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Planet Fitness coming to Sandy Plaza; Hobby Lobby is potential tenant

An official from the real estate company, which owns the Sandy Plaza located at Route 255 and Shaffer Road in Sandy Township, has confirmed that a new Planet Fitness gym is going to be housed in a portion of the former Kmart location. In addition, Hobby Lobby Arts and Crafts Stores is “extremely interested” in locating in the other vacant side of that building.

“We are working to get Planet Fitness open as soon as possible,” said LG Realty Advisors Inc. Shopping Center Manager Brian Gumberg. LG Realty Advisors is a Pittsburgh-based real estate company which built the local plaza in 1981.

In early January, Planet Fitness Public Relations Manager Becky Zirlen announced plans that the company hopes to open in late summer, according to a previously published Courier Express article.

According to Zirlen, the fitness facility will offer state-of-the art cardio and strength equipment, free fitness training, and a Black Card Spa which will include HydroMassage beds, massage chairs, and tanning beds/booths for PF Black Card members.

“If you are not familiar with Planet Fitness, we cater to first-time and casual gym goers who may have never belonged to a gym before,” said Zirlen. “We always strive for a non-intimidating, judgement-free atmosphere where our members can feel comfortable working out at their own pace.”

Zirlen said membership always starts at $10 a month, or $21.99 a month for the PF Black Card.

In other developments, Gumberg said the ownership of Hobby Lobby has expressed an interest in locating in the DuBois area market.

“Our company has a terrific relationship with their marketing team. We are working diligently to bring them to the DuBois area,” said Gumberg.

According to its website, Hobby Lobby is primarily an arts-and-crafts store but also includes hobbies, picture framing, jewelry making, fabrics, floral and wedding supplies, cards and party ware, baskets, wearable art, home accents and holiday merchandise.

Hobby Lobby continues its steady growth, the website stated. In 2018, the company opened 54 new stores and relocated 20 store locations. In 2019, an estimated 65 new store locations will open and another 16 stores will relocate, creating approximately 2,500–3,000 jobs. Hobby Lobby currently has more than 840 stores across the nation.

“While retail strategies change, Hobby Lobby’s core values remain,” said the website. “These values led to the decision to close all stores on Sunday allowing associates time for family and for worship. They were also instrumental in the decision to give store employees pay raises well above the national minimum wage.”

“”We’re proud to own this center in DuBois,” said Gumberg. “We are based in Pittsburgh, but we are definitely committed to the DuBois area to make sure we bring first class retailers to the area. We want to make sure the shopping center continues on for the next generation.”

Gumberg acknowledged and expressed appreciation to the other business currently located in the Sandy Plaza, including the Escape Room, Napoli Restaurant and Pizzeria, Fine Wine and Good Spirits Premium Collection, Dollar General, Rent A Center and Famous Hair.

“The Escape Room is doing fantastic,” said Gumberg. “They are really excited to be part of the area here. They are doing great and looking forward to continuing.”

“We are also grateful to have Jonathan and Stephanie Weber of Napoli in the center to reinvigorate that business,” Gumberg said.

He said Sandy Township officials have also been really helpful in assisting with attracting national retail tenants to the area.

“Sandy Township is fantastic to work with,” Gumberg said. “We have really enjoyed working with the folks over at Sandy Township and look forward to continue our working relationship with them and bringing great retailers to the DuBois area.”


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Behavioral health expansion intended to meet regional need

The recognition of a regional need ultimately culminated in Penn Highlands Healthcare’s plan to invest millions in an expansion of its behavioral health services at its campus off of Maple Avenue.

“We’re on a journey that started a couple years ago,” Richard Nenneau, service line director of behavioral health for Penn Highlands, said. “I had moved here from northeast Mississippi to become the service line director. I became very curious about the region and the needs in the region. As I started looking at our referral information, I was amazed at how many patients we turned away for services.”

Nenneau said he began to question just how many patients were being turned down and why.

“At the end of the day, one of the biggest factors was capacity,” he said. “There are tremendous behavioral health and substance abuse treatment needs in this region. Not only in the primary 12 county region that we service but in the 21 county area that is our catchment area. I started to look at the numbers and started to talk to senior management about that. We decided maybe we should expand what we do. Maybe we should grow. That discussion has led us to where we are today, where plans are in place and the organization is committed to this project. We’re poised to grow to better meet the needs in the region.”

