us know what their reaction is to it.”

Also inside the art drop envelope is a postcard with information about the reception, including times and location. Additionally, Miceli’s own artwork fronts the postcard, giving art lovers a two-for-one find.

In addition to the art drop and art show, Valley Art Club continues its efforts throughout the year to get the message out that art is alive and well in the Mon Valley. “There’s still a lot of people who say ‘I didn’t know there are any artists around here.’ We try to do the best we can, and we’re trying to reach out more every year,’” Miceli said. “We do paint-outs (outdoor painting) at parks or different places people suggest we go. Sometimes we just go to the park and sketch so people know we exist.”

Valley Art Club’s visibility in the valley is set to increase through the talents of fellow artist and new “publicity person,” Dawn McKechnie, who Miceli says “wants to do a lot for the club. I’ve liked all her ideas so far.” Stay tuned for more.

Artists interested in joining the club’s roster may reach them at 724-872-4642 or directly on Miceli outlines a few requirements for membership, including a minimum age of 18, paying $20 for an annual membership, and attendance at three meetings per year along with the annual exhibition. Additionally, “We ask them to bring a couple of pieces in, and we vote whether to bring them in or not. I don’t know that anyone has been turned away.”

The club “could use some young blood in there” along with new artists, including more men, Miceli said, adding that the “only thing is, everything has to be two dimensional,” meaning no sculptures, textiles, photography, or the like.

Anyone finding a Valley Art Club art drop envelope is encouraged to post their find on facebook at:, while the public is invited to the September 30 juried exhibition and reception.

Painting top right by Francine Miceli.

Story by Keren Lee Dreyer for Pennsylvania Bridges