Pillbox

Local businesses unscathed by Waterfront

David and Goliath, the tortoise and the hare, the Waterfront and ? Pittsburgh? In 1999, the former home to steel mills and smokestacks became a local attraction with the grand opening of Loews Cineplex Theatre and a couple of restaurants. Today, it has matured into a mecca for shoppers across the city, leading such individuals to forego other shopping and dining options around Pittsburgh. Or has it?

What makes the Waterfront Town Center so unique is that it offers a wide variety of shops and restaurants that simply cannot be found anywhere else in Squirrel Hill, Shadyside, Oakland, or their surrounding neighborhoods. Well-known retail chains such as Abercrombie & Fitch, American Eagle Outfitters, Hollister, Pac Sun, and Wilson?s Leather can be found nowhere nearer than Monroeville Mall ? except at the Waterfront. Larger retail stores such as Filene?s Basement, Marshall?s, Old Navy, Target, and T.J. Maxx certainly cannot be found anywhere in the inner city of Pittsburgh ? but the Waterfront has them. Even dining options such as Bravo and P.F. Chang?s are available at the Waterfront, and cannot be found anywhere else within the confines of the city.
But the uniqueness of some such stores and restaurants do not always attract local shoppers.

?We have to pick and choose the times we come,? said Dottie, a Squirrel Hill resident who frequently shops at the Waterfront. She claimed that shopping at the Waterfront during the middle of the day is really nice and easy, but during the weekend, ?it?s awful.?

Judith, an employee at Michael?s, felt that shopping at the Waterfront (excluding predetermined errands) is more of a spontaneity issue.

?If they come over here, they?re gonna shop here,? she said. ?The traffic is horrendous,? she said, mentioning how she has seen cars piled all the way back to the parkway.

Anisha Anantapadmanabhan, a first-year business administration major, discussed a different inconvenience in actually traveling to the Waterfront.

?During the times I?ve gone [to the Waterfront], [the bus system] has been pretty inconsistent time-wise,? she stated in an e-mail. ?This is usually at night, and the return trip to CMU always calls for a long wait at the Waterfront.?

Anantapadmanabhan nonetheless favors the Waterfront over local shopping areas because of its wide variety of stores ? it is ?convenient to shop for almost everything,? she wrote.

On the other hand, Dio Kavalieratos, a senior at Taylor Allderdice High School and a Squirrel Hill resident, only travels to the Waterfront if he has to.

?Walnut [Street, in Shadyside] has more stuff,? he said while describing his desired shopping venue. ?[The Waterfront] is more for errands.?

?[For] clothes shopping, I?d rather go to Walnut,? confirmed Catina Stamoolis, a Squirrel Hill resident and first-year at Allegheny College.

But what exactly is it that will bring Squirrel Hill, Shadyside, and Oakland shoppers back to local stores and restaurants? If it deals with lingerie, The Pussycat owner and manager Gail Gross may have the answer.

?We [The Pussycat and Victoria?s Secret] both sell underwear,? Gross said, ?but we sell better brands. We sell more distinctive stuff.?

Noting the obvious disadvantage, she added that ?if you drive down to the Waterfront, you?re not in Squirrel Hill to shop.?

According to Gross, The Pussycat, which has been in business for 34 years, is the only local retailer of women?s bathing suits. It offers such brand names as Calvin Klein and Chica Rica. The store also offers top-brand panties such as Cosabella and honeydew.

The Pussycat also sells male merchandise, making the Squirrel Hill store even more rare. Among its brands of silk underwear and robes is Mansilk, voted the #1 silk boxer by Rolling Stone.

Across the street from The Pussycat on Forbes Avenue is Dales Maxima, a women?s plus sizes clothing store. Marcia Butler, owner for the past three years (of its 22-year existence), does not feel that the Waterfront has impacted her sales whatsoever.

While Butler mentioned that Dales Maxima is the only local retailer of plus sizes, she nonetheless added that retailing is ?very nomadic?.