According to Nenneau, one factor driving the need is a shrinking number of inpatient facilities.

“Its really hard to know what drives people away from providing mental health services,” he said. “When you look at state hospitals across the country, you see beds closing. I think there’s an economic reality there. The fact remains that there is a percentage of folks that really struggle to live in community-based programs and end up going in and out of inpatient psychiatric units. You wonder how cost effective in the long run that is.”

He said despite the economic factors, Penn Highlands decided to move ahead with an expansion anyway.

“It’s the right thing to do. We have a commitment to this area, to this region, to provide these services,” Nenneau said. “Between Pittsburgh and Philly, there’s not a whole lot. This is a core part of our mission in taking care of providing the types of services needed in the region. Very simply it boils down to because it’s the right thing to do.”

That commitment means provision of services to people from the area will take precedence over referrals from outside the region.

“Our priority is with our immediate 12 counties that would be our primary catchment area,” he said. “That would be our primary service region, but the the larger 21 county region is also a priority for us. I suspect with some of the services that we’re going to be providing that we will get referrals from all over the Commonwealth, as well as out of state. I know we will. It happens already. But we’re looking at the region. That’s our primary focus.”

Despite expanding what is offered in-house, Nenneau said Penn Highlands will continue to work with other providers of behavioral health services in the region.

“We already work with organizations within the community and have for years,” he said. “We’re very committed. We’ll absolutely continue. I would suggest to you those relationships will become strengthened in all of this growth. We can’t exist in isolation. Just as community groups rely on us for our experience and expertise, we too rely on them. They provide some service in the community that we don’t. We rely on them, just as they rely on us for services that we provide. It’s a very good relationship back and forth.”


Elaine Haskins / Penn Highlands  

Penn Highlands DuBois East Campus Behavioral Health Hospital will expand its current facility and create a 126-bed campus providing a comprehensive continuum of behavioral health services.


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Penn Highlands in design phase for behavioral health facility

Penn Highlands Healthcare has been steadily securing funding and moving forward on plans for a behavioral health expansion at its Penn Highlands DuBois East campus.

Since the announcement in June 2018 of $111 million in projects as part of its master facilities plan, the health system has reached the design phase for the behavioral health project.

Construction is planned to being in the fall, according to information provided by Penn Highlands. Once started, work is expected to last two years.

So far, the Phoebe Reed Tyler Building has been raised, during the fall of 2018, and the former Maple Avenue Hospital was opened up for tours before the building comes down to makes way for new construction.

On the financial end, the project is being funded through a combination of direct investment of revenue and bond financing, bolstered with grants and donations.

Late last year, a $500,000 Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant was acquired from the state. RACP grants are provided to finance the acquisition and construction of regional economic, cultural, civic, recreational and historic improvement projects.

So far, an additional $100,000 in private donations have been set aside for the project.

Additionally, the health system is seeking further funding from RACP and the Appalachian Regional Commission, which is appropriated federal dollars annually for economic development projects.


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Luigi's Ristorante offers romantic, love-filled environment for Valentines

Local couples may be starting to look for a romantic, dimly-lit place to treat their Valentine this week.

Luigi’s Ristorante in downtown DuBois aims to offer just that — an atmosphere that plays a vital part in a couple’s dining experience, said General Manager Mia Margolies.

For those who grew up in an Italian family, breaking bread is also a “love language,” she said, and the North Brady Street business is known for its homemade bread.

“The music, the lighting, the service and of course the food, make up the overall mood in someone’s time spent with us,” she said. “We aim to fill the restaurant with love and romance on Valentine’s Day.”

On Feb. 14, the restaurant will play “smooth, Italian music,” while offering special food, beverage and dessert features. Each table will include a lighted candle in a dimly-lit room.

Luigi’s Ristorante on North Brady Street, owned by Margolies’ father Eddie Tate, celebrated 20 years in business last August.

“It’s not only a relationship between the couple dining, but it’s also a time for us to have a mini relationship with our guests while they are here with us, and make them glad they chose Luigi’s,” Margolies said.

