Opinion: Replacing St. Agatha with a CVS Was a Mistake

Every Friday, I walk down to Spring Avenue and snap a few pictures of the gradual deconstruction of St. Agatha. At this stage, the church looks as if it was hit by a World War II bomb run.

I think it was a mistake to tear down the church and a mistake to replace it with a CVS. Earlier this week, EllwoodCity.org shared a column from Triblive on the negative effects of destroying local landmarks, and St. Agatha was used as an example.

St. Agatha was one of Ellwood’s oldest buildings, had distinctive architecture and was culturally significant for the Catholic community. As such, it was an important asset.

A CVS is just a retail store. We already have at least three pharmacies, one of which is already a CVS. From what I gather, the major pharmacy corporations are shifting toward large stores in a downtown as opposed to a small store in a plaza. Basically, CVS is using Ellwood as a minor front in the struggle for pharmacy-market domination, and St. Agatha happened to be in the way.

A pharmacy isn’t progress for the town. It’s primarily a corporate retail outlet. The buildings are ugly and don’t match the look of a residential/business town area. Excepting the pharmacists, the jobs are low-paying and unskilled.

“Oh look this town has a CVS and Rite Aid right across from each other. I want to live here,” said nobody ever.

With downtown revitalization, the goal is to give the illusion that the town has something to offer by creating a distinct look which in turns leads to actual improvement when business and customers start using the downtown. Spring Avenue and Fifth Street aren’t technically downtown, but for the purposes of this argument, they’re close enough.

With St. Agatha, there was an opportunity to use it for the revitalization effort.

In Braddock, a downtrodden Pittsburgh suburb, Mayor John Fetterman lived in the town’s oldest church to prevent its demolition. The First Presbyterian Church was later renovated into a community center, preserving its architecture and heritage but giving it a new function.

Another alternative would have been to get a business that would have used St. Agatha as is or used the materials to make a building with similar architecture to preserve the look of the block.

Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be enough effort or vision to use St. Agatha for anything. From what I understand, there were attempts to convert the building into something beneficial, but none succeeded. So when the apparent choices were between an unused old building and a corporation that wanted to open a business on the lot, Ellwood ended up with a CVS.

To paraphrase the most confusing Batman quote ever- it’s the building we didn’t need but the one we deserved.


27 Comments on "Opinion: Replacing St. Agatha with a CVS Was a Mistake"

  1. I couldn’t agree more!!
    Well stated.

  2. It makes me sick to see that beautiful church ripped apart!

  3. Who cares people! It sat vacant gor over ten years… Ellwood city has nothing to offer financially to revitalize the church into a new business ,such as bar / restaurant … Quit all your belly aching.. Within a year ,when new cvs is up , no one will remember the church anyway …

    • Exactly Jason I couldn’t have said it better myself! Well said and written. Did you know Ability to Choose has lived in 7 different states? If not you do now, and he knows everything.

  4. Well stated Mr. Cortez! Too bad this just all seemed to be approved with no public input. A little while ago there was a Pride In Ellwood initiative; that was probably right on track. The problem with “The EC” seems to be low self-esteem and just like a girl with the same problem we let anyone do anything to us. Compared to most of America we have no reason to feel so low.

    • Pretty low blow with the comment “just like a girl with the same problem
      We let anyone do anything to us”
      Did you read what you wrote before you hit Post Comment? The Ellwood city council, blame some of them. Just like putting a “treatment center”
      In the ideal spot, good job council! But what do they care most of them don’t even live in Ellwood city. Ovial made a 90 year old lady move her car that she parked on the street for years and years Bc he didn’t like it there. Enough said about council.

  5. Well stated Jonathan. The building whether it was a church or factory was a part of our heritage; a part of our history that will be gone forever. The building was not the first to be destroyed for so-called progress. The old Ledger building was destroyed for a parking lot and the Ewing Park School was destroyed so there could be a vacant lot.

  6. Jason….. I’ll will remember a Church was there! And so will everyone else! Everyone that was baptized,made their confirmation, got married and attend mass at that Church on Sundays.

    • So why did this church quit having mass, baptisms, and weddings? Can anyone like yourself answer me that ? I don’t think anybody has ever mentioned the reasons why….

  7. Well put Mr. Cortez, I could’nt agree more. The St. Agatha Church could have been used as a cultureal center, Imagine the Art shows that could have been held there. What better place for a wedding reception, there was a nice kitchen in the basement. If nothing else what would have been wrong with a “save haven” for the destitute and the homeless? At this point, I am ashamed to admit I am from Ellwood City.

