Sunday, July 24, 2011

Target Angle

The East End buzz here in Pittsburgh is mostly about the long awaited Target opening in East Liberty, otherwise known as the Eastside Annex. PG complements their coverage with a minor redux on the state of East Liberty redevelopment. Minor I say only because it is a tad shorter than the great 5 part series the PG did on East Liberty a decade ago. You really shouldn't read any current news on East Liberty redevelopment without reading through all 5 installments of that. 

How long has the new Target been in process.  It was 4 years ago I noted that local offices were finally being vacated for the demolition that had to come first, but it goes a lot longer back than that.  The target I say is really the final outcome of talks to put a K-Mart into the old AAA building, which for a time housed the city's police detectives.  Not a short story.

The talk is about how target is going to be selling food as well which confuses me a bit.  Does someone think they are ameliorating a food desert there at the corner of Penn and Highland?  We do have places in the city that could use a supermarket.  I have to admit the retail grocery business befuddles me because I can't make sense of all the investment that goes in and how much of it fails.  If anyone thinks there isn't food there, they might want to walk up a half block to the Shakespeare St. Giant Eagle which I suspect once had the largest footprint of any grocery store in the city.  Then there is the Trader Joe's another half block away... but also there was, people forget, a large Shop and Save was built right there at East Liberty Plaza also a half block away.  People forget despite it being brand new in 2005 because it only stayed open for a couple years months.  Lots of money invested in that for almost no return, probably a significant loss. I can't find any reference, but it's hard to believe that was not built with public money as well.  Then if one goes up Centre  you will quickly hit the new Whole Foods and then it is not far to another large Giant Eagle and until a few years ago yet another Giant Eagle at the corner of Center and Craig.  Add it up and over a fairly recent time period you are talking at least 6 large full scale supermarkets in a very short linear segment of town... 7 if you now count Target.  As I said, I get confused.

What Shop and Save people have asked me in the past since it really is forgotten. It really was large and brand spanking new yet DOA from a business standpoint.  It was where where once was a big mega Phar-Mor (retail pharmacy confuses me even more given their penchant for sequential bankruptcy), but is now the Staples which I really just don't get as a location decision unless they really are paying no rent at all as some sort of anchor premium. and that link reminds me. I mean, there were years there was no Staples Downtown even. It really isn't East Liberty Plaza, or East Liberty Station I guess, any more, but "Village of East Side".  Sigh.  The article also confirms the public money there, and note the obligatory job creation mention in the tag line.  Never has so much investment evaporated so quickly, but it existed.

I joked the other day that the new Target was clearly in East Liberty and not Eastside as it were.  Yet I see in the first linked article that not only is it Eastside II, but that Eastside III and IV are being planned.   I was going to leave the Eastside angst alone, but with that I will point out that if you go into the core of what actually what is East Liberty the retail looks awfully dead and deader to me of late. Even the minor retail that was there is mostly gone.  Lots of empty retain in all directions out from Penn and Highland.  The new spec building built right where the East Liberty tower was looks to be void of any of the first floor retail it was designed for.  and for sure all traces of what was to be the Hotel Indigo are gone despite the actual rent-paying residents of that section being forced to move for it some years ago.  If you are wondering where the hotel was going to go, it is right in what was called when itself a new development Friendship Square.

Does look like Chris Ivey has set up shop in what was once Bolans. So a guy doing documentaries on the lack of retail in East Liberty is now one of the core retail fronts left inside the square. Makes sense when you look at it from the right perspective. I say that the real test of of any redevelopment of East Liberty will be when anything at all opens up right at its core of Penn and Highland.  Bring back Woolworths!

Finally.  If you are into the history of East Liberty, which you must be if you voted with your eyeballs and read this far:  it is incidential to the story, but there is is a lot of neat history of East Liberty as retail bub in Hoerr's Harry, Tom, and Father Rice: Accusation and Betrayal in America's Cold War.  The reference always is that East Liberty was the state's 3rd biggest retail concentration.  While most likely qualitatively true, that is one of those things that some smart person quipped, but never came from anything quanitative... if someone has some evidence to the contrary, as in a specific cite of say largest retail concentrations in 1940 or 1950 I guess, I would love to know about it.

Bottom line..  there is indeed a lot of good news in the East Liberty story of late.  A bit of hype which always accompanies positive trends of course, or at least an overlooking of what has not done as well, but it should not be forgotten that the good parts of the story have only come with a lot of direct and indirect public investment continued over a very long time. Population in itself has continued declining in East Liberty is one big indicator that folks seem to overlook a lot.  The real success will be when there is a story on East Liberty that does not include 'redevelopment' in its theme and with that we have a way to go.


Anonymous n'at said...

seems to be the rube goldbergian philosophy to public infrastructure rehabilitation rather than the reconstitution of an urban east liberty.

east liberty is becoming the perfect suburban destination for city dwellers who previously drove to waterworks or waterfront.

as long as the pipes don't burst and the pavement doesn't spawl, the investment in east liberty will not have been wasted.

if trader joe's can maintain the flanking position on shakespeare street, giant eagle will retreat and the cultural amenities will move in.

Sunday, July 24, 2011 12:53:00 PM  
Anonymous MH said...

I didn't know there was a Shop 'n Save in East Liberty, despite the fact that I was settled here by then. I was also never in the Giant Eagle at Centre and Craig because everybody called it the "Dirty Bird." I'd been in enough other Giant Eagles to know that any store called the Dirty Bird had prevailed against very stiff competition.

Anyway, three cheers for competition in the grocery business and the resultant demonstration that even Giant Eagle doesn't have to suck if the alternative is 400 people stacked in the check out line at Whole Foods.

Next up, liquor stores.

Sunday, July 24, 2011 10:11:00 PM  
Anonymous MSL said...

If rents start going up, that will be because there is more retail traffic, which local businesses should be able to make use of to increase profits if they run a good business. And the Target will allow people to save money on everyday items, which will leave them more money to spend on specialty goods that the local stores sell. Sounds like some people in the article are pissed that they won't be able to skate by on a captive audience anymore and are going to have to actually compete for customers.

Monday, July 25, 2011 9:57:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Shop n Save in East Liberty closed because of excessive losses due to shoplifting. People would come into the store and steal everything from rotisserie chickens to haircolor. You can't run a business if so much of what comes in on the delivery truck never makes it to the registers.

Monday, October 07, 2013 1:58:00 AM  

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