McKees Rocks Charms with New Energy

by Andrew Gordon, UpTo McKees Rocks project manager

As a transplant to Pittsburgh, there are many neighborhoods that I’ve just never had an opportunity to experience. When you’re in your twenties and you’re new to Pittsburgh, there are a few core areas that people talk about—Squirrel Hill and Shadyside, because that’s where everybody lives; Southside because that’s where everybody drinks; Oakland because that’s where everybody goes to school; and if you’re really “with-it,” East Liberty and Lawrenceville because that’s where the in-crowd hangs out. But neighborhoods like McKees Rocks are seldom spoken of and easily missed by somebody in my position.

My first trip to McKees Rocks was in the week prior to UpTo McKees Rocks, where I was coming to do some location scouting and to start spreading the word. The first thing I noticed, other than the beautiful bridge on the way in, was the incredible number of niche businesses are nestled away here. What a breath of fresh air to somebody whose only impression of Pittsburgh’s retail scene is that there’s a mall and corresponding concrete jungle located in each cardinal direction outside of the city: North—Ross Park; West—Robinson; East—Pittsburgh Mills; South—South Hills Village.

The type of stores that live in McKees Rocks are the type of stores that people speak longingly of when they remember the heyday of retail. Phil’s Archery has the selection of hunting, fishing, and archery equipment, as well as the corresponding know-how from its employees, that it could put any big box hunting store to shame. Hollowood Music and Sound is to date the only place in Pittsburgh where I’ve seen left-handed guitars for sale. Linder’s Fine Furnishings’ room after room of incredible furniture is enough to make me wonder why I ever shopped for furniture on Craig’s List. And the list has more than just retail stores—there are some pretty darn good restaurants in McKees Rocks too. Pierogies Plus lived up to the hype of serving the Best Pierogie in Pittsburgh and Drea’s Soul Food and BBQ served up some of the biggest, meatiest wings I’ve ever had, covered in an amazing barbeque sauce.

After I spent some time knocking on doors in McKees Rocks, I realized it wasn’t just the niche stores locally owned restaurants that made the neighborhood special. Everybody in every store, from dry cleaners to dentist’s offices and restaurants to beauty boutiques has that special dedication to friendliness and community service that could never be found at the Robinson Town Center or the South Hills Village in a million years. Niche stores and customer service are not dead in Pittsburgh—they’re very alive, they’re just not in a neighborhood that young professionals have had the occasion to discover.

But why is it that so many of these places are unknown to the very people who thirst for this exact type of business? At UpTo, we know that this may be due in large part to the trend of stores going virtual, having social media presences, and knowing how to look and advertise like a store in the 21st century. Small, locally owned stores that are dedicated their product and their client often lack the knowledge, the budget, the manpower, and the time to get to know about what they can do to stay relevant. That’s where we come in. UpTo finds communities with “Main Street” business districts that can benefit from our consulting, writing and design services, and offers these very solutions for cut-rate, selected donations. But it’s not because we’re crazy. It’s because we’re crazy about the type of businesses that we can help. This week we’ve done work for numerous local stores, restaurants, and entrepreneurs who otherwise wouldn’t have had access to this type of services.

While UpTo McKees Rocks is over after one week, its lasting impression on me lives on. I’ve made plans to return to the stores and restaurants here, and I’ve even told some of my friends about the hidden gems out here across the Ohio River. But my word-of-mouth sharing is not enough to support this community’s stores on its own. In this era, it takes web and social strategy and savvy marketing to help inform today’s consumers that areas like McKees Rocks still exist.

UpTo McKees Rocks 

8 businesses helped
18 assets built
in 5 days
more than 60 businesses reached 

UpTo McKees Rocks would not have been possible without the support of the following organizations