One of the great things about living in Pittsburgh is the Strip District – the city’s version of a working market district. In our city, many people still shop for their pastas, olive oil, meats, fish, breads and pastries from local merchants, butchers and bakers. The traditions of Eastern Europe, Italy, Asia, and South America are alive and well there, albeit in a uniquely Pittsburgh way. It’s hard to find perogies, haluski, asiago and piave, locally made wines, homemade biscotti, fresh Italian pizzas, cannoli, South American treats like the Peruvian Pollo a la Brasa, old fashioned candy, Asian bbq chicken from a hot grill, and Italian espresso, side-by-side along the street in other U.S. cities.
The scene is amazing on the traditional shopping days, Friday and Saturday. It is a good lesson in the energy and excitement created by original “Pop-Up” retail that takes over the sidewalks, streets, and parking lots to create a totally new environment. This transformation attracts thousands of folks every weekend who come to enjoy the experience as much as the food or shopping. The walk through four or five blocks is like being in an old world bazaar – nothing slick or “designed” by any means. The Strip District is organic urbanism at its best.
The chance to make this experience part of a weekly routine connects Pittsburghers back to their roots, back to a completely social way of gathering groceries and anything else with the Steelers, Penguins or Pirates logo printed on it. The transformation of a nondescript street, with pretty shabby looking buildings, into a weekly event that draws from all over the region provides insight into how ordinary places can also work as great public spaces.