Editor's note: This story has been updated. A previous version mentioned that Christine May and Joe Sirlin worked on renovations at The Bar Association on North Jefferson Avenue. This is inaccurate as confirmed by Harold and Timi Close, the owners.
In less than a year, a Peters Township couple turned a dilapidated Canonsburg building into a beautiful new business space – and they want to do it again.
Christine May, of C. May Interiors, and her husband, Joe Sirlin, a contractor who owns Joseph Sirlin Construction, have spent the past year renovating the former Chartiers Cleaners building at 137 W. Pike St. It’s now unrecognizable and serves as a new home for May’s business.
“We bought the building last July,” May said. “It was on the verge of being condemned.”
The building couldn’t pass inspections, she said, with electrical problems and major water leaks.
“You could put a boat in the basement it was so bad,” she said. “But it was close to home, close to I-79, and it was affordable.”
Sirlin said the dry cleaner had been closed for years. Some of the flooring was rotted through, and holes in the roof allowed water to run down the walls, he said.
“Nothing had really been done there in probably 30 years,” he said. “It looked horrible, but we could see past that. The basic shell of it we knew we could work with.”
Since May is an interior designer and Sirlin, a contractor, they often flip houses together.
“We’re always looking for the horrible buildings,” he said. “Anything can be fixed; it’s just a matter of how much you want to do to fix it.”
And fix it he did, spending all of his evenings and weekends at the building for more than 10 months, with the help of some of his employees.
“I think we hauled seven dumpsters out of there,” he said.
Many of the materials, such as cabinets and doors, didn’t cost them anything because they were left over from previous contracting jobs, May said.
“We knew with his skills and the materials we already had, it wouldn’t be too expensive,” she said. “They were free, and we thought we could use them. That keeps the stuff out of the landfills.”
The building has three commercial storefronts and an apartment on the second floor. One of the other shops is a salon called For Love of Hair, and the third is vacant and available for rent.
May’s business opened Sept. 6 with a ribbon cutting. It’s the first storefront for her 15-year design business, as she previously ran it out of her garage.
“Generally, I go to the client’s home, but if I’m selling merchandise like small chairs, lamps, art or lighting fixtures, I need storage space for them,” May said.
As a designer and contractor, the couple would like to take on other renovations in town.
“We’re hoping to bring back Canonsburg and make it a small Shadyside,” May said. “It’s like a little hidden gem.”
Canonsburg, she said, has been nothing but welcoming, too. Mayor Dave Rhome said when May started the project she “blended right in” to the community.
“Ultimately, she fell in love with the town and the people,” Rhome said. “We’re just excited to put our arms around her and let her start her business here in our town. It’s a specialty shop that makes small-town USA survive.”
R.T. Bell, president of borough council, said May’s and Sirlin’s renovations have made the neighborhood look nicer.
“They bring a new business to town and a whole new attitude for everybody,” Bell said. “Those are the kind of businesspeople we’re looking for – people who want to get involved in the community.”
But the couple doesn’t want to stop with this building: They want to invest more in Canonsburg.
“If we could get another unit in Canonsburg, we’d like to do this again,” Sirlin said. “It’s an up-and-growing area.”
They also plan to give back to the town with a “community day,” during which they will offer leftover materials from previous renovation jobs for free to residents who can use them.
“Say I’m working on a job and there’s two boxes of tile left over and the customer doesn’t want it, or if we take out really high-end cabinets, we store them and reuse them,” Sirlin said. “There’s nothing wrong with them; they just don’t want them and they’re getting something new.”
Items like flooring, doors, vanities and sinks, and furnishings like pictures, lamps and tables will be set out in their back parking lot the weekend of Oct. 12, weather permitting, May said. People who can use them in their home or for a project can come by and get them for free.
“It’s no good in the dumpster,” Sirlin said. “If someone can use it, why not? If they want it, they can have it.”