CCAC Alumna Follows Family Footsteps
From the time she was a toddler, Sharon (McGinnis) Young spent a majority of her time behind the counter at her family’s store, The McGinnis Food Center in Baldwin. She and her seven brothers and sisters lived less than a block away. “My parents always took us to work,” she says. “It was our way of life.”
By the time she was 10-years-old, Sharon was earning $.05 per hour and working in the meat department. “I would stand up on a couple of pop crates so I could reach the counter.”
When she was in high school, the government modified a law mandating that all family-owned businesses would have to pay family members minimum wage. “I went from earning $.20 per hour to over $1 per hour,” she says. “It was great, but my parents stopped paying for other things because my siblings and I were all making money.”
As a student at Baldwin High School, Sharon focused more on athletics and art rather than academics. When she graduated in 1973, her athletic prowess earned her a full scholarship to the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) for swimming. But shortly before classes began, Sharon decided she wasn’t ready to leave home to live and study at Pitt. “I called and told them I wasn’t coming,” she says. “On the first day of classes, however, I went and enrolled at CCAC South Campus. My sister and brother were already at CCAC. My dad made me pay half my tuition, which, at the time, was $424 per year.”
CCAC South Campus classes were held in classrooms that were part of the McKeesport School District, while the present complex was under construction in West Mifflin.
As a freshman, Sharon was part of the newly-formed women’s basketball team, which reaped the benefits from the recently passed Title IX regulations that provided equal opportunities for women in sports. “I played basketball because we got free tennis shoes and I needed a pair,” she says.
When the newly-built South Campus opened, Sharon had no way of getting to the campus, but was determined to finish her education. “I didn’t have a car,” she says. “I would stand out on the road with a sign asking for a ride to CCAC. A woman would pick me up and I gave her gas money.”
After her first year at CCAC, Sharon continued working at the family store, but also worked as a lifeguard at the Baldwin Pool. There, she met Walter Young, a 1969 graduate of CCAC, who was also a lifeguard.
The two soon married and Sharon switched to night classes before graduating in 1975 with an AS in general studies. She took classes at Pitt, Penn State University and Robert Morris College, but soon found herself returning to the store. “My dad was ready to retire and turned the business over to my two sisters and me. We renamed it the ‘McGinnis Sisters Specialty Food Store'.”
When the three sisters took over the business, they closed the three smaller stores in order to build two larger stores in the South Hills and Monroeville. According to Sharon, “We didn’t have any problem getting money when we decided to open larger stores. Pittsburgh is a great town for women to do business.”
Business for the sisters is booming and Sharon said plans for opening a third location in Adams Township are underway. Since taking over the family namesake, Sharon and her sisters have won myriad awards including Carlow University’s Women of Spirit award and Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year award, among others.
Although Sharon has spent the past 30 years ensuring the growth and success of McGinnis Sisters, she’s ready to transition the business to the next generation. “My sisters and I have 10 children between us. We encourage the kids to find their own way, but like us, this store has become part of their way of life.”
Sharon, Walter and their four children, Patrick, Max, Eric and Ashley split their time between Pittsburgh and Hidden Valley. In addition to Sharon and Walter, Max and Eric also attended CCAC. “CCAC is a wonderful place that gave me great direction,” Sharon says. “My kids said their professors at CCAC were better than professors at other colleges, and I agree.”
Editor’s Note: The McGinnis Sisters Specialty Food Stores opened their third location, located in Adams Township, in September 2008.
Sharon (McGinnis) Young