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Letters: New views for retail (no Nordstrom fans)

Sunday, December 31, 2000

City business grants

Downtown Pittsburgh has two features I think are very important: It is different from other shopping areas, and it serves the needs of the people who already spend time Downtown. Both of these features need to be maintained in planning the area's future.

People who are accustomed to shopping in the suburbs will not come Downtown to shop at the same old chain stores. Locally owned businesses give Downtown a unique ambiance and offer merchandise that's not available in the malls.

The city should offer grants to small businesses to enable them to extend their operating hours during a trial period. If businesses get enough customers during the extended hours, they'll be able to afford to maintain those hours permanently, making Downtown a more viable evening destination.

The city might also provide grants to entrepreneurs to facilitate the opening of more locally owned businesses, which strengthen our local tax base instead of funneling our money to out-of-state corporate headquarters.

Mayor Murphy's focus has been drawing upper-class suburbanites into Downtown by catering to their needs and trying to push out people who might make Downtown seem "tacky" or "unsafe." This approach does not serve the best interests of the city. Downtown is filled with low-wage and medium-wage workers who need affordable places to eat and shop. Existing chain stores such as Lerner New York, Burlington Coat Factory and G.C. Murphy and existing affordable restaurants serve the needs of ordinary working people who would be hurt by excessive gentrification.

Also, many low- and middle-income people shop Downtown because it is easy to get there by bus. Mayor Murphy would destroy the "unsightly" businesses that serve these people, in favor of pandering to people who whine about how hard it is to park their cars Downtown.

In fact, there is more than enough car traffic Downtown already. The last thing we need is more people driving there! Instead, replace the hideous swath of surface lots at the Downtown end of the Strip District with buildings containing street-level retail space and parking garages on upper or underground levels. Provide free shuttles from the garages into Downtown, or give free PAT tokens to people who park there.

To further reduce congestion Downtown, build tunnels under the major streets and run most of the bus routes underground, leaving a few above-ground routes for the sole purpose of getting people around Downtown and the near vicinity. This would increase pedestrian safety, and it would enable bus riders to get home quickly at the end of the day instead of sitting in a bus that is struggling through traffic. The city should consider giving discounted transit passes to Downtown commuters to encourage them to take the bus or T and decrease parking hassles.

Pittsburgh should take a look at Philadelphia, which has lots of residents in its Center City area because it has lots of affordable apartments (many of which are on the upper levels of retail buildings) and several supermarkets. A supermarket in Downtown Pittsburgh would also serve residents of the Hill District and other neighborhoods that have no supermarkets but have easy access to Downtown. A discount department store might also flourish in Downtown Pittsburgh; the Kmart in Center City Philadelphia seems to be doing well.

Tourists will visit our Downtown if it is an interesting, vibrant place, different not only from our suburbs but also from other cities. The way to achieve this is not by tailoring things to tourists but by making Downtown a great place for people who already use it. If we are happy there, we'll tell others!

Squirrel Hill

More stores for all

I would just like to say that there have been several occasions that I needed to make a purchase in Downtown Pittsburgh and was unsuccessful.

I work full time in town. Last week, I wanted to make a simple purchase -- hangers for skirts or pants. I went to 4 stores including Kaufmann's, CVS, Eckerd and Murphy's, and I could not find a store which sold hangers. I had to go to Ames or Kmart; of course, they are located in the suburbs and not in Downtown Pittsburgh.

Twice within the past year I had a need to buy video games such as for Nintendo or Playstation, and hand held games. I have many nieces and nephews to buy Christmas and birthday presents for, and I would prefer to do this while I am in town on my lunch break. Again I visited several stores and could not locate these types of games. The shops Downtown are not all inclusive -- we are still forced to go to the malls and other stores that are offered in the suburbs.

Also, if a new department store is needed, it should be one that is appropriate for the budget of many people, not just a select few. I recommend a Kohl's for Downtown Pittsburgh. Their prices are within reason and they have a great selection of merchandise. If you want people to come to Pittsburgh, stay in Pittsburgh, shop in Pittsburgh, then make stores available that will meet our needs.


Restaurant, stores

Observing the early success of the Palomino restaurant in Gateway Center, I can't help but think that a similar style establishment would be a good fit on Fifth Avenue. With word that LERNER/NY is closing its store there, let me suggest the Murphy administration or property owner work to attract a Palomino-style restaurant to fill that void. Its location across the street from Lazarus, coupled with the Fifth Avenue entrance to the Oliver Garage would seem to make it an ideal spot. It would address the absence of restaurants in that corridor, for one and possibly draw shoppers to nearby stores, especially Lazarus, which should have included a restaurant in its plans before it was built.

