Eight years ago, Sewickley sat down and took an honest look at itself.

Like many small towns in America, the charm of the main street business district was beginning to fade. Storefronts along Beaver Street, the heart of the community, suffered from a continuous spate of vacancies. More parking was needed. The hardest truth, perhaps, was that local residents admitted to driving to the big box stores for goods.

In response, Sewickley mobilized and formed Village Green Partners in 2010, renamed later Explore Sewickley, a nonprofit charged with conjuring a bold new vision for the community.

Five years in and more than 40 ribbon cuttings later, new boutiques, restaurants, fitness studios, health services, retail stores and a juicery abound. Sawdust is kicking up around four new developments. Pop-up boutiques are, well, popping up. Family-friendly events like the Sewickley Night Mart (last Fridays during the summer) and the annual wine walk in November flash a neon welcome sign to all comers.

“It’s all starting to come together,” Borough Manager Kevin Flannery says proudly.  “It’s been a five-year, very transparent process. Sewickley is a destination. We want people to come, walk the neighborhoods.”

Outdoor dining at the Hotel Sewickley, a mainstay on the main street. Photo by Tracy Certo
Outdoor dining at the Hotel Sewickley, a mainstay on the main street. Photo by Tracy Certo

The most anticipated project is a block to be christened Theatre Square on land formerly occupied by the Ascot Motors dealership on Walnut Street. The Vanguard Theatre is building a $2.5 million independent movie theatre and is in the throes of fundraising. The 11,800-square-foot, 350-seat theatre will open its doors the summer of 2016.

The theatre will house two screening rooms for independent, foreign and classic films and educational programming. It will be the first movie theatre in the borough since the 1980s.

A 30,000-square-foot, three-story office building will join the skyline, being built by Peter Friday of Pittsburgh-based Forbes Trail Development at 417 Thorne Street, also part of the Ascot site. Sewickley Council is currently considering a structure for parking nearby.

Beyond the church will be the new home of Howard Hanna. Photo by Tracy Certo
Beyond the church will be the new home of Howard Hanna. Photo by Tracy Certo

Across the street, Thorne-Walnut Management is readying an 8,500-square-foot space for Schenley Capital investment firm. Crazy Mocha will take the first floor. On the 400 block of Broad Street, a new Howard Hanna Real Estate office will reopen October 2015. The former office, located in a residential home, burned to the ground in 2014 after lightning hit the clock tower and sparked the blaze. The new office will provide space for 37 real estate agents.

Vivo is one of many new storefronts on Beaver St. Photo by Tracy Certo
Vivo is one of many new storefronts on Beaver St. Photo by Tracy Certo

Down the road on Ohio River Boulevard, developers recently broke ground on a new residential community, the first mixed-residential development in Sewickley in years. Elmhurst will be located on the site of the former Sewickley Country Inn, the name in homage to the Elmhurst Inn razed in the 1950s. Ten 10 single family homes and 16 townhomes priced between $350,000 and $450,000 will go in.

Revitalization will be a boon for everyone, especially longtime business owners, many of whom have run businesses in Sewickley for more than 10 years, says Alexis Comunale, president of the Sewickley Chamber of Commerce, owner of Jewel Thief and a 30-year resident. “Where else do you see new buildings going up in a bedroom community?” she says.

Rest assured the best of Sewickley hasn’t changed. The stately, tree-lined streets, painstakingly-tended gardens and wide sidewalks still radiate their timeless appeal. Everyone walks everywhere, from mothers pushing strollers to the leashed residents. While Sewickley is home to the rich and famous of Pittsburgh, the housing stock is fairly diverse—from apartments and condos to starter homes, farm houses and grand estates, should you be in the market for a gingerbread Victorian, Tudor or Georgian-style mansion in “the village” or beyond.

One of many larger homes near the village. Photo by Tracy Certo
One of many larger homes near the village. Photo by Tracy Certo

Geographically speaking, eight neighborhoods kiss the borders of the borough and share the coveted Sewickley zip code: Edgeworth, Sewickley Heights, Glen Osborne, Bell Acres, Aleppo Township, Glenfield, Haysville and Sewickley Hills. Together they constitute the blue-ribbon winning Quaker Valley School District. Sewickley Academy is nearby.

Mambo is one of many new restaurants to open recentlly in Sewickley. Photo by Tracy Certo

As for the business district, the new kids on the block include coffee shops, boutiques, antique stores and casual and fine dining establishments. Local resident and owner Robin Fernandez opened Mambo Italia, a cozy Neapolitan pizzeria and Italian BYOB with garage style doors that  open to the street. Wood-fired pizzas and classic Italian fare are served. And he opened Lula, the first tapas and boutique bar in Sewickley.

Sam and Lori DiBattista own Vivo Kitchen which relocated her from Bellevue. A few more notable new restaurants: The Village Melt, the local version of fast food, serves burgers, grilled cheese and frothy shakes. The Slippery Mermaid takes sushi to a new level with highly rated “fat rolls” with quirky names like Flaming Mermaid. Cocothe, which started as a tea and chocolate shop, has already expanded next door as a full service restaurant.

Next to Slippery Mermaid you’ll find Art Space 616, a new contemporary art gallery featuring local emerging and established artists, owned by Jessie Britton.

Penguins and Ideas

In home furnishings, two new boutiques have surfaced, decor and gift store House 15143 and IDEAS Vintage Market. IDEAS specializes in repurposed, painted furniture, furniture painting workshops and hard-to-find Annie Sloan Chalk Paint.

Many of the local favorites continue to thrive. Among them the French bistro Café des Amis, the old-time sweets shop Village Candy, the Kittanning-made gelato at Sewickley Confectionary, the Sewickley Spa and the beloved indie Penguin Bookshop with a new location, 417 ½ Beaver Street. Orrs Jewelers, having served several generations of shoppers, remains the wise sage on the street.

So has the infusion of new businesses worked to keep the local residents from driving to those big box stores? Explore Sewickley president Jennifer Markus admits that challenge remains for now.

“We have a Rite Aid, a grocery store, a home and garden store, a dry cleaner, shoe repair and hair salons,” says Markus. “I live in the village, walk everywhere and shop here as much as I can, but we can’t do it all.”

Deb Smit

Deb is an award-winning journalist who loves ancient places and cool technologies. A former daily newspaper reporter and Time-Life Books editor, she writes mostly about Pittsburgh. Her stories have appeared in Fast Company, Ozy and Pittsburgh Magazine.