The disposable income of one of Pittsburgh’s wealthiest neighborhoods, in addition to the influx of shoppers from other well-off East End neighborhoods and nearby suburbs, entices many an entrepreneur to set up shop in Shadyside.
“It’s where the best and brightest come to play,” says Harry Levine, a local architect and past president of the Shadyside Chamber of Commerce.
In addition to the neighborhood residents who patronize Shadyside
establishments, Walnut Street and Ellsworth Avenue have emerged as destination shopping districts as well, drawing in customers from a variety of locales. Plenty of shoppers roam the sidewalks of Shadyside’s two main retail corridors and sustain the various outposts that crop up there.
“Everyone comes here. It’s just an interesting neighborhood with such neat shops,” says Susan McGinty, owner of Eureka! Chocolates and Gifts
She believes that her store benefits from the many passersby. “I don’t think I’m a destination store. I need foot traffic.”
McGinty had managed several retail operations along Walnut Street when she came across the right opportunity to go to work for herself. PPG retiree Will Sell, the owner of an eponymous chocolate shop, decided to sell his business and retire for good. McGinty was a willing buyer, and some 12 years later, she has no regrets about the decision.
She notes that a few characteristics of Shadyside shoppers have contributed to her success. First, she has been able to introduce more expensive product lines in her shop, and the consumers have not been scared away by the pricier items. In fact she’s seen the opposite.
“They want to know, and they’re willing to learn,” she says of her store’s
more expensive items.
Furthermore, the customer base is extremely loyal to proprietors that emphasize good service
“It’s really just developing relationships with all of my customers. I think it’s why they come back to me,” McGinty adds.
Despite the so-called “mallification” of Walnut Street that has been much maligned since the introduction of the big-box retail outlets that now dot the street, independents like McGinty still are an important part of the mix
“We championed a balance of the individual Pittsburgh businesses with the larger store chains,” Levine says of the Chamber’s stand on retail development along Walnut Street. “We took the view that the whole street should be a lobby for the neighborhood.”
McGinty agrees that the smaller retail businesses contribute to the neighborhood’s vitality. “I am proud to be an independent,” she says. “I’m really not interested in becoming a huge conglomerate.”
For Amazing Yoga
owners Sean and Karen Conley, the decision to open a Shadyside studio three years ago was a calculated one.
“Demographically, it made more sense. Most of our students are
between 25 and 44. The neighborhood fits our style of yoga,” says Conley.
Amazing Yoga, which also has a Wexford location, offers Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga in a room heated to 90 degrees. It’s a unique concept in Pittsburgh.
To say that they’ve been pleased with the results at the Shadyside location is a bit of an understatement.
“It’s been phenomenal. It’s exceeded any expectation we had,” Conley says,noting that they initially expected to have four classes with 20 students per class. Their schedule now is up to 23 classes with between 20 and 60 attendees per session, depending on the day and time. The studio also offers special two-hour intensives, beginners workshops and retreats.
Conley estimates that 60 percent of Amazing Yoga’s students come from Shadyside, with another 30 percent coming from elsewhere in the
East End. He also suggests that the residential turnover rate in Shadyside is good for their business because it brings in new customer base fairly frequently.
The first type of Shadyside business that comes to mind may be a restaurant or a retail establishment, but there is room for professional service businesses there as well.Levine
, who worked from a home office in the neighborhood throughout grad school and his professional career, decided to focus on his own practice 12 years ago. Four kids and various pets made it impossible to work from home anymore, so he selected a 700 square-foot Walnut Street office above the former location of Rolliers.
Operating as a sole proprietorship, Levine works with freelancers and subcontractors on each individual project and has a structural engineer subletting some of his space. Levine said that about one-third of his work
has stayed in the neighborhood, on businesses including Walnut Grill
, Shady Grove
, among others.
Clearly, there are a number of successful Shadyside entrepreneurs who can set a good example for would-be business owners in the neighborhood. So, what sorts of sage advice do they offer to newcomers?
McGinty suggests that potential business owners check out the general market and any potential competition in the area. Look for businesses that are similar to what you envision, and identify ways to differentiate yourself. McGinty’s store is just a few blocks away from The Chocolate Moose
, for example, but their product focus, particularly in the lines of chocolates they sell, is different enough that both businesses succeed.
Just as they are with residential properties, the commercial rental and real estate rates are higher in Shadyside than elsewhere in Pittsburgh.
Conley cautions that the costs of a store’s space could become an obstacle for owners who initially plan too big.
“Go small with rent you can afford. If your business grows, then that’s a great problem,” he says.
Furthermore, because commercial real estate is in such high demand,
potential business owners must keep a vigilant watch for empty storefronts and act quickly to land the space when a vacancy arises.
While Shadyside business owners may pay more for rent than their counterparts in other areas do, they may be able to get by on a smaller marketing budget. Word-of-mouth advertising works wonders here.
“We’re 100 percent word of mouth,” says Conley, adding that Amazing Yoga’s only advertising is in the University of Pittsburgh student newspaper. McGinty also relies on word-of-mouth marketing for the event planning and gift basket businesses that she also operates out of her shop.
Levine emphasizes the many resources available in the Shadyside community, in particular the Shadyside Chamber of Commerce
and the Shadyside Action Committee
, and he encourages new businesses to take advantage of all that they offer.
“They both embrace new people very readily,” Levine says of the two organizations. He also encourages newcomers to be engaged in their neighborhood.
“Become involved with the community,” he offers. “Things can happen
quickly here and for the better.”
He offered the example of the WiFi network recently set up on Walnut Street. That project, spearheaded by Shadyside Inn
owner Jonathan Plesset, was turned around in about two months and has brought even more value to the business district. Levine does his part by housing a beacon between two of his workstations.
Many Shadyside business owners, including McGinty, Conley and Levine, also make their homes in the neighborhood. Not only does this make for an easy commute, it creates an additional layer of investment in the area.
The rewards – both financial and emotional – can be plentiful for those who are brave enough to test the business waters in Shadyside. A number of success stories can serve as inspiration and guidance for those who choose to take the plunge.
Walking on Walnut Street
Thai Place Restaurant
Ice Cream Sculptures, Maser Gallery
Little Black Dress
The Chocolate Moose
House near EllsworthAll photographs copyright © Brian Cohen