Jamie McAdams and his husband Shawn Aversa knew they wanted to open a business but it wasn’t until they went to Paris on their honeymoon that they knew what kind: a home decor and gift shop. “Paris has all these interesting takes on home goods, accents and decor,” says McAdams. “That’s when we realized that this is what we wanted to do.”
They returned home and opened a chic—some might say Parisian—store called Von Walter and Funk in Upper Lawrenceville on October 10th. It’s one of several recently opened boutiques in Lawrenceville that are bringing a new dimension to the local shopping experience.
Spanning 36th St. to 53rd St. on Butler, the shops are occupying storefronts that have been vacant for years and are helping to create a new commerce corridor across Upper and Lower Lawrenceville. Most of the owners are first-time business owners, creating new markets and heralding products that are new to the Pittsburgh area.
“We want to be innovators and disrupt the market because that’s what Pittsburgh needs,”says Jamie McAdams, co-owner of Von Walter and Funk. “We need local talent that has a different way of approaching a product and engaging a consumer.”
The new stores run the gamut from vintage gifts to American-made menswear, and each shop sells to a different but complementary market. In a time where you can order any item online from the comfort of your home, these stores focus on curated finds and thoughtful in-store interactions you can’t recreate on a website. For Lawrenceville’s latests shops, creating a memorable customer experience is as important as making sales.
Von Walter and Funk, 5210 Butler Street
“We want customers to be inspired, ask questions and feel like they could bring this experience into their home,” says Aversa, co-owner of Von Walter and Funk.
Aversa left his full-time job in a product role at PNC to run the shop while McAdams still works as a sales executive for a health care consulting company with a focus on consumer experience and engagement. While neither hail from traditional retail backgrounds, their focus on customer service has informed the shop experience.
“We wanted to create an environment that you want to be a part of,” Aversa says. “We’re bridging the gap between a gift shop and lifestyle store.”
Named after the couple’s maternal grandmothers’ maiden names, Von Walter and Funk feels like a very stylish update on your your very stylish grandmother’s house, with all the comfort, but none of the hard candy or Jell-O molds.
Tables and displays artfully overflow with objects, creating a feast for the eyes while swing music plays quietly, adding to the charm. The store features artisan brands from across the country, including kitschy wallpaper and fabric company Hygge and West, Rifle Paper Company cards and accessories and vintage pieces curated by Aversa and McAdams.
“We love the story each product brings,” McAdams says. “We made an effort to include products that were high quality and fit the brand.”
More than that, “We wanted to create a store where you engage with the things in the way they’re displayed,” says McAdams.
It’s all about atmosphere. It’s the kind of shop to find just the right gift for a friend, but it’s hard to leave without an adorably printed recipe card holder for yourself.
Von Walter and Funk hopes to expand its offerings by partnering with local crafters; in the works now are are plans to work with a local seamstress to create custom linens for the store.
Vestis, 5124 Butler Street
When Phil Romagni left his position as a technical writer at a medical startup, he knew he wanted to start his own business. While he initially had the idea for a soup place, he decided on men’s clothing when he saw a gap in the Pittsburgh market.
“I’ve always been a clotheshorse,” Romagni says. “I come from a family that’s always been into clothing. I wanted access to a lot of brands I’m carrying, and I couldn’t find them around here.”
Before moving to Morningside with his wife, Romagni lived a few blocks from the storefront in Upper Lawrenceville. “I knew the area, and wondered: what could make an impact here? What is the neighborhood missing? In the city,” he concluded, “there aren’t many options for men that aren’t street wear or high-end suits.”