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.”
Vestis, which is Latin for clothing, now helps close that gap, selling upscale men’s basics, including selvage denim, button-downs, t-shirts and Henleys, as well as sweaters and outerwear with a focus on ethically-manufactured clothing made in America. Romagni found brands he wanted to stock through visits to New York and men’s fashion blogs and he sought out smaller brands that weren’t yet available in the Pittsburgh area.
“I wanted to focus on quality stuff that people could wear that only gets better with age,” he says. Items sold at Vestis aren’t meant to be worn for just a season, but for years to follow.
During the first week of being open at the end of September, Romagni had customers visit specifically for Vestis’ sustainable and made in America products.
For fall and winter, the shop stocks soft work shirts and flannels from Faherty, an NYC-based brand that uses sustainable practices across the globe to produce its clothes. And it carries Pennsylvania-produced brands, such as Woolrich. Romagni hopes to add more Pittsburgh names as he grows his inventory.
Once deemed one of the worst-dressed cities, Pittsburgh is now attracting small clothing brands looking to expand here. “People have been so excited to get their brands out to Pittsburgh,” Romagni explains. “I wasn’t necessarily expecting that.”
Vestis is currently collaborating with New York-based brand Camp Hero to develop a beaded belt to honor Pittsburgh and the city’s heritage.
In addition to clothing and belts, Vestis carries bags, key chains, socks, grooming products and luggage for men. “It’s hard to find a great piece of luggage,” says Romagni.
The Gilded Girl Cosmetics, 5104 Butler Street
Liz Quesnelle, owner of The Gilded Girl, knows skin care.
Traditionally trained in theater makeup, Quesnelle has over a decade of experience working as a licensed esthetician. After running her own one-woman spa in Chicago for several years, she closed up shop and moved to Pittsburgh with her husband in 2012. With experience in both makeup and skin care, Quesnelle combined her passion and knowledge to create The Gilded Girl which opened in late September.
The Gilded Girl is colorfully stocked with hard-to-find boutique brands from all over the world. “I sell mostly products that have been largely unavailable in Pittsburgh, even in the western Pennsylvania area. In one case, I am the only person in the United States to carry the brand.”
Products include colorful nail polishes devoid of harsh chemicals and hard-to-find brand Bloom and Blossom, a UK pregnancy and baby skin care line with a cult following.
“I focus on ingredients,” says Quesnelle. “Having been in the industry for so long has helped me figure out which products to carry.”
To Quesnelle’s surprise, the most popular selling item has been a bright purple lipstick, which sold out days after the shop opened. Other favorites include handmade vintage pillboxes containing lip balm and innovative single-use makeup application papers for customers on the go.
“I have products at a variety of price ranges,” Quesnelle says, “and I don’t have a set audience. I’m here for anybody who wants to try something new, to experience a product they’ve never seen before.”
When the back room renovations are complete, The Gilded Girl plans to offer tutorial classes, Quesnelle’s answer to wine and paint nights.
“It’ll be a space where people can come in and learn a particular look, like holiday occasion, smokey eyes or skin care,” Quesnelle says. “Visitors can bring some wine and learn a new skill.”
Visit The Gilded Girl’s website to shop online and learn about upcoming classes and events.
Toll Gate Revival, 3711 Butler Street
Toll Gate Revival started as a hobby for owner Seth Hunter who searched Pennsylvania and nearby states for antiques in his spare time. Soon, he realized he could make some money on the side selling the pieces he found so he started operating out of a studio on the Northside.
“It started out as a storage facility for me, and eventually, I started opening the space up to the public, having open houses one or two times a month,” says Hunter.
With a large following on Instagram, Toll Gate Revival’s carefully selected pieces attracted visitors to the open houses by the hundreds, and Hunter felt he should open a full-time location. Now, two years after opening his North Side studio, Toll Gate Revival opened in Lower Lawrenceville on October 15th.
“This isn’t a traditional antique shop by any means,” says Hunter who refers to his products as American Vintage. The rustic space feels like a cross between a hunting lodge and industrial loft, thoughtfully decorated with pieces that Hunter has found on his various picking expeditions across the state. The only piece in the store he won’t part with is one of his favorite picks—a large, worn black leather Chesterfield sofa in the middle of the store. “That’s my baby,” Hunter says.
Visitors won’t have a problem finding something else that catches their eye. From taxidermied moose heads to antique metal signs, Hunter’s eye for the unique and timeless is evidenced in his inventory, and in the minimal restoration that gives pieces new life while preserving their history.
Antique farming tools and aging globes grace old coffee tables. A large industrial metal locker basket in the corner that looks like it came straight off an interior design blog was an unappealing peach color when he came across it. “I wire brushed it down to the metal,” Hunter says.
In addition to the American Vintage pieces, Toll Gate Revival sells Pittsburgh-based Seneca Creek apparel and accessories, custom printed pillows and Ohio-based 1820 House Candles.
The store also offers interior design services. “We work with a lot of designers, shops and retail spaces to help find them pieces to create an eclectic decor. If someone’s looking for a particular piece, we can hunt it down or design an entire space for you,” Hunter says.
Hunter enlists the help of local crafter John Malecki to build one-of-a-kind items out of reclaimed materials found on picking trips, including barn wood tables, shelves and consoles.
“You can expect that every time you come in here you’ll find something different,” Hunter says. “My inventory is always changing; there’s a lot of turnover when I’m out picking.”