We launched our Stories of the Strip initiative last week and were blown away by the reaction. NEXT Pittsburgh wrote an article about it and the submissions have been rolling in ever since. To all those who submitted during week one…THANK YOU! Your gift card to DiAnoia’s is on the way and you’ll be twirling pasta in no time — CIAO BELLA! To anyone who hasn’t submitted just yet, there is still plenty of time.

Week two submissions will receive a gift card to one of our favorite coffee shops in town, De Fer Coffee & Tea. They are located just across the street from The Terminal and are our go-to for morning coffee and midday pick-me-ups.

Take a look at a few of the stories submitted in Week 1. And stay tuned for more stories to come!

Jackie Bezek describes childhood memories of singing at The Rosebud on Smallman Street (and sings OPERA!)

Kristen Green splits her time between the Strip District and her hometown in New York.

As Steelers fans living in the Hudson Valley of New York, my daughter and I came to Pittsburgh for a football game. Never having explored Pittsburgh past the North Shore, we took the hotel shuttle over to the Strip District to explore this oddly-named neighborhood. Walking through the crowded shops along Penn Ave., I felt this overwhelming sense that this was where I belonged. I told my daughter that I wanted to live here. She scoffed and said, “You’ll never do that.” With that, it was game on.

For the next year, I worked every odd job I could find, cut spending, and saved as much as I could in order to rent an apartment at the beautiful Cork Factory. I obsessively looked at their website every day, dreaming about possibly living there. I’m a high school teacher; I don’t make a fortune. But I had this goal and worked like crazy to achieve it. Once I had enough to afford an 8-month lease, I took the plunge. 

The Cork Factory, McCaffery’s 2006 redevelopment project. Photo credit: Ed Massery

I moved in on St. Patrick’s Day weekend of 2015 so my initiation into Strip life was immediate. An hour after picking up my keys, I was invited by my new neighbors to a party and in no time, I not only had an apartment but I had a home. Five years later, I’m still here, splitting my time between the beautiful, quirky, friendly Strip District and my hometown in New York. 

What keeps me coming back is mainly the people but I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was also the Strip District restaurants and stores. Strolling through Pennsylvania Macaroni Co. is a feast for the senses. Picking up one of the clever t-shirts available along Penn Ave, stopping in Grandpa Joe’s or My Sweet Lily for a treat, check out the deliciousness at Wholey’s, grabbing empanadas at Edgar’s. Even after all these years, I still can’t believe I get to do all these things whenever I want. 

The Strip has changed a lot in the five years I’ve been here and that looks like it won’t stop anytime soon. Developers have done a great job rehabbing buildings that had been neglected while keeping the history I have learned so much about. I feel incredibly lucky to live here in Pittsburgh’s Strip District. I am one of its biggest cheerleaders and am constantly telling people how great it is. As my teaching career in NY gets closer to its end, I hope I can make the Strip my permanent home.

Joe Wos encounters the unexpected in the Strip

My fondest memories of the Strip District are connected to the smells. You could take an olfactory tour around the world just walking through the strip district. The smell of fresh-baked pepperoni bread or pierogi fried in onions. From Italy to Korea to the Middle East and back again, you could go around the world in a single afternoon. You might smell fresh cut flowers on the street corner, or the unmistakable musk of iron city beer on a Steelers fan on a Sunday afternoon.

The scent-associated memory that stays with me the most though is from an early evening drive through the back alleys of the Strip District. I was in my early twenties. We were driving through the strip on a hot summer day, windows down, just cruising through Pittsburgh, looking for a short cut to find an ever-elusive parking space. We darted down an alleyway behind Wholey’s seafood and hit a puddle. The puddle splashed up into the car, and as we broke the surface tension of that still and stagnant water a smell quickly and aggressively overtook our senses. It was the most foul stink I had ever smelled in my life. A horrid rancid stench that grabbed you by the nostrils and yanked at your nose hairs until tears streamed from your eyes.

If Night of the Living Dead was filmed in Smell-O-Vision this would be the smell emanating from the screen. 

After exiting the alley we pulled over, unable to drive, overcome, and doubled over laughing at our misfortune at having discovered the worst smell in the world. Over the next few days, we did what any reasonable young adult would do. We took every friend we had willingly or not to drive through that fetid puddle of reeking water, each one disgusted and delighted at the same time at having experienced something we could all agree as being the most universally foul stench we had ever had the joyful misfortune to smell.

I imagine it was fish guts, squid parts, and an array of inedible innards from denizens of the sea, that were then thrown into a dumpster where they would sit for several days to ripen. Then when the rain came it would “worsh” into the brick-lined street, slowly building up a puddle of funk that would wisely remain undisturbed…. That is until we discovered it.

It became a sort of private alleyway roadside attraction between me and my friends. When we had friends in from out of town we would show them Mount Washington, take them to Primanti Brothers, drive them across our beautiful bridges, drive through the strip district and then as they took in a deep breath of the crisp night air, we careen through that odoriferous  puddle and watch them cringe.

I know this isn’t the kind of charming sweet heartwarming story we like to share about Pittsburgh, but it is a fond reminder of our functional and industrial past. Gritty, hardworking, and yes even stinky. Even just thinking about that malodorous puddle today still brings tears to my eyes.