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Neighborhood undergoes powerful retail rebirth

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By Ron Daparma
Thursday, Oct. 26, 2006

Friday's opening of the trendy Trader Joe's is the latest of a steady stream of new retail stores, residential housing, restaurants, and office space to the city's East Liberty neighborhood.

East Liberty, once the city's second-busiest retail district, at long last is seeing a substantial rebirth after years of deterioration.

"There a lot of positive energy in East Liberty, and the opening of Trader Joe's is added proof of the success of the district and the purchasing power of the city's East End," said Lars Olander, president of the East Liberty Chamber of Commerce.

"The community continues to be revitalized, and we're very excited about that success."

Neighborhood advocates agree the first seed for the neighborhood's rebirth was planted when a Home Depot home improvement center opened off Penn Circle North in 2000.

Two years later, organic foods seller Whole Foods made a successful debut on Centre Avenue.

Mosites Co., a local development company, is now running full bore in building the next phases of what is called its EastSide project along Centre.

In addition to the Whole Foods, EastSide already includes a Walgreen drug store, Starbucks coffee shop, and a state premium wine and spirit store. Coming within a few weeks is a Borders book store, with a Eva Szabo's day spa, a mooi organic children's clothing store and Trek Bicycle Shop expected to open soon.

Also, negotiations are under way with a hair salon and a restaurant, according to Mosites, which recently disclosed it is in negotiations to bring a Target discount store to the complex.

Another major project announced recently is Bakery Square. Shadyside developer Walnut Capital Partner's plan to build a 120-room hotel, 38 residential units, 380,000 square feet of retail space and an 800-space parking garage at the site of the closed 495,000-square-foot Nabisco cracker factory on Penn Avenue.

Walnut Capital has said it wants to fill a "pent-up" demand for retail, hotel and other uses in East Liberty and the nearby neighborhoods of Shadyside and Oakland.

The rebirth has not been without its setbacks.

For example, the neighborhood this month is losing a Shop 'n Save supermarket that opened in 2005 in the Village of East Side shopping complex.

However, it was announced the same day that a portion of the 50,000-square-foot space will be occupied by a Staples office supply store, which is expected to open a 20,000-square-foot Super Store in early 2007, according to East Liberty Station Associates, owner of the shopping complex.

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