Second Life | City Guide 2008 Resource Guide | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Second Life 

Pittsburgh was built by hardworking immigrants who knew how to watch pennies. You'll find those thrifty roots run deep here, and are complemented by today's trendy exhortations to go green: One easy way to consume less stuff, and save more money, is simply to reuse.

Those looking for secondhand bargains around town are in luck. A fortuitous combination of factors -- such as longtime residents and homes with ample storage space -- means yard sales can offer large varieties of goods. As Pittsburgh's aging population downsizes and relocates, estate sales may proffer entire households of useful items.

Mirroring larger demographic shifts, many thrift stores have moved to the suburbs. Goodwill has several stores throughout Allegheny County (, including a used-computer outlet at 2600 E. Carson St. (412-481-0922), on the South Side. (If you must have the latest set-up, consider donating your putty-colored tower.) The Salvation Army keeps South Side hipsters warm at 44 S. Ninth St. (412-481-7900). Two smaller charity stores in Bloomfield -- Junior League Wearafter Shop (4752 Liberty Ave., 412-687-2600) and The Clothes Line (4804 Liberty Ave., 412-621-2498) -- are good sources for respectable work clothes, especially for the ladies.

Despite the challenging parking situations, locals love the two Red, White and Blue thrift stores, packed with usable cast-offs and offering a high turnover of goods. Expect crowds and elbows in the ribs on Saturday mornings. One's near the Liberty Tubes, at 890 Saw Mill Run Blvd. (412-381-1060); the other is 935 Ohio River Blvd., near Bellevue (412-766-6098).

Youthful clotheshorses will want to check out Avalon Exchange in Squirrel Hill (5858 Forbes Ave., 412-421-2911), where trendoids recycle last month's fashions. (Those seeking true vintage style, or venues that offer contemporary restylings incorporating vintage, are directed to "Wear Abouts," on page XX.)

The big established flea markets are likewise outside the city, and can be worth a road trip. Savvy urban shoppers keep their eyes peeled for quickie fleas that pop up in neighborhood parks, for block-wide or community mega yard sales and often fruitful church sales.

A lot of person-to-person bargains have moved online. There's always craigslist, of course, but giveaways between neighbors is the raison d'être of Pittsburgh Freecycle (, where there is no shortage of plants, baby items, disused tools and all manner of banalities and oddities up for grabs.

If you need a cheap bathroom sink, a doorknob, six bricks or even a post-office service window, Construction Junction at 214 N. Lexington St., in North Point Breeze (412-243-5025) is your one-stop. Similar to a thrift store for building materials, this nonprofit finds new homes for tons of salvage (they take donations of goods, too). Your best friend if you live in a fixer-upper, and a treasure trove for all lookers.

Construction Junction is also your stop for a used bicycle: The onsite nonprofit Free Ride sells ready-to-pedal bikes and related gear at low cost; the industrious can keep the price even lower by fixing up a bike themselves.

Recently, the Oakland Planning and Development Corporation has set up a program to collect viable used furniture before Oakland's yearly exodus of college students, selling it at low cost to incoming students and others each August. See, or call 412-621-7863, for more information.

If you've got zippier home furnishings in mind, a number of local stores cater to the adventurous decorator who pines for the hominess of an old advertising tin, the clean lines of mid-century modern or the kitschiness of some long-ago fashion. Lawrenceville's Butler Street corridor boasts Who Knew? (5156 Butler St., 412-781-0588); on the South Side, Groovy (1304 E. Carson St., 412-381-8010), will reunite you with every childhood toy your mother ill-advisedly threw away. On the weekends, stop by Homestead's Retro on Eighth (214 E. Eighth Ave., 412-965-8468). Also, in Lawrenceville is Fresh Heirlooms (5218 Butler St., 412-512-5098), which not only sells re-purposed and recycled housewares, furniture and gifts, but also holds tutorials where you can learn how to turn your own junk into useful household treasures.

Getting gently used books into the hands of new readers is a grand tradition, as is noodling about in used bookstores hoping to have a serendipitous encounter with a book you simply must own now. South Side offers Eljay's Books (1309 E. Carson St., 412-381-7444) and City Books (1111 E. Carson St., 412-481-7555). Near the universities in Oakland, bibliophiles can peruse Townsend Booksellers (4612 Henry St., 412-682-8030) and Caliban's (410 S. Craig St., 412-681-9111). For tips on packing your home-entertainment center with secondhand CDs and vinyl, see "Notes on the Local Music Scene," page XX.

There's much fun to be had with a pet, and lots of pre-owned cats and dogs are waiting for second chances at the area's three shelters: Animal Rescue League, in Larimer (6620 Hamilton Ave., 412-661-6452), Western Pennsylvania Humane Society, on the North Side (1101 Western Ave., 412-321-4625) and Animal Friends, now its new suburban home in the North Hills (562 Camp Horne Road, 412-847-7000). A grateful Fido or Fluffy will be only too happy to take up room on your new, used couch.


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