Street Vendors Add Sidewalk Spice To a Saturday Morning in the Strip

As you walk along Penn Avenue on a busy Saturday morning, the sidewalks of the Strip District are not only bustling with shoppers, but unique vendors too.

Outside of Jimmy and Nino Sunseri’s, a stand is set up on the sidewalk. All of the store’s specialty homemade breads are stacked high on baking racks.  Pizza bread, slices of Italian bread topped with tomato sauce, pepperoni and cheese, and more are quickly wrapped in wax paper before being handed to the next customer. As the racks and baskets empty, stacks of warm bread are brought straight from the ovens inside to fill them again.

“Hot pepperoni rolls! Two-pound pepperoni rolls!” can be heard all the way down the next block, beckoning inquisitive people to take a look. Erin McGrath is often the one doing the yelling.

Working as a guide for carriage tours in Savannah, Ga., Erin returned home to Pittsburgh for the winter season in 2011. Although she planned to return to Savannah in the spring, Erin found a position at Sunseri’s and is still there a year later.

Erin is primarily an account manager at Jimmy and Nino’s where she handles sales. However, when a spot opened up helping out with the stand on Saturday’s, Erin’s personality made her a good fit.  Nino’s son had been selling bread outside for years, and after he left, she filled in.

“They couldn’t believe how loud I was,” Erin joked.

“He hung up his loudspeaker and I took over.” Being a vendor on the sidewalks of the Strip District does require a certain style, as visitors have come to expect a fun experience when they come to the neighborhood.

“You have to be friendly and bubbly. You have to be excited about what you’re doing to be able to get others excited,” Erin said. “You should always be wearing black and gold. I think that should be a rule.”

According to Erin, the returning customers that stop by every week are the best part of the bread stand. Bread is only sold outside at Sunseri’s on Saturdays and near holidays, with specialty breads for sale that aren’t available during the week. The stand itself is also unlike many others in the Strip because the items being sold are made on-site.

“The Strip District is just good for people’s souls; no one gets that happy shopping at Giant Eagle,” Erin said. “It is just very wholesome and satisfying to be able to interact with all these different people.”

Across the street in front of Roland’s Seafood Grill, Sister Sandra Sharon hands out lollipops to children passing by. Christmas ornaments swirled with red, white and green paint draw the attention of holiday shoppers. Wreaths decorated with poinsettias and Steelers’ footballs are on display.

The booth is a fundraiser for the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth, with proceeds benefitting the senior sisters and their ministries. Sister Sandra and Michael Cavanaugh, who volunteers at the facility, have been selling the Christmas decorations in the Strip District since 1998.

“Our senior sisters have worked hard all those years, so this is our way to give back to them,” Sister Sandra said.

The booth started out when an older sister asked Sister Sandra to take over her efforts in the Strip District, selling tickets for the congregation’s October fundraiser. The booth grew from there when they began selling wreaths and ornaments as well.

“People love the Strip. They come from out of town and this is the first place that you take them,” Sister Sandra said. “You have people dining outside and all the vendors set up on the sidewalks.”

The ornaments for sale are hand painted by retired sisters, some even in their 80s or 90s, using acrylic paints. The wreaths and centerpieces are made by Sister Sandra and Michael.

The pair come down from the congregation’s Mt.  Nazareth campus in Bellevue to the Strip District each Saturday, setting up the booth from 8:30 a.m.  to 2:30 p.m. The decorations seem to be a hit with shoppers during the holiday season, as people stop to admire the ornaments or candy Santa sleighs.

“We have made so many friends down here,” Sister Sandra added with a smile.