We Pittsburghers call this place home for all sorts of reasons: We were born here, or moved for a job, or ended up here because the diehard Steelers fan we’re married to couldn’t bear to live anywhere else.
But for a select few, it’s Pittsburgh itself that is the entire reason. It’s love at first sight with the city. Struck by its richness, restaurants and real estate, people realize its unique qualities — and never want to leave.
Here are some pioneering folks who came for a look-see — and fell in love.
Brenda Stumpf & Sid Riggs
It was dope that brought Brenda Stumpf and Sid Riggs to Pittsburgh.
No, it’s not what you’re thinking.
Living and working — she art, he music — they were happily ensconced in Colorado when the state suddenly legalized marijuana. One unforeseen consequence of people pursuing their now-legal Colorado Rocky Mountain high was a move west, making real estate prices skyrocket.
“We had great friends in Denver,” Stumpf says. “And a great house. We had no idea we would ever move.”
Needing space — a lot of space, for Stumpf’s outsized installations, Riggs’ multiple drum kits and a recording studio — they began casting about for a place to land: Cleveland, Kansas City, Detroit. Industrial buildings called to them, with their high ceilings and large open spaces. “We wanted something affordable,” Riggs says. “But also someplace with a lot of activity, a lot of creative people.”
Then they found Pittsburgh. With some two dozen or more spaces worth considering — industrial relics, storefronts, churches — they could acquire something large enough for living and working.
Coming east to explore the city two years ago and meeting some folks in the arts community, “we were really impressed,” Stumpf says. “People here were really excited about where they live. I immediately liked the vibe. How connected everybody is to the city.” She shakes her head. “It wasn’t like that in other places.
“In Pittsburgh,” she adds, “people have deep emotional connections they take for granted. They’re really proud of their city. [They really care about] their neighbors.
“And in the artistic community, everyone is so open and generous. It’s nice to be able to participate in that.”
When the dust settled, they chose Stanton Heights, a 13,000-square-foot former Methodist Church and adjacent Parish house — wide open, ready for change, perfect for them. “It was divine intervention,” Stumpf smiles.
“The people,” Riggs adds, “were so happy that someone came here to take care of this building. The neighborhood was so welcoming.”
Acting as their own general contractor, the couple has already poured oceans of sweat equity into the buildings. “When it’s all done,” Stumpf says, “I’ll hang a piece of art on the wall, stand back and say, ‘we’ve made it.'”
Jill & Adlai Yeomans
For Jill and Adlai Yeomans, a blind date with Pittsburgh did it.
Living and working in New York, the former in the notoriously pricey Upper West Side, the latter in Midtown Manhattan, they came here to visit War Streets friends — and yowsers! “We had a great Pittsburgh weekend,” Adlai recalls. They took in Nicky’s Thai Kitchen, the Hash House Harriers and the Rachel Carson Bridge Food Festival. “We loved how friendly, relaxed and normal everyone was,” he says. “How there was a lack of pretention. How physically beautiful it was. We looked around and realized that Pittsburgh was just where we were in our lives.” He pauses. “And it was affordable. We felt like we were getting in on something people were just figuring out.”
That was back in 2010, when Adlai had been in New York for four years, Jill six. They went back home and thought about it, particularly the enormous cost of living in New York. “It’s going to be a hard life to live here,” Adlai recalls saying. “Let’s pack up and go. If we don’t like Pittsburgh, we can move anywhere else.”
Coming five years ago, they bought a Troy Hill home, one with history, with good bones. “It’s great,” he beams. “We love it.”
They also love the proximity to Pirates’ games. Banjo nights at the Elks Club and bike trails, and even more far-flung spots like the Laurel Highlands, West Virginia, Ohiopyle and Presque Isle. “Anything within a two-hour drive is fair game,” Adlai says.
Making their living hither and yon, when Bloomfield’s East End Book Exchange came on the market, they ditched their day jobs and bought in. “Many people fantasize about owning a bookstore,” Adlai says. “We’re doing it.”
Rebranding it as White Whale Bookstore and re-opening a year ago, Jill and Adlai are enjoying the renaissance of intimate book stores. Developing a knowledgeable clientele, staging events and hosting readings, White Whale has created its own following of people passionately involved with books.
“Pittsburgh’s literary scene has come a long way,” Adlai says. “It’s a privilege to be a small part of that.”
Turn the page to meet someone who was Pittsburgh dreaming all the way from California, among others …