As for retail, why not go after a handful of stores popular in malls. Stores like the "QED Store of Knowledge," "Natural Wonders," etc. Yes, they are in the malls, but that's the only place you'll find them. Adding them to the mix with the four major department stores would go a long way in filling out Downtown's retail offerings.

I also believe if Downtown is going to become successful as a place to live some kind of effort should be made to attract a grocer to fill another glaring void. It wouldn't need to be on the scale of a Giant Eagle, but something akin to the old Market inside GC Murphy's.


I want a grocery store

As a Downtown resident I would like to have a grocery store in town where I could buy fruits, vegetables and milk.


Stores, restaurants, etc.

I have many fond memories of shopping and dining in Downtown Pittsburgh as it existed in the 1950s, and can recall spending countless pleasant hours there.

Here are some of the things I miss the most and would like to see return to the Downtown area:

A food market similar to the former Donahoe's. Many shoppers would appreciate the convenience of a downtown market selling a wide variety of food items.

Restaurants equal to the Stouffer restaurants once located on Penn Ave. and Smithfield St. Such restaurants provided delicious food and excellent service in areas adjacent to department stores.

A J.C. Penney or a Sears store. Top-of-the-line stores are fine, but not everyone can afford them.

A movie theater that occasionally includes a short stage show (perhaps on weekends only) and features vocalists, musicians, etc.

It also would be helpful to have year-round transportation to shuttle shoppers from store to store, something similar to the Holly Trolley provided during the Christmas season.

And finally, since Western Pennsylvania already has a plethora of boxlike cinemas and malls, please keep the architecturally interesting and historic buildings located Downtown.


No department stores

Right now we have four big department stores. But I can't afford to shop in them. The mayor wants people to live in town but where will they shop for food? We need food store likes Giant Eagle, Shop 'n Save or Kuhn's. He forgets about that. And it would be nice if we had an Ames or Kmart or Wal-Mart for the not-so-rich people. For people who are on social security and who only make the minimum wage. A lot of people don't drive, and these stores would be nice for us.

And what happened to all the bus stops about a year ago? I could sit and wait for my bus. They took them out, and now I have to stand and wait for my bus. Why did they take the seats out?

And we need someplace to dance in town. Like we used to.

My kind of stores are D.K., the old Murphy's and the new Dollar Store. Please keep these in town. Even a Family Dollar would be nice. Now for restaurants, contact Kings, Eat'n Park or maybe even Denny's. Ask them if they would be willing to open a restaurant. Right now I can't get to any of these restaurants because I don't drive.


Make it family friendly

Thank you so very much for requesting the opinions of city residents.

I think free parking should be a given, although we do not own a car. It is just a good idea.

Also, right now Downtown is not family friendly. Instead of new high-class department stores; the city families would be happy with a Chuck E. Cheese or Discovery Zone. It would be so nice if Downtown were for families, again.

The department stores would benefit from more Christmas activities, as well. Remember when Kaufmann's had rides and puppets at Christmas time? The Easter Bunny on Easter? Gimbels had the talking Christmas tree. These were fun for children and families.

Squirrel Hill

Nice, clean stores

As a citizen of Pittsburgh I would like to express my view about Fifth and Forbes Plan C.

I would like to see attractive storefronts and backs very catching to the eye as you enter the Downtown business section.

Repaved streets and sidewalks especially on the Forbes street side. The sidewalks lined with beautiful trees.

Market Square should be a big attraction for getting people to come to downtown. Like an ice skating rink right in the center of Market Square. Surrounded by affordable eating places and surrounding stores should be attractive that they drew people into them.

As for housing, maybe one or two fancy apartment buildings right in the heart of town.

Looks, cleanliness and above all affordable stores, restaurants and movie houses.


Parking, pedestrian mall

I don't think Downtown will ever compete with suburban malls until there is free parking in the evenings and on weekends. In an established, older city, if you want additional parking you always build up or dig down. How about across or over the rivers? My late uncle suggested this back in the '60s, and I don't think any of us took it seriously. I have no idea as to the engineering or economic feasibility but he was right in saying there is plenty of space. I don't know if he envisioned a bridge-type structure or just a platform jutting out from the shore line, but I pass it on.

I'd like to see Forbes Avenue closed to traffic and turned into a pedestrian outdoors mall with plenty of benches, trees, etc. My type of stores (many of which you don't find in the malls) would be bake shops, hardware stores, 5 & 10's, Isaly's, small jewelry stores, Fashion Hosiery type stores, specialty leather or hat stores, card and gift shops, flower shops, stationery, book and record (excuse me, I mean CDs), cigar stores, etc. I have not been there but I understand Cumberland, Md., has this type of pedestrian mall which is very attractive. I realize the younger generation has grown up with suburban malls, but I think they too would enjoy this type of setting, and the major department stores would still be nearby.

