“I told my husband: ‘I’m buying this.’ He looked at me, and said, ‘Woman, have you lost your mind?’ I said: ‘Maybe, but this is what I really want to do.’”
“I’m a lifelong resident of Rockwood. I grew up and married my high school sweetheart.
“My daughter-in-law and I wanted to open a ladies’ fitness center and we were searching for a place. She came home one night and said: ‘What about that big building down by the railroad tracks?’ I said: ‘The dilapidated bar? I don’t think so.’ She said: ‘No, it’s on the other corner.’ Then it hit me, the feed store. I said: ‘That has to be as bad as the bar ‘cause it’s been vacant for eight years.’ I called the sole heir of the building. He was a retired dentist in North Carolina in his seventies. I asked if it was for sale and he said it was. That was in 1999. He said he was coming up in October and he’d show it to me. Then at the end of the conversation he said: ‘You do know about the opera house, right?’ And I wondered what he was talking about. I mean, I went to the feed store to buy dog food, plants for the garden and so forth. But I never, ever wondered what had been upstairs.
“When he came in October, he showed me the opera house. The ceilings were falling. Walls were falling. But all the woodwork was still intact. I told my husband: ‘I’m buying this.’ He looked at me, and anybody that knows my husband knows this would be his exact words. He said: ‘Woman, have you lost your mind?’ I said: ‘Maybe, but this is what I really want to do.’
“Most opera houses were located above an existing business and were more or less a community center. Minstrel groups would come to town, perform, get back on the train and go to the next town. We’re one of the few and maybe the only remaining opera house in Pennsylvania.
“I purchased it over the holidays in 2000. We opened the downstairs June 15th, and the opera house in September. My husband said he never wanted to hear the word ‘deadline’ again. We did 85 percent of the work ourselves. We did all the cleaning, all the painting. It was a lot.
“The entire downstairs of the Rockwood Mill Shoppes has little shops while the upstairs is the opera house where we had dinner theater and musical entertainment. People keep calling and asking: ‘When are you going to do something? When are you opening up again?’
“If it wasn’t for the Great Allegheny Passage, I wouldn’t be in business. And business from the GAP wasn’t my original intention because it wasn’t even finished when we first opened. I was more or less providing something for the community. Since then we bought another building down from the feed store and turned it into a hostel and an apartment, called Hostel on Main/Apartment 504. We’ve had travelers from at least 45 countries. We had a cyclist in from Japan in late March when we still had snow on the ground. I looked at him and said: ‘Do you realize what you’re doing?’
“We had another guy who stayed with us who was biking all the way from L.A. to the East Coast. The guy said: ‘My wife and I parted ways and I just needed to clear my head. So I decided to take some time off.’ My husband asked him what he did for a living and the guy said: ‘Do you know Dick Cheney?’ And my husband said: ‘Well, I know OF Dick Cheney, but I don’t KNOW him.’ The guy said: ‘Well you know that heart that they put in him? I designed that heart.’”
This content was created by Anita Harnish for the Great Allegheny Passage Conservancy and funded in part by a grant from the Community Conservation Partnerships Program Environmental Stewardship Fund, under the administration of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bureau of Recreation and Conservation administered through the Pennsylvania Environmental Council’s Laurel Highlands Mini Grant Program, and in part by the Somerset County Tourism Grant Program.