For the past several years, credit-card giant American Express has sponsored Small Business Saturday, which is a promotion for the Saturday after Thanksgiving to encourage shoppers to support small businesses. While a great idea on paper, the event has been criticized as merely a public-relations ploy.
Regardless of who’s sending the message, it’s still an important one. But, instead of an annual focus, we should try to patronize our region’s small businesses year-round. Small Business Saturday 2017 may be over, but the Pittsburgh area has many walkable business districts with small businesses to patronize. You don’t have to deal with through traffic and giant mall parking lots to find great gifts. You’ll also feel great since you are supporting your neighbor’s business. But buying local is not just about making you feel good, it is also better for the region. According to the American Independent Business Alliance, on average, 48 percent of each purchase at local independent businesses gets put back into the local economy, compared to less than 14 percent of purchases at chains.
There are dozens of local shops to visit, and while everyone knows about the Strip District, here are a few other suggestions to get you started.
For decades, Butler Street in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Lawrenceville acted mostly as a highway that drivers would take to get to the eastern portion of the city. Its storefronts were vacant and pedestrian activity was minimal. Now, Butler Street is arguably the most popular business district in the region, attracting city and suburban residents most days of the week.
Boutiques and shops abound, and you can purchase fun gifts at Wildcard, or some scented candles at The Candle Lab. City Grows offers some great decorative house plants, and Pittsburgh Furniture Company offers unique, vintage furniture that is expertly curated (the store has even been featured in the New York Times). Espresso a Mano is the perfect place to grab a coffee to fuel your shopping, and you can relax with a craft beer at Roundabout Brewery or Hop Farm when you are done.
Mount Lebanon Uptown business district is your best bet for shopping in the South Hills. It’s compact; has plenty of shops, amenities and restaurants; and can even be reached by light-rail. Grab an Irish-themed gift or wool sweater at Celtic Cross and then shop for a guitar or even a ukulele for your musically inclined friend. Ona Boutique offers some high-class apparel, and Dinardo’s Candy next door has all the sweets you could desire. Finish the day off with a slice of pizza. You have your choice of fancy (Il Pizzaiolo) or greasy, hot and fast (Mineo’s).
A shopping day in Oakmont must begin at Oakmont Bakery for carbs and coffee. The bakery consistently wins Pittsburgh City Paper’s “Best of Pittsburgh.” After a snack, head over to Mystery Lovers Bookshop for the best selection of thrillers and suspense novels, as well as a good collection of non-fiction and general-interest books.
The small town on the edge of Allegheny County has a booming business district. Restaurants, bars, and shops dot most corners of Beaver Street and beyond. The town even has a brand-new, two-screen movie theater, Tull Family Theaters. Penguin Bookshop is a perennial favorite and often hosts local authors (Pittsburgh Dad stopped by once and the town went nuts). Sewickley Yarns is the perfect place to get that hard-to-find-thread for the knitter in your family. And for the family’s resident geek (this is a term of endearment now), Big Bang Comics & Collectables offers the latest editions of Marvel, DC, and Image comics, and a plethora of action figures and toys. Sewickley also has a dog bakery for gifts for the pooches, and Orr’s Jewelry has the finest metals for that really special gift.
In Pittsburgh, before there was Butler Street in Lawrenceville, there was trendy Walnut Street in Shadyside. The few blocks near the west side of the neighborhood have been such a popular shopping district for so long, that big businesses, like Apple, have moved in. But try to avoid the big boys (they hardly need your money) and patronize some of the longstanding small businesses that make the neighborhood great. Kards Unlimited has all the best tchotchkes and humorous gifts to give your friends and family laughs over the holidays. For gifts for a sweet-tooth, check out eureka! chocolates and gifts where the chocolates look like works of art. And then invest in some quality leather products at Roberta Weissburg Leathers. Cap off the day with a beer and some pub grub at Cappy’s, the favored hangout of Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto.