Posted: 24 Mar 2012 04:55 AM PDT
If you didn’t know that our school is in the neighborhood of East Liberty, you should, because you’ve probably walked or taken a bus down Penn Avenue numerous times. What you probably didn’t know, or never would have guessed, is that it used to be a booming business district. However, it’s not so booming anymore. Many of the stores are boarded up and the ones that are open don’t get the business a store in the mall might get.
The East Liberty Business District wasn’t always like that. In fact, it thrived and flourished during the 1940s and 50s. To add to the prosperous commercial businesses, the residents of East Liberty were all very close, creating a tight community. Sometimes, it was referred to as Pittsburgh’s “second downtown.”
In 1958, East Liberty’s strength was put to the test when they experienced their first commercial vacancies. In response, the major business owners began one of the biggest urban renewal projects. However, the project had the opposite effect that many people had hoped it would have; the small local businesses were replaced with one-story retail stores placed up and down the streets, and Penn Circle was built, which actually drew the traffic away from the business district. The failure of the renewal project was the reason so many businesses closed and families moved away.
In 1979, the East Liberty Development, Inc. was founded (ELDI) to organize the revitalization of East Liberty. However, many of their attempts to get businesses up and running again failed and East Liberty remained in the same economic situation. Starting in the 1990s ELDI began to plan more development projects and became determined to bring the booming business district back to life.
Looking at East Liberty now, we could say they have done a pretty good job. A Target was just opened this past summer on the corner of Penn Avenue. In the vacant lot next to Eastminister Presbyterian Church they are starting the construction of new townhouses, just like the ones on Negley Avenue. In the plaza on Center Avenue, there is a Starbucks, a Whole Foods and many other small chain stores. Down the street there are a bunch of newly opened small restaurants including Spoon and Paris 66, which are both very nice and expensive places to eat. We can’t forget about Bakery Square, which is right across the street from our school and has become a popular place to go for coffee at Coffee Tree and subs at Jimmy John’s.
East Liberty has come so far since its economic downfall in the late 1950s. Its business district is quickly expanding in a variety of different directions and the residential area continues to slowly make a comeback. ELDI continues to plan for development projects and look at traffic patterns. East Liberty is slowly but surely continuing to make its return to the popular, booming business district it was in the 1940s and 50s.