by Chris Potter
The Quiet Storm, which has served vegetarian fare for over a decade and helped launch the resurgence of Penn Avenue, is set to close this fall.
In an email to City Paper and a post on a local message board, owner Jill MacDowell has confirmed that her building's pending sale is prompting her to close the Friendship restaurant this October:
Yep, QS is leaving 5430 Penn in October 2013, our 12th anniversary month. Our future is unknown. The building is under sales agreement to another food establishment. Eviction has been looming a long time. It's made a hard life harder, and a good thing bittersweet. I'm proud of what we've accomplished. I hope to continue somehow, somewhere.
Under MacDowell -- a former alt-weekly editor turned caterer -- the Quiet Storm became a vegetarian café that was popular with City Paper readers, as well as an indie gathering place with a popular brunch. For several years, it also served as a music venue.
Its closure will come a half year after the shuttering of another touchstone in the East End scene, East Liberty's Shadow Lounge. Throughout the early 2000s, the two businesses heralded the resurgence of struggling East End business districts; now it seems neither will be part of the area's growing success.
Rick Swartz, the executive director of the Bloomfield Garfield Corporation, laments the Storm's pending departure.
"It's a business that drew another generation to Penn Avenue, a generation that wouldn't have found its way here otherwise," says Swartz, whose community-development group has long been active along Penn. "The arts venues have done that too, but much of that was in the wake of the Quiet Storm coming here."
Swartz says the Storm attracted younger residents who "weren't looking for a pristine commercial district like [Shadyside's] Walnut Street": The challenge for his group now, he says, is to maintain and build upon Penn's own ability to serve a mix of residents.
The Quiet Storm's building is owned by Friendship Development Associates, a once-active but now defunct community redevelopment group. The building is being purchased by a local restaurateur whom Swartz would not identify, except to say "he has a successful restaurant in the city already, and his family is helping him finance this." The new site will "bring a restaurant that will probably cater to a broader spectrum of people, which some people think is great, while others won't." In either case, while the restaurant will not be a chain, Swartz says, "It will look like a restaurant you might find in a lot of other places."
Swartz says his organization tried to find a new home for the Quiet Storm along Penn, to no avail.
"We came up dry. We approached a number of property owners with vacant storefronts. Some were interested, but [the buildings] needed a plethora of things done for them. Other times, the storeroom could have accommodated her, but they weren't interested in leasing -- not just to her, but to anybody.
"It was disappointing, because there were some locations that could have done well for the Quiet Storm," Swartz continues. "It's a challenge we've confronted on Penn Avenue for the last 30 years: talking to people who think they've got something you want badly, and they are holding out for some ransom." And it's only gotten worse as the East End has become increasingly prosperous -- thanks in part to the Quiet Storm. "Suddenly, the wind is scented with money," Swartz says, and building owners feel like time is on their side. "It's the downside of neighborhoods returning to some level of normalcy, and a commentary about where the real-estate market is today."