Above: There will be open-air markets on California Avenue in Brighton Heights this summer. (Photo by Kelsey Shea).

by Kelsey Shea

This summer, a series of open-air markets on California Avenue will spark a little more life into the Brighton Heights business district and continue to promote positive changes already happening there.

The second Saturday of each month, there will be vendors, activities and events in the business corridor of California Avenue called the California Markets.

Organizers hope the markets will bring Northside residents out into the streets and outside vendors into the neighborhood.

The California Markets were organized by Stephanie Lauren Stauffer, a recent Brighton Height resident who is looking to improve the district and make the neighborhood more walkable.

“I think [California Avenue] is really a unique space,” said Stauffer. “The avenue is being used, just not to its full potential… We’re looking to expose the community.”

Stephanie has been active in the Pittsburgh retail scene since she moved from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh in 2011. She founded PGHRetail, which is a social venture that aims to find innovative ways to enhance business districts.

With the help of a grant from the Urban Redevelopment Authority, the California Markets will be PGHRetail’s first venture.

In addition to outside vendors, each one of the California Markets will have a themed activity sponsored by one of the businesses on the avenue.

The first market on June 8 will have an art walk sponsored by the Brighton Height’s Citizen’s Federation. Tom’s Friday Market will sponsor a BBQ cook-off competition on July 13, Java N’ Crème House will sponsor a drumming tournament on August 10, and the series will end on September 14 with a fashion show and kids beauty pageant sponsored by Timeless Beauty & Chubby’s Pizza.

“Basically what we’re looking to do is to get people coming up here,” said BHCF President Pete Bellisario.

With the modest growth on California Avenue this year, the community feels that now is the time to get people into the neighborhood.

California Avenue between Davis Avenue and Brighton Heights Boulevard is a busy place in the otherwise quiet, residential neighborhood.

“It’s an active and lively community” said Stauffer. “There are always people around.”

There are people waiting for busses outside the state store, bike cops patrolling the streets and pedestrians chatting with the crossing guard outside of State Rep. Adam Ravenstahl’s office.

And where the customers go, businesses will follow.

Brighton Heights lawyer Bill Goodrich recently renovated an old home on California Avenue to house his law firm Goodrich and Geist, and local theater instructor Jessica Palitti is opening a studio in an empty store front this summer.

The Brighton Heights Citizens Federations also opened an office in a formerly empty storefront at 3629 California Ave. and purchased several vacant lots on and around the avenue. Two campaign satellite offices are also temporarily set up for mayoral candidates Bill Peduto and Jack Wagner.

“I think it’s doing great,” said Bill Kristoff, of the Bill Kristoff real estate agency, said about the California Avenue business district where he manages some of the storefronts.

Java N’ Crème coffee house owner Bob Rhoden said that his two years on the block have been gratifying thus far.

“Individually, we all seem to be doing pretty well,” said Rhoden. “But we’re always looking for improved visibility…I hope that through h these events we can all collaborate a little more for the sake of the boulevard.”

But even with four new spaces filled, the block still has three empty storefronts, which will grow to five after the mayoral campaign ends in November.

Kristoff said that he would like to see California Avenue continue to grow at a slow, steady pace with quality offices and businesses, and he believes that he California Markets will help that happen “without a doubt.”

“These kind street events have proved to work very well in the past,” said Kristoff. “Now with the support of the Brighton Heights Citizens Federation, they should be even better.”

Forms for community activities sign-up and vendor applications are available on the PGHRetail website.