City Walkabout: Newcomers find they have appetite for busy Brookline
April 24, 2012 5:00 PM
Diana Nelson Jones/Post-Gazette
Nate Mallory, left, chats with Stephanie Miller and Keith Knecht of the South Pittsburgh Development Corp. at Cannon Coffee in Brookline.
By Diana Nelson Jones Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
When a story raises its head in Brookline, my ears perk up a little higher.
Whatever the story is, my trip there means I might have time to stop at Las Palmas for prepared fajita ingredients and Pitaland for olives and pita. These are destination stores, and destinations are economic engines for neighborhoods.
The East End has most of the buzz in Pittsburgh these days, but Brookline, the largest southern neighborhood, has a little buzz of its own, with or without the proposed Burgh Bees apiary on Whited Street.
Ryan and Jennifer Askey, a young couple who bought a home there three years ago, recognized that the variety and number of eating establishments could help put Brookline on the map. They suggested the neighborhood's first Taste of Brookline, which they are helping to organize on Sunday evening. The event will raise funds for the South Pittsburgh Development Corp. and its improvement projects. They and others want to show people in the rest of the city what they've been overlooking.
Stephanie Miller is managing Taste of Brookline for the Brookline Chamber of Commerce and the South Pittsburgh Development Corp. She is also preparing businesses for a $5 million streetscape reconstruction project next year.
The streetscape improvements are expected to take from nine months to a year and include 50 new street trees.
"We're saying, 'It'll be a great improvement, let's get through this,' " she said. "We are promoting the 3/50 national buying program in which consumers are asked to spend $50 a month at three businesses that they would not want to lose in the neighborhood."
The reward for those who meet that spending threshold is a $5 voucher to spend anywhere on the boulevard.
To afford the voucher, the chamber is applying through the nonprofit status of the development corporation for a $2,300 Urban Redevelopment Authority grant, said Nate Mallory, a founder of Cannon Coffee and vice president of the chamber.
The Askeys, both foodies, moved to Brookline from Mount Washington, where they had rented. They grew up in Perryopolis "and have become addicted to living in the city," he said.
"We knew we wanted to be close to transit and to Downtown, and we found Brookline," which resembles a small town in the city, he said. "It was almost bizarrely undervalued."
They picked up on a street energy that began when Las Palmas started bringing a taco stand to the sidewalk on weekends.
"Last summer Pitaland got in on it" with a gyro stand, Ms. Askey said. "Now Pitaland is out on weekends and Las Palmas is out every day. It's becoming a street-food destination.
"A lot of people didn't know much about our neighborhood, and we thought 'Taste of' would be a great opportunity to bring new faces and show them what we have to offer."
Keith Knecht, vice president of the South Pittsburgh Development Corp., said that in the last five or so years, "We have had a lot of people somehow landing in Brookline, most under 30. I have met them at Cannon Coffee, and they have become enthusiastically involved" in community events and projects.
Brookline isn't a pass-through neighborhood, Ms. Miller said, but it's easily found online by people searching for preferences.
"Brookline has tremendous housing stock for the money," Mr. Knecht said. "It's safe, it's close to Downtown, and we have a business district that's improving."
Taste of Brookline is from 6 to 9 p.m. Sunday at the Ritz Banquet Hall, 736 Brookline Blvd. Tickets are $25, which gets you food, beverages including beer and wine, and musical entertainment by Jack Stanizzo of the Contrails, who had a local hit with the single "Someone" in 1967, and guitarist Paul Lowe.
Tickets can be purchased at tasteofbrookline.com or at A-Boss Optical, Cannon Coffee or Kribel's Bakery, all on the boulevard.
Participating are Vinnie's Pretzel Shoppe, Pitaland, Las Palmas, Cannon Coffee, Moonlite Cafe, the Party Cake Shop, Kribel's Bakery, the Getaway Cafe, Brookline Pub and Antonio's Pizzeria. Burgh Bees and TRASH, the Three Rivers Alliance of Serious Homebrewers, will also participate.