    • Please Lynn tell me where I can find a town of similar size
      in the USA with these amenities:
      ***An easy less than i-hour commute to a major metro area
      (sporting events, arts, theater, events)
      ***Affordable housing
      ***Good walk ability
      ***Excellent library
      ***Functional swimming pool
      ***At least four well kept parks within the town
      ***Two State parks a short drive away
      ***A hospital located in the town
      ***Free concerts, movies, festivals
      Then tell me which town in the USA does NOT have:
      Problems with drugs, loss of good paying jobs,
      destruction of the family unit, federal controlled
      schools. If you can’t maybe you should not be ashamed,

  8. Kind of hard to blame anyone for this. All ellwood does is complain complain complain. CVS brings jobs and another place for this town. For those that travel there is a Walgreens, rite aid, and cvs on every corner in every city. It’s called 2016. Quit dwelling on the past. Cvs will bring competition and rite aid can compete with prices. Does anybody listen to Donald trump ? Ewing park school had asbestos can’t do much with that. Let the wonderful ellwood city council that we so greatly put together help us with these “abondoned” parking lots. Easy summation…..Ellwood is never going to revitalize why? Bc when you make a left off of the koppel bridge and see the wonderful stretch into Ellwood city Does that look inviting ? Nope. It’s a useless cause. Your council can’t get along with each other. The code enforcer is knocking down buildings because he has nothing better to do with his time. Nobody is going to buy those parking lots and put anything. Nobody is going to renovate buildings Bc the code enforcer makes it impossible. Don’t worry. I’m sure council will figure out a new skatepark or volleyball court or another plaza that’s useless – who else knows what to put in this space and waiste more of our money. Taxes keep going up Bc nobody wants to move here or live here. Ellport pays nothing in taxes and either does Wayne township. However they are part of Ellwood city ? Interesting. Keep raising taxes. Keep pushing people away. Look at the population of Ellwood and the decline…enough said

    • Ablility to Choose | February 27, 2016 at 11:45 am | Reply

      Common Sense,
      Because of my job, I have the ability to live anywhere in this country that I want. I have also traveled to many places, and lived in 7 different states. I’ve yet to find a better town.
      If you have a better suggestion of a place to live, let me know.

      • Ability to Chose – Like you, well unless you travel 85% of the year, lik I do, which covers all of the USA (numerous cities ) including international, like you I can choose Bc of my job to live wherever I want to also. I’ve always lived in Ellwood City and pretty sure I didn’t say I wanted to leave. If you read my post which it doesn’t really appear you did I didn’t bash living in Ellwood City. I simply stated commen sense facts about Ellwood City. Like are you serious ? Unless you have been traveling to Compton for work I don’t think there is enough space on this page to list the numerous cities that are better. You know we can even start as simple as taking a look at downtown Beaver ? Look at the rapid growth in Zelienople. You see any vacant stores, one after the next beside each other. Nope. Those are just two cities very near us. If you want many many more I can list no problem at all. Glad you like living here so do I, it still won’t change the fact that Ellwood won’t revitalize and that people aren’t going to move to Ellwood city, or buy the vacant parking spaces. I mean you can’t even eat dinner in downtown Bc there is nothing there. VINNYS is the best and only choice, and they aren’t in downtown. You can’t buy any building in downtown Ellwood and have anything on 2nd floor or 3rd floor unless you put in an elevator ? You need proof just let me know I can show you tons of proof. Easier to build in cranberry than to bring business to Ellwood city Bc you will just get chased out. Congrats on your job and traveling and living in other states. Ellwood is a great place to return home to , except again when you fly in from the airport get off the exit make a left at the koppel bridge and see the disgusting mile that leads you into Ellwood city. Again , common sense.

      • Congratulations CVS for coming to Ellwood City. It will give Ability to Choose another place to visit.

    • Proud to be from E.C. | February 27, 2016 at 5:20 pm | Reply

      I agree with Bob. I hate to see the pretty church go. But, I think the code enforcer and Mayor are doing a great job. All of the old buildings are just not insulated and unsafe, either empty or containing riffraff. I would rather see a clean parking lot or grass area than a falling down building owned by a slumlord. And I agree that the area from the Koppel bridge to Ellwood City looks like a dump. But, Ellwood City has nothing to do with that. Complain to North Sewickley Twp. and Wayne Twp. about the mess.They need to enforce the codes in that area. They have MANY buildings that need to be torn down. I think our town looks pretty darn good compared to many of the small towns near by. I say keep up the good work and keep taking the messy places down and run the riffraff out too.

      • The code enforcers own building doesn’t meet ADA compliance, has anyone ever noticed. But he will easily tell everyone who wants to renovate or buy a building that it has to. Have you ever met him? Good luck trying to get ahold of him. Some of the buildings were “torn down Bc of the beams under the sidewalk were seemed unsafe ” and “apparently” it was the whole block. However, both of the buildings beside it still remain. Interesting. You have an old Chinese restaurant that if you ever looked inside, wow you would be shocked. But this building still remains however it’s on the same block as the “so called bad beams.” Pretty sure WesBanco is on the same block and have a few buildings. Guess the beams under there are ok. Nothing wrong with tearing down buildings if this is the case. But try to buy one of those lots and see what happens. See what you have to go through with the code enforcer and as I stated you will take your business elsewhere and build Bc it’s not worth the hassle. Trust me we have looked into purchasing numerous buildings and spaces. Amazing how nobody gets back to you, so Elwood’s loss. Again you can’t buy an old building Bc you will be asked to install a $100,000 elevator. Yeah like who is going to do that. I will agree the mayor of Ellwood is a terrific mayor and the city has been in way better hands since he has become the mayor. Just a shame again that our council can’t get along with him or old council members who keep showing up to meetings complaining Bc they are bitter that they loss and are not on council anymore. Fix the code enforcer fix the council or you won’t get anywhere. As far as the stretch being part of Wayne township and north sewickely it’s already been brought to their attention. They don’t care about it, and nobody in the world travels down that road and doesn’t think Ellwood city. You mentioned other cities being worse than Ellwood ? Where are these ? I would love to know.

