For several reasons, Megan Stearman and her husband moved to Brookline seven years ago when they were expecting their first child. “It has a walkable business district,” says Stearman, “with great parks and playgrounds and it was affordable for a young family.”
They’re still there today, now with two young children, for those reasons and more. “We’ve since stayed in Brookline because we’ve got great neighbors – some who have lived here their whole lives, and some newbies like us.
“There is a rich diversity of people here and we love that our kids are able to interact with and learn from kids of different backgrounds, languages, and cultures,” says Stearman. “Plus who doesn’t love to be able to walk a few blocks for a Saturday brunch of donuts and tacos?”
Jocelyne and Joe Chahine might agree but they represent another segment of the Brookline population. Some say they have been on a 41-year-long honeymoon in Pittsburgh.
The Lebanese natives honeymooned in Pittsburgh after their wedding in 1974 when a civil war broke out in their home country. The couple sought asylum in Brookline, working with relatives at Pitaland and in the 80s they bought the store, moving it to its current location on Brookline Boulevard.
“We were always in Brookline,” says Donna Tweardy, their daughter and now office manager of Pitaland. Similar to many stores in Brookline, Pitaland is family-run, with siblings working alongside their parents.
It’s that kind of community: family-oriented, tight-knit and traditional and as authentic as they come. But now there’s an infusion of new businesses and energy and especially, young people like the Stearman family as well as singles moving in. The affordable houses in this walkable neighborhood in the South Hills—with its rumbly bricked streets and an enviable location close to downtown Pittsburgh—have attracted the young and young families, giving Brookline one of—if not the—largest population of under 18 in the city, according to some in the neighborhood.
It’s also a community that is becoming increasingly diverse. “Diversity is part of the richness of the Brookline community. There’s an openness to diversity, and the contribution that comes from diversity. You can see it as you go down Brookline Boulevard,” says Sister Janice Vanderneck of Casa San Jose, a community resource center for Latino immigrants.
For years, Sister Janice was searching for a location for her outreach program until St. Mark’s Lutheran Church on Brookline Boulevard offered its basement. Since then, Casa San Jose has had success partnering with local businesses such as Las Palmas, the hot destination Mexican grocery on Brookline Blvd. with the ever popular taco stand, and Cannon Coffee, a charming and welcoming spot which doubles as a community hub.
“We found a very welcoming place in Brookline,” says Sister Janice who is quick to offer that they welcome volunteers and they are always seeking bilingual Pittsburghers to help with weekly outreach programs.
The New Brookline
“In the last five years, I’ve seen such a change, so much more of a nicer, community-based place. A lot more people are taking pride in the community. A lot more businesses are opening up and staying,” says Tweardy.
The major change has been the recent and extensive $5.3 million renovation of the long and broad Brookline Boulevard, giving the main street much-needed repairs, including extended sidewalks to accommodate more pedestrian traffic, modern lighting and landscaping, benches, bike racks and more.
It’s a main street many communities would die for.
While it has greatly enhanced the street, businesses suffered some losses while the boulevard was under construction.
During the renovations, business owners and community members alike worked together to keep the local businesses up and running, says Nathan Mallory, owner of the former Cannon Coffee and once president of the Brookline Chamber of Commerce. Stores applied together for grants and instituted successful “shop local” campaigns during the 18-month period when store access was limited or nonexistent. “People came out of the woodwork for support during the construction,” he says.
Since the Boulevard reopened last summer, not only has there been an increase in pedestrian traffic but there has also been an increase in new businesses opening, says Mallory.
With 86 businesses on the Boulevard, which includes everything from Mateo’s, a small BYOB restaurant, to a modern and a beautiful new Carnegie Library, “We’re not trying to be the next Lawrenceville or Regent Square,” he says. “We’re emerging to be something uniquely our own.”
To get a feel for the place, Mallory suggests walking the Boulevard. The best strategy? Park at the top of Brookline Boulevard and walk down to the parklet that houses the iconic cannon so you can closely observe the street life and cluster of shops, houses and amenities. Note the welcome from business owners if you stop by.
“We’re very close knit,” explains manager of Wyld Chyld Tattoo, Rebekah Miller. “Brookline is different in that the business owners really look out for each other and others who live in our community. We also hold meetings from time to time and plan community events.”
In addition, “It has two private parks and its own community center,” says Tweardy. And Brookline regularly hosts holiday parades and festivals, uniting community members of all ages.
At Cafê de Noir (formerly Cannon Coffee) on the Boulevard, it’s not just about a dose of caffeine. The shop is an excellent location to meet locals and become more involved in the community.
Also new to the street is West Liberty Bikes, a full service, independent bike shop known for their exceptional and friendly service (say hi to their dog, Bella!) and their full line of bikes for sale.
“There are a lot of great businesses here,” Mallory says. “Pitaland has great baklava, Antonio’s has awesome pizza, and if you’re in the mood for something sweet, check out the Party Cake Shop. And if you want to unwind with a beer, the Brookline Pub is your go-to place.”
The renovated Pitaland has a new café in the store, where shoppers can taste some of the pita freshly baked on site, along with a vast array of imported spices and traditional specialties such as hummus and baba ghannuj. Like Las Palmas, it’s a destination store that attracts customers from all over Pittsburgh.
Day trippers looking for a more structured visit can sign up for the ‘Burgh’s Bits & Bites Tour. The aptly named “Brookline: Pittsburgh’s Undiscovered Gem” was recently added to the company’s portfolio of tours, and it gives visitors a comprehensive taste of the neighborhood.
People from around the city and state are exploring Brookline for the first time on these trips, says Mallory, and he’s glad they’re visiting. “We want everyone to know what we have. We’ve worked hard, and we have something to brag about.”
See more about Brookline in this video by the Sprout Fund published earlier this week by NEXTpittsburgh.
NEXTpittsburgh staff contributed to this article.