I have only recently become Strip savvy. Despite a few years living over in Bloomfield, not more than a mile up the road, I only ever dabbled in Strip District shopping. A loaf from Mancini’s here, or a stop-in at DeLuca’s. I had a birthday dinner at Kaya’s once. I’ve been to the Heinz History Center more times than I can count. None of that really seems to count.
When I moved to Dormont, the only things I missed about the East End were in Bloomfield, Lawrenceville, Friendship. I never even considered how much farther I was going to be from the Strip District.
So how, if my living distance from the Strip has only increased, did I finally fall for the charms and bargains of this glorious market district? Well, for one, in January of this year, I was laid off. Now, I loved my job, loved it to an absurd degree, and I miss it terribly, even the not-so-great aspects of the job (and to be honest, there were more than a few). But one of the minor positives of no longer working that same position was that I was afforded a new schedule by my 9-to-5 office job, namely that, for the first time since my high school part-time job days, I would have entire weekends off. That’s right. Not just Saturday. Not just Sunday. THE ENTIRE WEEKEND FREE. Emerging from the first week at my new job, I looked into the mirror, and the person looking back at me was no longer a simple retail manager. No… the person looking back at me was a WEEKEND WARRIOR.
Another reason for falling in love with the Strip District was that as the winter season melts away and leads into a beautiful, bountiful spring, I always get a tad romantic about my outdoor ventures. Every place I go outside my immediate neighborhood, whether is a few miles down the road to grab dinner with a friend, or going across town to catch a movie in Squirrel Hill, I savor every moment of no longer being snowed in. With the soaring freedom comes a willingness to try new things and go places I don’t usually go. Going to the Strip that first Saturday morning was probably just a tossed off idea, provided from one friend to a few as a possibly entertaining thing to do one weekend. How did I know that casual suggestion would spawn a bi-weekly ritual, a devotion that is as much religion as I care to invoke.
(This is, of course, why one should always proceed with caution when suggesting fun things to do to their friends. What starts as a friendly, one-off game of paintball for some could quickly become an obsession for another. Who knows what spiraling addictions a simple night out could cause?)
Also, as my kitchen skills have grown, I’ve become less reliant on the same old produce I’ve used time and time again. Well, maybe not less reliant. Let’s face it, chopped bell pepper, onion, mushrooms, garlic, and greens are always going to go great on top of pasta or rice or between two slices of bread. I have expanded my go-to produce list to include squashes and avocados and eggplant and radishes and beets. I’ve explored the vast array of potatoes, developed a taste for fresh herbs, and embraces the tomato in all of its variations. As my produce tastes have grown, I’ve required places that I could not only obtain my fix, but also get it cheap. One trip to Stan’s at the Strip, and I was sunk: here was almost anything I’d ever need for a dish and for the kind of prices that made them all the more available to me.
Regardless of the reasons why, I am a fool in love with the Strip. Is it the very best place in Pittsburgh for fresh foods? Yes… and no. There is an added significance when you purchase from local farms and artisans at a neighborhood fresh market, a power that comes from being a very present, very active reason that these small business are able to survive. You don’t get the same kind of satisfaction from shopping among the bustling crowds in the Strip District. Things are less intimate, less personal, less one-to-one. (Lest we forget the bothersome tourists, who really need to be taught that gawking and walking can be done at the same time.)
Although things are evolving. The recent opening of the Pittsburgh Public Market on Smallman Street has re-emphasized the importance of small local business in the Strip. As noted on the website for the market, commercial space on Penn Avenue is increasingly rare, while the price of renting a space is skyrocketing. With a large space devoted to bringing small vendors into what is an already very popular shopping area, the Public Market is serving the need for these farms, artisans, and small businesses to continually reach out to new customer bases, while serving the desire of local consumers to buy local, organic, sustainable goods.
If you haven’t really embraced Strip District shopping, now’s the time to give it a try. If you’re extremely crowd averse, avoid Saturdays (although early, early in the AM is okay). Sundays are a little more easygoing, but the best time to go is a weekday morning, when slow-moving tourists are at a low and many of the stands are getting their week’s shipments. Don’t avoid it on the weekends entirely, however. The Pittsburgh Public Market is open Fridays, 9 am – 6 pm, Saturdays 9am – 5pm, and Sundays from 10am – 4pm.