What are your fondest holiday memories? Are there any special traditions that you and your family and friends have been observing over the years? Maybe a certain place you visit during the season or a spectacular recollection from holidays past? We asked some merchants from Lawrenceville and the Strip District (and beyond) what their favorite holiday memories were. Naturally, for most, the pre-holiday season is one of the busiest times of the year, so when they finally get the time off they really enjoy it with family and friends—although most will tell you that their customers/clients are like family to them, thus producing some great holiday memories from work, too.

    Toni Haggerty

    Manager, Primanti Brothers, Strip District

    Toni Haggerty

    Toni Haggerty

    A local celebrity of sorts at Primanti Brothers, manager Toni Haggerty, a 40-plus-years employee, has accumulated many memories over the years at the restaurant. “The holidays are so special for me at Primanti’s and also with my large family. Many people who come to Primanti’s during the holidays tell us we are their number-one stop—before visiting their own families! I love all the people coming in. That’s why I come to work: because of the people and regular customers. It’s like my family here, too. For me personally, every Sunday is a holiday at my house! I love to cook. Even my family members love my cooking! Last Christmas, I had 30 people attending for the Seven Fishes! I have nine brothers and sisters and they were all there last year. Even Jimmy Patrinos (Primanti Brothers owner) comes to my house for Christmas.”

    Joanne Jeffers

    Manager, Courtyard Winery, Strip District

    Joanne Jeffers

    Joanne Jeffers

    Since her shop’s opening in May of this year, Joanne Jeffers has tried to incorporate some of her special holiday memories into the wine store she manages. “Some of my most cherished memories are those at my grandparents’ house for the holidays. Our family would invite friends and we would gather around my grandmother’s huge table while enjoying amazing Italian food and wine. Seeing everyone together was so heartwarming!

    “I try to implement that same feeling at Courtyard Winery in the Strip, especially for the holidays. My uncles would make homemade wine and I remember that wine from our Thanksgiving and Christmas get-togethers. I think Courtyard Winery offers similar tastes in our wines and I love that about us. One last special memory I have from the holidays was when our niece, Madison—who is 18 now—was born, and everyone gathered together for our first Christmas with the precious baby. I’ll cherish these memories forever and I hope to continue to bring these traditions of togetherness to Courtyard Winery, especially for the holidays.”

    Jim Nied

    Owner, Nied’s Hotel, Lawrenceville

    Jim Nied

    Jim Nied

    Jim Nied has so many interesting memories and stories—as the owner of Nied’s Hotel for over 40 years—that he could write a book. His favorite holiday memory, though, is his annual Christmas party. “We started years ago having my Christmas party at Nied’s Hotel and it grew to so many people over the years. We had it at many places, but we kept outgrowing every location. Last year we had 300 people at the Teamsters in Lawrenceville. Slim Forsythe and Nied’s Hotel Band performed and we had great food.

    “I come from a small family, so I feel so lucky to have everyone I know and love come to my party to celebrate Christmas with me. I care a lot about the employees and band—they are like family; I have to take care of them. By the way, the average length of time my 10 employees have worked here is 30 years! Another memory is when I get to deliver lottery winnings on Christmas Eve. We are open on Christmas Eve until 7:00 p.m. because I am a lottery agent. Many people “hit” on Christmas Eve and I get to deliver the winnings to them … it’s the only instance where I outrank Santa Claus.”

    Jim says that everyone is welcome to attend the Christmas party this year, scheduled for Saturday, December 16. Check the website for details: niedshotel.myfastsite.com.

    Robert Ching

    Owner, Moonlight Express, Strip District

    Robert Ching

    Robert Ching

    Robert Ching, owner of the ever-popular Moonlight Express in the Strip, is always busy at work. He will tell you that he is constantly working, even right up to the holidays. He laughingly comments, “What is one of my holiday memories? Well, it’s work. Work, work, and I work some more. When people celebrate, we are working. When they are done celebrating, we celebrate!

    “I have been doing this for over 20 years and I do have some great customers that come year after year during the holidays. They come from as far away as Mexico and Miami to purchase frozen egg rolls to take back home for their celebrations. My customers are like family to me. They bring me all kinds of gifts, too, during the holidays—candy, cake, pies, desserts of all sorts. On Christmas Day, we are off and I have about 10 to 12 people at my house. My grandchildren and out-of-state relatives all come. It is a very nice time.”

    Sue Cosgrove

    Owner, Mahla & Company Antiques, Strip District 

    Sue Cosgrove

    Sue Cosgrove

    Susan Cosgrove, the charismatic owner of her family’s antiques business, says one of her favorite holiday memories is their annual Holiday Open House. “My mother had the idea to start the antiques business with my brothers, sister, and me 22 years ago. As an appreciation to our customers we started a Holiday Open House with all our dealers—who are like family to me—and our customers, many of whom have been regulars over the years and continue to support our business.

    “We’ve been having this Open House for over 20 years. Coming from a big family, everything is done in a big way. It’s a wonderful time, with over 500 people, good food, and of course my sister Liz’s famous champagne! We have 18 dealers and they all bring their specialty food. It reminds me of growing up when my parents always made a huge Christmas celebration for me and my six siblings. It was the highlight of the year.”

    Dr. Aileen Ruiz

    Owner, Big Easy Animal Hospital, Lawrenceville

    Dr. Aileen Ruiz

    Dr. Aileen Ruiz

    Dr. Aileen Ruiz has many holiday memories from living in New Orleans and now Pittsburgh, but her most cherished memory is when she first moved to Pittsburgh. “I moved to Pittsburgh and bought a house four months after Katrina. I didn’t have any furniture or anything. I bought a small Christmas tree at Rite Aid for the holiday. I will always remember this and how I first started out here in Pittsburgh.

    “Another holiday I will never forget occurred when I resided in New Orleans. I remember working veterinary on December 24, 2004. We were celebrating Christmas Eve with tons of food and veterinary cases. In a moment, there was an immediate silence among the staff—they were shocked to learn that it was snowing outside. I was overjoyed. I had not seen snow in 30 years. I ran outside and attempted to create makeshift snow angels. That moment was one of the most memorable times of my life.”

    Chef Tim Urbanic 

    Café Cimino Country Inn, Sutton, WV

    Chef Tim Urbanic

    Chef Tim Urbanic

    Tim Urbanic, rated one of the best chefs in America, would naturally have a holiday memory relating to food. His wife Melody tells it best: “Chef Tim’s favorite memory of the holidays, Christmas specifically, is the smell of Grandma Cimino’s kitchen—in particular, the Bacala soup. He laughs now when he thinks of how he turned his nose up to Bacala soup as a child and now as an adult he has prepared and served the same soup of his grandma every year of his adult life—first as a home cook and now as the chef at Café Cimino Country Inn. The soup is a favorite on the annual Feast of the Seven Fishes menu, offered just before Christmas at the Inn. This special dinner honors his grandmother and his mother and aunts for teaching him all of the old recipes, especially the Bacala Soup.”

    For more information about the Feast of the Seven Fishes check the website: cafeciminocountryinn.com.

    Denise S. Artman is a staff photographer and regular contributor to The Strip! See more of her photography at fb: denisesartmanphotography.