Diana Nelson Jones' Walkabout: Deutschtown’s East Ohio Street is gaining attention
October 27, 2015 12:00 AM
The neighborhood welcome sign on East Ohio Street.
By Diana Nelson Jones / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Every few years, a blip of energy on East Ohio Street makes me believe the commercial corridor is gaining momentum, only to make me wait … and wait … and think, “Hmmm, maybe not.”
Now I’m back with another round of optimism, and this time I’m sticking to it because impatience informed those “maybe not” moments. Every blip of energy, cumulatively, is momentum.
“It takes time,” Randy Strothman, a friend and Deutschtown activist, told me the other day as we talked with Cody Walters at Arnold’s Tea & Cafe about the latest scheme to get eyes on the North Side neighborhood, most specifically along East Ohio Street.
The target is next-generation entrepreneurs, artists and leaders.
Mr. Strothman is part of a merry band of creative types that last year installed larger-than-life poster boards of historic photographs on empty storefronts as a “curb appeal” project. This year, he wrote a proposal for a $1,000 Buhl Foundation grant through the Sprout Fund to pay for a video, which he co-produced and wrote, pitching Deutschtown as a great place to live, work, play and invest in.
Deutschtown advocates found matches and then some, rounding the grant money up to $4,200. The video can be seen at deutschtown.org/about.
The idea for the video came from Abe Stucky, a recent PULSE (Pittsburgh Urban Leadership Service Experience) fellow at the Northside Leadership Conference. He had been inspired by a similar video project of the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corp.
Mr. Stucky knew videographer Dylan Priest, who did most of the filming for the three-minute promotion that makes Deutschtown look and seem absolutely wonderful. It isn’t absolutely wonderful, but with gorgeous Victorian architecture, Allegheny Commons Park as a front yard, a decent commercial corridor, a major hospital and supermarket, a 20-minute walk to Downtown and a location right up against two highways — I-279 and Route 28 — it probably should be trending furiously.
East Ohio Street has had a persistent little clutch of noise and troublemakers and a chronic problem with litter, but Mr. Walters, the leadership conference’s Main Street manager, doesn’t find those daunting. In fact, he has had enough calls from restaurateurs, retailers and other investors to form a waiting list for storefronts. Several buildings have recently sold or are under sales agreements.
East Ohio’s recent infusion of new businesses includes Arnold’s Tea & Cafe — the neighborhood’s new meeting place — and The Farmer’s Daughter flower shop and Subba, a Nepali-Bhutanese restaurant.
Allegheny City Brewing is opening around the end of the year on Foreland Street at the former Amani Cafe, said Al Grasso, one of three native Pittsburghers partnering in the enterprise. All three moved to Colorado more than 10 years ago “and we each found our way back,” bringing craft brewing experience with them.
The long-shuttered nuisance bar Rebels will be replaced by an office and possibly a bank, Mr. Walters said. Slovak Savings Bank is interested in opening a branch on the street, said its chief operating officer, Jennifer Harris.
Mr. Walters three years ago founded the Deutschtown Music Festival, a one-day event that showcased some 80 bands at more than a dozen neighborhood venues last July. The neighborhood’s history helps breed his optimism.
“My house was built in the 1850s, so that’s historic, but I also can live in a historic way — being able to walk to things,” including his job.
Rachel Booth moved to Deutschtown five years ago and has been active with the group of advocates on projects including the photo boards on empty storefronts. Her video testimonial touts Deutschtown’s amenities and proximity to Downtown.
She and her husband, Eric, moved to Pittsburgh from Maryland seven years ago and lived Downtown for two years before finding Deutschtown.
“We had the opportunity to relocate anywhere we wanted, and we looked at places all over the country,” she said. “I did online quizzes that asked what you value in a place and Pittsburgh kept popping up.
“My husband has extended family in Washington County. He said, ‘I don’t think Pittsburgh is what you think it is,’ because he remembers it from when he was 10. But we visited and fell in love with it.”
They’re planning a move soon, but like a lot of people on the North Side, theirs is a move you can walk to. Oh yeah, they’re staying in Deutschtown.
Correction (posted Oct. 27): A previous version incorrectly said the Slovak Savings Bank was interested in moving from its current site in Brighton Heights; it has been updated to say that the bank is looking into opening a branch on East Ohio Street.
Diana Nelson Jones: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1626.
To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to
email@example.com and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner.