One evening last summer, Rachelle Timarac and a friend went to Bloomfield for pizza. Other people were walking and hanging out at sidewalk tables on Liberty Avenue.
"There was electricity in the air, and I got a really good vibe," she said, "but I saw so many vacant storefronts and couldn't understand why."
One in particular caught her eye -- 4615 Liberty Ave., a former Dollar Tree that had been vacant for almost two years. Five weeks ago, she opened GoldNGals, an antique jewelry store, there.
It is one of 14 new businesses that have opened in Bloomfield since 2011.
Terry Aiello, the neighborhood Main Streets manager, said one factor driving this growth spurt is a typically lower rent than in Shadyside, Lawrenceville, East Liberty and Squirrel Hill.
Most Bloomfield rentals range from $700 to $1,500 a month.
The monthly rent for a quality 1,000-square-foot retail space in Lawrenceville can be as high as $2,200; in Squirrel Hill about $2,500. In Shadyside and East Liberty, it can range from $1,500 to $4,000.
David Glickman, director of retail services at the Pittsburgh office of Newmark Grubb Knight Frank, an international commercial real estate firm, said Bloomfield has been overshadowed by East End neighborhoods that have been popping in recent years.
"It has a lot of small individual property owners and smaller buildings," he said. The rents remain low because, while there are attractions there, it does not have big destinations, and parking is an issue. "But in many ways it's thriving with small, independent businesses."
As cities nationally are growing population, he said, "things seem to be falling into place nicely" in Pittsburgh.
The universities, companies like Google and other employers that are changing the demographic are "helping build a younger base," he said, "plus urban areas have added better amenities that attract young people -- more nice apartments, stores like Trader Joe's, fitness centers, bike lanes.
"Bloomfield is well located, has population density and good foot traffic."
Being adjacent to Lawrenceville, which he called "a super hip place," should make Bloomfield an obvious next bloomer, but he said its traditional aesthetics as Little Italy differentiates it. "Bloomfield shouldn't try to become Lawrenceville; it has its own strengths to play on."
D.J. Smulick, who lives in Bloomfield, found a vacant storefront in late summer and opened D.J.'s Sausage & Catering at 4623 Liberty Ave. last month. He was a chef at Cafe Sam, the Duquesne Club and the Steelhead Grill before deciding to open his own butcher shop, which he said he stocks as much as possible from local farms.
His building used to be a dry cleaner, vacant for two years, with 2,100 square feet and a full cellar.
"I started making sausage and selling it at farmers' markets and was doing pretty well, but I wanted a place where I could showcase the sausage I make," he said. "I chose Bloomfield because it is diverse and has clothing, record stores, markets, restaurants and bars. And people say 'hi' when you walk down the street."
Both he and Ms. Timarac said that since Bloomfield is not an affluent neighborhood, they try to keep prices affordable.
"This has been a dream I have saved for 21/2 years," said Ms. Timarac, who sells her collection of antique jewelry. "I decided to offer them back to the public, things you can't find anymore. A lot of people have old, maybe inherited, jewelry that they don't want, but other people do."
Dennis Yeung's family has operated multiple restaurants but noted that Bloomfield didn't have a sushi restaurant when they opened Ginza at 4734 Liberty in June. Since then, Fukuda Sushi has opened just up the street.
But the neighborhood is still playing on its Italian strength: the new Ilario's Trattoria is expected to open at 4744 Liberty on Tuesday.
"I refer to Bloomfield as the Brooklyn of Pittsburgh," said city Councilman Bill Peduto, who represents the neighborhood. "It's where the blue-haired long-timers meet the kids with the blue mohawks, where if it snows, he will clear her walk and if she's making pasta, there's an extra plate for him."
There's long been a dug-in attitude that keeps Bloomfield authentic and even a little old-fashioned, but that may be an asset among young people, he said.
"Bloomfield isn't a boom town because it never went down," he said. "It goes at its own pace, but it is on the upswing."