Throughout the years, Luigi’s has been a hub for many special occasions, including proposals, Margolies said.

“We’ve seen almost 40 proposals happen right here in our dining rooms since 1998,” she said. “They’ve ranged from just a standard proposal, down on one knee, to having our staff help display the ring to come out with a specialty dessert, or in a homemade specialty box.”

Margolies can recall a time when a couple asked to be seated at a specific table, and when asked why, they said, “We had our first date at this time five, 10 or even 15 years ago.”

Since Valentine’s Day falls on a Thursday this year, Margolies says they’re expecting to see guests dine there over a five-day span, including the weekend following Feb. 14.

“We typically expect to serve 500 guests on Valentine’s day, no matter what day it falls on — there is just a special meaning taking your loved one out on the actual holiday,” she said.

For the holiday, Luigi’s feature two dinners, a specialty cocktail and dessert, Margolies said.

“These are always a popular choice with guests, but you will have those who have a favorite meal they always get when at Luigi’s, so we will actually see a variety of menu items go out,” she said.

From Thursday through Sunday, Feb. 17, Luigi’s will offer “Romeo’s parmigiana encrusted filet mignon” and “Juliet’s creamy roasted garlic shrimp pasta,” as well as red velvet cake.

Reservations are suggested two days or more in advance. For more information, visit Luigi’s Ristorante on Facebook or call 814-375-9113.


Photo courtesy Ed Scott 

DuBois junior Ed Scott, middle holding banner, is surrounding by his teammates and coaches as they show off “100” signs made to honor Scott after he captured his 100th career victory Saturday at the Bison Duals. Scott went 5-0 on the day and joins Tom Sleigh as just the second Beaver to reach the milestone as a junior.


BriFleming90 / File photo 

Pictured (from left) are Luigi’s Restorante & Catering Head Chef Ryan Margolies, General Manager Mia Margolies and Owner Eddie Tate.


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Behavioral health expansion to provide needed substance abuse, children's programs

Regionally, there is a lack of substance abuse services and behavioral health programs for children and Penn Highlands hopes to help fill those gaps with its behavioral health expansion.

Those two areas were the ones highlighted when Richard Nenneau, service line director of behavioral health for Penn Highlands, addressed where the greatest needs for services in the region were.

“The majority of people in this area that need hospital-based substance abuse services go as far as Pittsburgh and other areas of the state,” he noted. “We’re deeply committed to providing substance abuse treatment programs in the region that are desperately needed. The goal there is to move folks from the point of detox from substance use and dependence to gainful employment. We want folks to seek training and education and employment, and fully break out of that cycle of addiction. That’s a big part of our plans going forward.”

Additionally, he said there is a lack of facilities able to handle younger individuals in need of treatment.

“We have a ten bed unit here on this campus but the needs are tremendous and the resources are few,” Nenneau said of services for children and adolescents. “These are typically referrals that we send way out of area. We even get referrals from out of state for what we have here (now) and that’s because the resources are so scarce.”

He said Penn Highlands hopes to provide tools to children and their families that will allow successful outcomes outside of treatment.

“For the children that we’ll serve, we want to provide quality, innovative programming to children and their families,” Nenneau said. “We want to help kids learn adaptive skills so they can go back into their homes and communities: go to school, graduate school, go to college if that’s their desire. That’s what we really want to see and we want to be a part of that.”

While those areas present the greatest need, according to Nenneau, they will not be the totality of what the expansion is intended to address.

“Those two areas really jumped out at us, but that said, there’s a huge need for general inpatient psych care in this region,” he added. “There are not enough beds to meet the needs of the region.”

Nenneau also said the expansion isn’t just about inpatient care.

“We provide holistic services that focus on wellness. That’s a big part of our mission,” he said. “Folks that come here, they’re not going to just get put on drugs, put on medicine, and put back out in the community. We follow people after they leave here in our outpatient programs and we really work with them while they’re here as well. It’s very much oriented toward skill building as well as medication management. Make no mistake, that’s a part of what we do; but that’s not the only part of what we do. I really want folks to know that. It’s so much more than just that.”