Neighborhood balances culture, capitalism




The red Target sign towers over its surroundings, serving as a gateway between East Liberty’s past and future. In front of it lies progress – themed restaurants, boutiques and even a Google office recently sprung up in Bakery Square.

Behind it, though, almost in its shadow, lies the neighborhood’s bare-bone culture and history – older infrastructure and specialized family shops line the street.

When I first turned left off of Fifth Avenue, the Target sign was the first thing I saw, and soon I passed Bakery Square. This wasn’t the East Liberty I had been told to avoid. It didn’t look like a place with a high crime rate and the constant slot in news segments about robberies and shootings. For goodness sake, is that an Anthropologie store?

East Liberty is being revitalized, and Bakery Square is just one success story.

I had heard about a new restaurant named Social that had great food, outdoor seating and even a ping-pong table. The restaurant is the epitome of new – even its theme revolves around social media.

“And now, of course, with Bakery Two, not only are we seeing just the first phase, but phase two and phase three as they occur are gonna bring us a myriad of more customers,” Gregg Caliguiri, co-owner of Social, says.

Part of Bakery Square 2.0 is a new apartment complex sits across the street. Rents exceed $1,000.

“I mean what is being built here I wouldn’t even say is a lifestyle center,” Caliguiri says. “It’s a neighborhood, and it’s not even a small neighborhood, it’s a pretty sizable number of apartments and townhomes that are being placed.”

Caliguiri grew up in Shadyside, so he has seen East Liberty’s evolution.

“I’ve been so happy to see how East Liberty – and not just our portion, obviously – but over toward Highland and as far down and up as you can imagine, the entire neighborhood has changed dramatically,” Caliguiri says. “And that can only be a good thing for the city.”

Caliguiri cares about his customers and wants to create an environment where they can relax and experience a new spin on what some would consider bar food. His employees enjoy working for him, and his customers repay him with loyalty.

On a site of that was declared blighted about ten years ago, Social is an example of progress, but in the same neighborhood, Justin Strong closed down his popular venue Shadow Lounge in 2013 – a venue where Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller played some of their first sets.

“I’m a capitalist, I’m not mad at development – it’s how people go about things, it’s how public money is used, so there’s different layers to it,” Strong says.

What those shopping in Bakery Square consider progress, the residents down the street consider sacrifice as their homes and businesses are displaced by new shopping districts.

East Liberty is changing – fast – but change doesn’t necessarily have to be bad or good. Right now the neighborhood is balancing between the new and the old, and while the new is attracting more people and changing East Liberty’s negative reputation, it is also overshadowing what attracted developers there in the first place – the authentic urban culture.

Neither the new or the old are right or wrong, but can they find a way to coexist? Only time will tell.