Stretching from 34th Street to 62nd Street, the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Lawrenceville boasts an impressive array of shops, restaurants, artists collectives, barber shops, and just about everything else in between. It has rightly become known for roving bands of hipsters and quickly escalating real estate prices. But if you stroll down Butler Street, the main drag through the quirky community, and ask folks what they think of when they think of Lawrenceville, those aren’t the answers you get.
Rachel Webber, Program Coordinator for the 21st Business District, operating under the Lawrenceville Corporation, is quick to point out the three characteristics that she thinks makes Lawrenceville such a strong neighborhood; authenticity, sustainability, and, she says, “we have the highest concentration of women-owned businesses in the city of Pittsburgh.”
“I would say we are still working on the neighborhood we are going to be, and at the core of that is our strong small business community,” she continues. Within the business community itself there is a lot of collaboration, and a lot of pride in the abundance of women-owned businesses.
Jessica Graves owns Una Biologicals, an independant organic beauty and wellness space that has been in Lawrenceville since 2015. She had been in the Strip and few other places in the city, but nothing spoke to her like Lawrenceville did. “Lawrenceville is filled with so much great energy and countless places for folks to shop, eat, play and hangout,” she said.
“We love the small-shop focus here,” she continued. “As an independent business owner, it’s important to me to support other small shops and in Lawrenceville anywhere I send someone they are supporting another local business. It’s amazing and somewhat rare in the age of big box stores.”
Patty Logan, owner of City Grows, an urban, organic garden shop, concurs. “We opened the shop in August of 2014. I did a lot of research before choosing Lawrenceville,” she said. “Some of the main reasons were the town was drawing millennials from all over the country. Most younger people now have a serious interest in organic gardening, sustainability and combating climate change, all things we’re firmly committed to.”
It’s hard to have a conversation about Lawrenceville without talking about the real estate prices, both residential and commercial. Lawrenceville Corporation’s Webber fully admits, “Affordability is an issue.” But even that becomes an example of how their small business community, and specifically their women-owned small businesses, band together to create solutions. Webber points to Make + Matter as the perfect example.
Set back in the Lower Lawrenceville section of Butler Street, Make + Matter is what happens when three textile-based designers band together to create not just a shop, but a space for both their own designs and to give other designers an opportunity to show and sell their wares.
Three partners, Rebekah Joy of Flux-Bene, Kelly Simpson-Scupelli of Kelly Lane Designs, and Rona Chang of Otto Finn, combined forces to create this unique space. “Anyone of us on our own would not have been able to do this,” said Joy. The space features the work of all three founding partners, but also visiting designers wares.
“We opened in August, and we’ve made about 75 changes since then,” Joy said with a laugh. “It’s an experimental model for sure, but it’s working.” She felt like real estate prices be damned, Lawrenceville was where they had to be. “It’s the most design forward neighborhood in Pittsburgh.”
City Grow’s Logan has also seen first-hand the power of the Lawrenceville small business community, “We try to work together not only with the other women businesses in Lawrenceville, but all the businesses. We all want everyone to succeed.” The sense of collaboration, and even kinship, is echoed again and again. Graves adds, “The are so many women owned businesses in the Lawrenceville area. It’s truly phenomenal to be a part of such a strong network. I maintain friendships and working relationships with many of the female business owners, and we all work to promote and support one another.”
Graves recalls a project they did two years ago; “We coordinated as a group for the Women Owned Business signs that we had made for International Women’s Day. These ladies will actualize on a dime and make things happen.” One of these signs hangs proudly in the storefront of Bahn Mi and Ti, owned by sisters Kellie and Tuyen Truong.
Tuyen stresses again how the overwhelming sense of community, the looking out for one another, has positively impacted their almost three years in Lawrenceville. “Rachel (Webber, of Lawrenceville Corporation) is the best.” Tuyen goes on to recount a day last summer when unexpected and unannounced construction work closed off her entire sidewalk.
“I tried to talk to them, and they just said they had to do what they had to do, and they would reopen it at 3 p.m.,” she recalls. “I thought, that’s my entire lunch hour. That’s my busiest time! I called Rachel up, and a half an hour later, my sidewalk was open again.”
The genuine caring that people have for each other in Lawrenceville is palpable. It’s easy to make a quick joke about handlebar mustaches or real estate prices, but none of that truly gets to what is the essence of the neighborhood.
Logan sums it up like this; “My absolute favorite thing about the neighborhood are the people. I’ve worked in retail most of my adult life and I’ve never met such nice people before. We all know each other’s names, kids’ names, all the dogs, etc. It’s like having a super large extended family.”
And sometimes, she means this literally. Another woman-owned business in the neighborhood is Black Cat Market, a cat cafe with adoptable kitties. The owners are working to expand their offerings and increase food and beverage options for customers. They have a big supporter in the owner of City Grows. “Olivia, one of the co-owners, said Logan, “is my daughter.”