Median Home Price: $180,000 Population: 2,960 Factoid: Town Post Office: J&W Variety

Eclectic on the WaterEdit

When Aspinwall's residents hop onto their bikes or pile into friends' convertibles for a ride around town, waving and inching along Brilliant Avenue at 2 miles an hour, you know summer has officially arrived via one of the smallest Memorial Day parades around.

Gracious late-Victorian facades, flat streets and funky accents such as Bavarian fortresses make Aspinwall one of the most stylish of the Allegheny River towns. Bounded by the river, railroad tracks and Route 28, the tiny borough might not seem to have much chance to grow. But the way it's growing is younger.

As older families turn over their handsome homes to young ones, the community and its perky business district are the David to the Goliath -- the giant being the Waterworks shopping center in nearby Pittsburgh.

Aspinwall Bookshop The modernism of St. Scholastica Catholic Church, dedicated in 1950, provides contrast to traditional architecture, such as the home above with its great Gothic windows.

Brilliant Avenue merchants such as Otto's Shoe Repair, Eddie C.'s Barber Shop and J&W Variety anchor the walkable business district; newer hot spots, including Aspinwall Bookshop and ESSpa Kozmetika, create unique local appeal. Restaurants such as Aspinwall Grille and Luna are always full.

Novelist Philip Beard, who lives a block from the town center, says J&W provides a homey magnet for the town (population about 3,000). "It's probably the only place in the country where you can mail a letter and get your vacuum cleaner fixed at the same time," says Beard. (The post office is a battered counter at the back of the two-room store.)

St. Scholastica Church Beard, a resident for 15 years, says it's a great place for a writer to live: "There's a great variety of people--they'd make great characters." The mix includes elderly matrons still living in large family homes, yuppies buying starter homes and families who prefer a sidewalk community where kids can scooter a few blocks to recreation fields. Bounded by Western Avenue toward Sharpsburg and by Delafield Avenue at UPMC St. Margaret Memorial Hospital, the town comprises a few dozen flat blocks near the river--with the biggest homes--and the curving roads that wind up to O'Hara Township. Built into the hillside along Centre Avenue is Heidelberg, a fantastic village of stone castles, which includes a three-story apartment building converted from a chicken house by architect Frederick Sauer around the 1920s.

Commanding the corner of First and Brilliant for the past 90 years is Brilliant Market, whose young new owners, Craig and Erin Snyder, keep its tradition of old-school personal service. They've added Elysian Fields lamb to its butchered offerings, and they hit the Strip District each morning for the freshest produce. If you need just one pork chop for dinner, they'll even deliver.

"Town's younger than it used to be," says Rosie Welsh, who's owned the thriving Rosebud's gift store on First Street for almost 19 years. "A lot of families are moving here, buying the multifamily houses and turning them into single family. It's really nice to see the strollers out."




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