?[The Waterfront] is new; it has something we don?t have [in Squirrel Hill],? she said. ?The impact of it is foot traffic.? In other words, Butler does not face any competitors at the Waterfront, but the colossal shopping center tends to attract customers who may otherwise shop on Forbes Avenue.

?I don?t compete on price,? Butler said. ?We offer service, selection, and style. We?re a unique specialty store; we have not turned downward (as a result of the Waterfront).?

One of the earliest attractions the Waterfront offered was Loews Cineplex Theatre. The Squirrel Hill and Manor Theatres were its only nearby competitors when it opened and, five years later, continue to be.

?When they first opened, naturally, yes,? Bill Welsh said as to whether business suffered as a result of the new Cineplex. ?Everybody got hurt when Loews opened.? Today, however, the Squirrel Hill Theatre no longer finds itself in second place, Welsh added.

?It?s unbelievable trying to get over there,? Welsh said in reference to the Waterfront traffic. He mentioned that the Squirrel Hill Theatre separates itself from Loews by offering art and other non-mainstream films, which the Cineplex often does not offer.

?That?s what the community likes,? he said.

Bravo, a gourmet Italian food chain, was one of the first restaurants (and businesses) to be incorporated at the Waterfront. While its former neighbor, Cap City Diner, went out of business only a couple years after opening, Bravo continues to do well.

Joe Mama?s, a similar Italian restaurant located on Forbes Avenue in Oakland, has been in existence for three years, and according to Joe Mama?s owner Mike Hanley, he has not felt impacted by the Waterfront at all.

?I know the restaurants at the Waterfront are doing incredible numbers,? said Hanley, also owner of Oakland restaurants Fuel & Fuddle and Uncle Sam?s Subs, but ?[our] sales have increased year after year.?

?A challenge for businesses in Oakland is to get people who are fairly close to come into Oakland,? Hanley said. ?Thankfully, there is a large enough population in Oakland.?

Hanley added that for its population, Oakland?s traffic density is one of the three or four highest in the state. An additional problem, Hanley claimed, is that once families and younger professionals leave Oakland (often due to graduation), they feel like they are done with the neighborhood and do not come back. Again though, Hanley mentioned that none of these neighborhood problems have come as a result of the Waterfront.

P.F. Chang?s is a gourmet Chinese food chain which also claims a spot at the Waterfront. Mike Chen, manager of China Palace in Shadyside, admitted that his restaurant?s business suffered initially when P.F. Chang?s first opened.

?P.F. Chang?s for the majority is good,? Chen said, ?but it?s a chain.? Chen encourages people to come to China Palace, however, if they are interested in ?real and good authentic Chinese food.? Chen is glad to offer new dishes in response to customer requests.

?I?m proud to say at least we have a Chinese food restaurant to compete with a chain [restaurant],? he added.

City shoppers may perhaps be even more inclined to visit the Waterfront in the future, though, as phase two of the development process is expected to begin this summer.

According to Bruce Englehardt, vice president of operations for Continental Real Estate Companies, the plan is to develop the space in front of Kaufmann?s and Rock Bottom, one of the few clubs that exists in the Waterfront, and continue until it reaches Target, a couple hundred yards down the road.

?We?re quite proud of it,? Englehardt said, as he discussed the hitherto success of the Waterfront.

According to Englehardt, the only new addition Waterfront-goers can expect to see immediately is a Courtyard by Marriott, which is expected to open late summer. He could not comment on other prospective businesses that may open.

?For the most part, at this time, there?s not a lot of space left,? said Englehardt. Considerations are currently underway for the 12?14 acres of available space between Loews Cineplex Theatre and Sandcastle, he added.

On a related note, the Cheesecake Factory?s opening in the South Side will be the first to land in Pittsburgh. Though it would have been ?nice to have,? Englehardt said, he is extremely glad that the opportunity and excitement of the Waterfront keeps people coming back, even from 75?80 miles away.