Shopping Outside the Box: A directory of out-of-the-ordinary retail in Pittsburgh | Resource Guide | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

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Shopping Outside the Box: A directory of out-of-the-ordinary retail in Pittsburgh

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DIY craft fair Handmade Arcade - PHOTO: LARRY RIPPEL

It's easy to discover the traditional retail venues -- whether it's the region's dominant grocery store (rhymes with beagle) or a big-box chain, more of which pop up within the city every day. Even some of Pittsburgh's steel mills have been converted to retail. Mill sites in Homestead and the South Side, where harsh conditions were once likened to "Hell with the lid off," have become malls with the lid off -- outdoor shopping areas known as The Waterfront and SouthSide Works, respectively.

Yet often our desires can quenched only by acquiring something truly off-beat. Or our slim billfold necessitates more inventive shopping.

We don't want to give all our secrets away -- and after all, discovering new stores and outlets on your own is half the fun -- but below we've rounded up some Pittsburgh's off-the-grid shopping experiences.

Gourmands, organics and foodies have no fear: Grocery shopping is not limited to the supermarket. The Strip District (along both Smallman Street and Penn Avenue between 17th and 26th) is many a cook's first destination, but on Saturday mornings seemingly everyone else shows up there too. Buy fruits and vegetables fresh from the truck (what you give up in looks, you'll gain in ripeness and economy); browse the dozen or so ethnic markets (fresh Polish sausage and lychee fruit are neighbors here); or give in and just buy your meal from one of several sidewalk vendors.

The Strip is just the most prominent of Pittsburgh's shopping districts, with which several city neighborhoods are blessed. Among the bakeries, bars and dry cleaners, shoppers will find an array of locally run retail stores, selling everything from funky interiors to one-of-a-kind clothes to you-just-didn't-know-you-needed-it-till-you-saw-it! Stroll along any of these bountiful retail corridors: Butler Street, in Lawrenceville; East Carson Street, on the South Side; and Ellsworth Avenue, in Shadyside, offering quirky arts-and-crafts, and two vintage-clothing stores. (Nearby Walnut Street specializes in chain retailing.) Pittsburgh's vibrant Squirrel Hill neighborhood clusters its retail at the intersection of Murray and Forbes avenues. Cruise Murray, too, for all things kosher and Judaic. (Each of these districts is described more fully in the neighborhood profiles linked above.)

During the summer, the city runs eight farmer's markets, operating weekly, in several neighborhoods (www.city.pittsburgh.pa.us/parks/). Throughout the year, organic reigns at the East End Food Co-op (7516 Meade St., Point Breeze, 412-242-3598). The co-op is open to all and simply overflowing with bulk beans, fresh greens and tantalizing spicy smells.

Those looking for secondhand household bargains are in luck. A fortuitous combination of factors -- longtime residents, homes with ample storage space, a thrifty populace with a tendency to keep usable items -- 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, everything from mid-century and on.

Also mirroring larger demographic shifts, many thrift stores have moved to the suburbs. The Goodwill has several stores throughout Allegheny County (www.goodwillpitt.org), including a used-computer outlet at 2600 E. Carson St. (412-481-0922), in the South Side. (Even if you must have the latest set-up, consider donating your putty-colored tower.) The Salvation Army keeps the South Side hipsters warm at 44 S. Ninth St. (412-481-7900).

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

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. Like a thrift store for building materials, this nonprofit finds new homes for tons of salvage. (It takes donations of goods, too.) Your best friend if you live in a fixer-upper, but a treasure trove for all lookers.

Some shopping opportunities come along only a few days a year. The Handmade Arcade, held the second weekend in November at Construction Junction, is a locally produced DIY/hipster craft fair, with up to 100 vendors -- expect the unusual and repurposed, such as iPod cozies made from socks and hand-screened T-shirts (www.handmadearcade.com). The I Made It group hosts similar events at different venues throughout the year; find out about their next event at www.myspace.com/imadeitpgh.

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