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Project Pop-Up brings sweet shop, used books, robot repairs, and more to downtown storefronts

Thanks to Project Pop-Up, robot repairs, baked goods, and stacks of books are filling vacant storefronts in Downtown Pittsburgh. 

A first round of participants, a mix of retail businesses and art installations, recently held a soft opening during Light Up Night.  While some have remained open, including the Robot Repairs installation, the rest are reorganizing for a grand opening to coincide with Downtown’s First Night celebration on New Year’s Eve.

Laura Jean McLaughlin, co-owner of Garfield-based Awesome Books, is among those retail participants.  Her shop, which she owns with Bob Ziller, is expected to reopen Downtown by mid-December.

McLaughlin says when they heard about Project Pop-Up it seemed like a perfect way to expand their business. 

“Downtown has a lot more foot traffic than Garfield, so we thought it was just a really wonderful opportunity,” she says.  “I think it's great that the city is thinking outside the box of how to revitalize areas…only positive things can come out of it.”

Awesome Books plans to stay open late into the evening, until 8 or 9 P.M., part of the strategy to breathe new life into Downtown after 5 P.M.  And although their lease lasts a year, they would like to find a permanent location Downtown.

‘We’re looking forward to having a presence down here for a while,” Ziller says.

Other participants include The Sweet Lounge, Burghoisie handmade goods, The Society for the Advancement of Miniature Curiosa, Dream Cream Ice Cream Parlor, and Summer Sky Eternal interactive art display.  The first round includes a total of 12 storefront projects.

Project Pop-Up is a collaboration between the mayor’s office, the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, and URA, among other partners.  Their goals are to increase the vibrancy of downtown, for visitors and residents, increase safety, and grow interests among potential investors.

Bethany Tucke, of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, says that it’s the ultimate goal of the program to find permanent tenants for storefronts that have been vacant for long periods of time.  Already those vacancies are decreasing.  Tucke says in a few instances, new, full-lease tenants have stepped in, forcing her to find other storefronts for Project Pop-Up participants.

“It’s a good problem to have,” she says.


Writer:  Andrew Moore
Source:  Laura Jean McLaughlin, Bob Ziller, of Awesome Books; Bethany Tucke; Marissa Doyle
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