Sunday

Merritton Development Update #6

OK, time to wrap up matters on the old Union House Tavern in Merritton.
Hey, don't blame me for the profusion of columns on the historic gin joint, also known in Merritton drinking circles as Hallett's.
Back in the late summer of 2006, I thought I was doing a one-off when writing about the newly formed Infamous Pub Co.'s renovation of the circa-1875 building.
Who knew the Pub Co., funded in considerable part by a local lottery winner, would quickly go bust, plunging the building into almost four years of darkness?
Given my initial interest, I felt obligated to track subsequent attempts to revive the watering hole's past glory.
Over the past few years, a couple of such efforts failed miserably.
This winter, the building was listed under power-of-sale again.
A few weeks ago, word emerged that the latest prospective buyer was Pete's Pizza.
Noticing some activity on the Merritt St. property this week, I dropped in for a visit.
On site was new owner Jerry DiPietro, who took ownership at the end of April and started renovating May 1.
For those interested in these sort of things, the property sold for $280,000 in 2000; $310,000 in 2005; and $355,000 in 2007.
Earlier this winter, it was being shopped around by realtor CB Richard Ellis Ltd. for $395,000.
DiPietro said he bought it for $285,000.
Who says you can't lose with real estate?
Anyway, the 41-year-old DiPietro is, indeed, involved with Pete's Pizza.
He's owned and operated the franchise in the strip plaza at the south-east corner of Merritt St. and Glendale Ave. since 1991. Before that, he had the franchise on Church St., near Queenston St.
"I always liked this building, always wanted to keep it going," he said, as we stood in the middle of the old tavern watching some floor-tiling take place.
He actually tried to grab it a couple of years ago but was beaten to the punch by one of the ill-fated business people.
After running the pizza franchise at the rather small plaza outlet for 19 years, DiPietro, who attended Laura Secord Secondary School, said he wanted to give it "a bigger place, something different."
"I needed a change. I was getting stale over there," he said of the plaza location.
"This is a big step up."
As much as DiPietro liked the old Hallett's -- he enjoyed stopping in for a draft and making his football pool picks -- he has no plans to
replicate the pub experience. Rather, he wants to create family atmosphere.
One side of the establishment will be for pizza pickup and quick eating at a few small tables; the other side will have booths for sit-down meals of the finger-food variety.
DiPietro intends to get a liquor licence, "but I'm not pushing the beer angle here."
He's been told the property only has enough parking to support 48 licenced-seats, and he said that's fine with him. (He added, however, that a couple of business neighbours have offered him some parking space should the need arise.)
DiPietro was hesitant to hazard a guess as to when the new Pete's Pizza eatery will open.
He said he needs to make sure all the i's are dotted and t's crossed to city bureaucrats' satisfaction.
But his current lease at the plaza expires in a couple of months, he noted, so that's a pretty good time target.
The plumbing is finally done, floor work has begun and he'll be getting in some electricians soon to re-wire the building. In addition to the pizzeria/ restaurant space, there are a couple of two-bedroom apartments on the top floor. DiPietro also intends to lease the north storefront space to J&A Athletics, which designs and sells sports jerseys.
Sounds like a plan. No doubt a downtown
Merritton community weary of the recent Union House curse hopes it works.
dherod@stcatharinesstandard.ca

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