  9. local area resident | February 27, 2016 at 11:21 am | Reply

    Eventually, CVS will be out of business. Then we’ll have a cheaply constructed building sitting empty for 10 years.

    We’ll never see buildings like the ones torn down again: the materials aren’t as obtainable, and even if they were, the skilled craftsmen needed to assemble them no longer exist.

    • CVS would do a long study before choosing this location. Lleaving or being vacant in 10 years I hardly doubt that will occur. That entire block will look better with the the CVS. The church wasn’t going to turn into anything, nor the slum houses that surrounded it. Again CVS will bring business and jobs. Was the vacant church, which was just sitting there going to do that ? No it wasn’t. Granted yes it was a great place for a wedding and I truly feel for all of those who had a wedding there or baptism. Everyone wants to blame CVS, how about the individual who renovated the basement of the st. Agatha only to leave it high and dry and bolt from Ellwood city. Change is good. Everyone needs to accept it. When rite aid went in everyone complained as well, but look how many cars are in that parking lot daily. You don’t hear anybody complaining about rite aid in the last 5 years plus have you ? Nope. Pharmacist jobs pay a lot, and CVS pays its employees well. Again every city you travel too outside of Ellwood has a cvs rite aid and Walgreens across from each other. Just ask Ability to Choose he’s been everywhere and lived in 7 states, he knows more than anyone. He will let you know about these stores.

  10. When I lived in the area, I remember that there was the top ceiling wooden beams that were coming apart…A major repair was needed, I also remember that instruments were used to check the progress of the cracks. Maybe that was all taken care of, but it was a major problem at the time..

  11. Bob,
    Zelienople: Free Festivals, concerts and movies. Good walk ability, excellent library, state park short drive away. Unlike Ellwood, a fantastic business district. Less than 15 minute commute to major metro area.
    Volant: Free Festivals and special events all year long, specialty shops, good walk ability, State park short drive away. less than 30 minute commute to a major metro area.
    Saxonburg: 1# Festival in Pa.,free Art & craft shows and concerts. Well kept parks, good walk ability, Fantastic business dirtrict, less than 1 hour commute to major metro area.
    Harmony: Free art & craft events and Holiday festivals, Good walk ability, specialty shops. Less than 20 minute commute to a major metro area.

    • Well said Lynn. Again you referenced cities that I did as well. Cities that people from Ellwood are going to, Bc in Ellwood these things don’t exist. A 3 day festival in the park during the 4th of July, wow 3 days for people to flock to Ellwood. Likewise, nothing free. Everything from the parking to the food goes up every year. Just like Ellwood taxes. Harmony is beautiful. Zelienope beautiful. Beaver beautiful. Ellwood, umm well the new plaza is nice, but it gets what 3 months of use? Again common sense

  12. GodandGunClinger | February 29, 2016 at 10:25 am | Reply

    Sounds to me you have a choice on this matter. Functional modern building in use by a business providing tax revenues to the town, or beautiful ruins of a building. It would have been great if the building could have been modernized and reused. That would have been the best of both worlds, unfortunately it did not happen. We are getting the second best option. It is far better than watching the building rot and fall down. There is some dignity in how it is being deconstructed and parts being reused. Might I suggest if you are one of those that love the building, try to find out where those pieces are going and, if possible, visit the buildings where they are being repurposed.

  13. Local Area Resident | March 5, 2016 at 9:58 pm | Reply

    @Common Sense: Let’s look at defunct retailers in the US: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_defunct_retailers_of_the_United_States

    Eventually, CVS will join the list, same with Rite-Aid and, yes, even McDonald’s. Ellwood City will still be on the map, but “progress” will have removed its uniqueness and sense of place, making it as anonymous and commercial-looking any other ex-burb currently dotting mid-west.

    Please also note well, the CVS adjacent to Giant Eagle will be relocating, so the employment gain in the area will be effectively nil.

  14. Common Sense | March 7, 2016 at 10:44 am | Reply

    The CVS that is being built won’t be the size of the small plaza, so yes the employment will go up. Those that worked at that CVS will get to transfer so no jobs lost.

    McDonalds going out of business? Wow. You must know it all. Again it’s 2016, cities are going to change. Remember “change is a good thing .” Unless you want to continue to stare at old building while they deteriorate.

    Sign up for a CVS card now and enjoy the savings.

    Common Sense

  15. Common Sense | March 7, 2016 at 6:28 pm | Reply

    Rumor on the street. CVS will be open 24/7. If so, would night time employees bring more or less jobs than the plaza currently has? It’s a hard equation let me know if you need any help.

    Common Sense

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