North Side

Loans for businesses

The first thing that needs to be done is to spend some of the proposed money that was to be spent on attracting Nordstrom on the merchants that are presently located in the Fifth Avenue corridor. Interest-free loans or help in improving, cleaning, and refurbishing the stores is in order.

Secondly, create a large, free parking lot with transportation to the area via bus, etc.

Lastly consider the creation of a Chinatown that would rival that presently found in New York or San Francisco. Spend the money to attract foreign investment in restaurants, Oriental shopping, etc. This would attract people who would never come to Pittsburgh, create interest for businesses to relocate and promote tourism in the area.

Fox Chapel

Historical section

The Fifth and Forbes project should put all the Mama and Papa shops together and call it the historical section, fix up the historical buildings, replace those buildings that can be torn down with newer buildings and put in companies that fit the square yardage in those buildings, and we don't need a Nordstorm. What about Macy's or another large retail company? Fix the roads and sidewalks! Make the lights Downtown into old-style lamps with hanging stuff, like New Orleans has. We need to keep the old and blend in the new without hurting the history of this city. Our new convention center, which will be three times larger than the previous one, is still three times smaller than Atlanta's. Why wait until five years goes by to expand on the convention center?

Tear down the old buildings that no one is living in and replace them with newer homes or townhouses.


Small, low-rent stores

It seems to me that the greatest strength of the Downtown areas is the central location.

The current proposals are based on the idea that if the right national chains are Downtown, people will come to shop at them. However, the vast majority of those who could go Downtown will always have easier and cheaper access to very similar chains nearby and through the mail and Internet.

If public money is to be spent on Downtown development of commercial interests, it should be spent on the commercial interests of the people paying for it -- and not by jobs at large department stores. Instead, a Downtown development plan should encourage as many people as possible to start small businesses Downtown.

This can be done by the creation of a large number of small, low-rent stores that can easily be configured for a variety of uses, providing basic instruction on small-business management and accounting, and creating a forum for interested people to contact each other to set up a business or give ideas to those wanting to start one. This would create a unique selection of local businesses of all types that cannot be found anywhere else.

Point Breeze

Inspectors: Nail them

I believe enacting and enforcing strict codes on current property owners could have an impact. Over the years the owners and their business tenants were able to let storefronts become unsightly and downright disgusting in some instances. The owners themselves have done more than their share of destroying this "historically significant" area with their neglect. Maybe if public money is used to restore the area we can have in place guarantees that the eyesores will not return to their current status. Some of these landlords were nothing but slumlords.


Clubs, restaurants

I don't think that it's necessary to make Downtown a place to live. Downtown should be the place to be during the day for shopping and during the weeknights and weekends, for entertainment and dining.

When there were three department stores in Downtown Pittsburgh, it formed a true "Golden Triangle" of Kaufmann's, Horne's and Gimbels. People would go to all three stores to compare prices on products, but would stop at stores on Fifth, Liberty and Sixth avenues and bought many items from these secondary stores.

It would have been wiser to spend money on Horne's and Gimbels to keep them here and to make them competitive with Kaufmann's, so people would explore all the secondary stores. Since we lost them, we're spending a lot of money to bring in other large stores.

When Murphy's had a food, bakery, fish and meat market, not only did it supply people Downtown, but everyone from the surrounding area went there because it had fresh food and good prices.

In the 1950s, the place to be for shopping, dining and entertainment was Downtown Pittsburgh, because of the varied amount of stores and the variety of entertainment. People would go to one club or restaurant then go to another and then to another.

We need more small- to intermediate-sized clubs and restaurants that offer live entertainment in Downtown Pittsburgh during the evening. This will draw more people, or keep them there after work, into Downtown at night.

These clubs/restaurants should be reasonably priced for drinks and admission to attract college students and other young people in their 20s, 30s and 40s.

More street parking should be made available after 7 p.m., especially on the larger streets, including Fifth and Liberty avenues.


Like Jenkins Arcade

If they make changes Downtown that would result in numerous small businesses having to relocate, why can't they build something for them on the order of the old Jenkins Arcade? I always thought this was a great place for that sort of thing.

I also wish it was easier to get to town. I refuse to pay the high cost of parking, not to mention the hassle. But if I want to go Downtown from Morningside, it requires either two buses or a good hike to the zoo lot.


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