Whitehall's Caste Village morphs into expanded shopping experience

| Friday, March 29, 2013, 1:04 p.m.

A tight-knit group of friends gathers around a silver tabletop adorned with a fresh bouquet of flowers, while the smell of fresh pastries wafts through the air. They enjoy a cup of coffee, chatting about the weather and playing their favorite numbers in the lottery.

Nearby, a grandmother spends more than 15 minutes carefully wrapping a music box she plans to mail to her family at the post office window.

“This is love,” she said with a smile.

Two men sit at another table inside the Caste Village Shoppes to discuss business, while another lounges in the chair awaiting a doctor appointment.

Caste Village Shoppes has transformed during the last several years. Longterm businesses in the shopping center have expanded – some doubling or tripling their lease space. Local residents are opening new stores, while others are moving their businesses from other areas to Caste Village.

“Caste Village has gone through evolutions of growth. Right now, it's a very hot place to be,” said Ginger Damiani, an agent with Prudential Preferred Reality, which opened a two-level hub in the Whitehall shopping center in December.

With the latest additions and expansions over the last several months, the shopping center now has something for everyone, management and business owners agree.

“If you live in Baldwin, Whitehall or Castle Shannon, you don't have to go anywhere else,” said Neil Knetzer, a chiropractor at South Hills Area Medicine, which opened at Caste Village in February. “All this place is missing is a dentist. It's got everything else.”

Felix Caste Sr. built the shopping center in 1952 and later expanded it in the 1960s, said Tom Caste, president of Caste Commercial Real Estate and Royal Mile Asset Management.

The second and third generations of the Caste family now run the family owned and operated shopping center in the heart of Whitehall Borough, at the crux of Weyman, Baptist and Grove roads.

During the national financial crisis in 2008, the shopping center took a hit, losing several businesses in Caste Village Commons, or mall, area, Tom Caste said.

“The outside stores — we did well weathering the storm,” he said.

In the last several years, the Caste family sought out new businesses to fill the vacant spaces. They also looked for businesses that would make the shopping center a destination where people could get their groceries, visit the doctor, buy flowers for a friend and pick up dinner for the family all in one trip, Tom Caste said.

As the economy began to stabilize, businesses at the shopping center started to branch out.

Several businesses have opened at Caste Village in the last several months, including Flowers by Terry, Tracy's Treats and Prudential Preferred Realty. Others, like District Magistrate David Barton, Silk Road, Gianna Via's (formerly Italian Oven), and South Hills Area Medicine, which morphed from 15-year tenant Caste Area Chiropractic, expanded their businesses to allow for the offering of new services.

“This has been years in the making,” Tom Caste said. “We're getting to the point where we're having a problem — it's a good problem — but we have no more space.

“We want to offer a wide breath of services to make it as much of a one-stop shop as possible. One of the keys to success is you have to reinvest in your business, continually,” he said.

Business owners at Caste Village have done just that.

“They're smart. They're savvy. They're staying modern and on the cutting edge,” Tom Caste said.

District Magistrate David Barton expressed an interest several years ago in expanding his space at Caste Village, Tom Caste said. That request led to other changes in the shopping center.

Barton's new court space opened earlier this year on the second level of the mall area. A lease has been signed to open a Sincerely Yogurt in the outdoor space that Barton formerly occupied, Tom Caste said.

Silk Road Gourmet Chinese Restaurant, which has been in the shopping center for more than five years, expanded eight months ago and now offers hibachi tables and a sushi bar, said Thuy Lieu, restaurant owner.

“You get a variety of customers from a variety of areas,” said Lieu, as she stood behind the bar of the modern, edgy looking restaurant. “They come here for us.”

Restaurants, like Armstrong's, Gianna Via's, Silk Road and Frisch's, have become staples for customers coming to Caste Village.

Having good restaurants in place that make the shopping center a go to for all occasions is fundamental, Tom Caste said.

“I truly believe the restaurants here — and I'm clearly biased — are as good as any other shopping center in the South Hills,” he said.

Other daily essentials were added to the center.

“It's just a little bit of everything,” Whitehall resident Donna Boeggeman, 53, of Whitehall, as she purchased fresh flowers from Flowers by Terry.

Richard Robbins operated Caste Area Chiropractic for 15 years out of Caste Village Commons.

He doubled the space of his business and staff this year to form an integrated, multi-disciplined facility, South Hills Area Medicine, which focuses on a conservative healthcare approach for lower back, neck, chronic knee pain and fibermialga, Knetzer said. A grand opening for the new medical center is planned for April 6.

Longtime Whitehall resident Tracy Artman moved her business “Tracy's Treats” from Bridgeville to Caste Village, next to South Hills Area Medicine.

Her store, which opened in Caste Village on Dec. 3, contains homemade skin care products, jewelry, handbags and scarves. It was located in Bridgeville for nearly two years. Artman's products are all natural and great for sensitive skin, she said.

“It's so exciting to me. I always wanted to be here,” said Artman, whose husband Dave is the DARE officer for the Whitehall police department.

The store, with a “shabby chic” décor with soft pink walls and white antique tables and the aroma of pink sugar filling the room, has attracted new customers on a daily basis, Artman said.

“They walk by and they stop in,” she said.

Shopping center regulars also are visiting Baldwin Borough resident Terry Unger's new shop “Flowers by Terry,” which opened on Feb. 2.

Unger, who has been a florist in the South Hills for 40 years, said she was excited to open her own store, especially in the area she calls home.

“It's fantastic. There are so many people that I know,” she said.

She tries to offer a variety of floral arrangement and extras at her shop, Unger said.

St. Patrick's Day was no different, as Unger created one arrangement with potatoes and Belles of Ireland.

Her window view, too, gives those taking a stroll along the center's sidewalk a chance to check out the designs being crafted during flower arrangement classes held inside the shop.

Prudential Preferred Reality, which moved to Caste Village from Bethel Park, has two spaces that include a storefront on the first floor, as well as a loft-like business office for the 40 agents working from the site.

“We have a trendy location,” Damiani said.

But it was the location of Caste Village, its accessibility to the community and reputation that led Prudential Preferred representatives to move there, said branch manager Micole Tucker.

All of that is what draws people in to shop and hang out with friends at Caste Village, they say. That, and the community feel to the shopping center.

“We're just bs'ing with friends, killing time,” said Sam Stepanovich, 66, of Whitehall.

“A lot of nice people come down here,” said Richard Marano, 69, of Whitehall. “They're friendly.”

Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or shacke@tribweb.com.

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