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City Guide: Best of the 'Burbs

City-centric? Here’s a compass to lead you on a journey to some happening suburban communities — north, south, east and west.

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It’s where hipsters go to have kids,” says Frank Oreto, who recently moved Eljay’s, his classic used-book store, from South Side to West Liberty Avenue. Affordable houses and a reinvigorated Potomac Avenue shopping district, with new cafes like Sugar and the reopened Hollywood Theater, are helping to make this century-old South Hills suburb young again.

Dormont’s sturdy brick houses cluster closely on the hillsides flanking West Liberty Avenue, with many locals commuting 15 minutes to downtown via the T.  “It’s such a walking community,” says Rachel Dudley, co-owner of Dormont Dogs, a cozy new eatery on Glenmore Avenue.

Comfortable, affordable old homes are a magnet for couples like Matt and Dawn Crowe, who returned to the area after living in Boulder, Colo., and Athens, Ga. They’re now renovating a 19th century three-bedroom home on Peermont Avenue. “The house just fits us,” says Dawn, who works at the Software Engineering Institute in Oakland. “Everyone is so friendly. We instantly got to know our neighbors.”

The Dormont Pool and its bathhouse on Banksville Road (Route 19) have been a landmark since the 1920s. When budget woes threatened to close the complex five years ago, locals rallied to save it. The cause sparked a new community spirit that not only supports the pool—with annual events such as the Dormont Pub Crawl and pet-friendly Doggie Dip—but also launched a community gardening effort called DIG Dormont.

That renewed enthusiasm for this neighborhood has led to a growth of development and new business. Anne Gregory for the Bride has relocated from Mt. Lebanon to West Liberty Avenue, across the street from a new pocket park; Lachina Draperies has consolidated its manufacturing space and showroom nearby. The former South Hills Theater was demolished to make room for a new pharmacy, while the Hollywood, a landmark theater on Potomac Avenue, re-opened in May. (The Hollywood also got its own starring role when The Perks of Being a Wallflower, a new film by Summit Entertainment, used the 300-seat movie house for a recent location shoot.)

Two alumni from downtown’s Sonoma Grille opened cafes on Potomac Avenue. Captain Barnes, the former executive chef, opened Dormont Dogs with spouse Dudley three years ago, naming 14 varieties of hot dogs for local streets (the Texas Avenue is topped with chili sauce). This spring, pastry chef Kelly James opened her cheerful coffee shop, Sugar, a few doors away.

The venerable DorStop, a diner that’s been featured on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” pulled its loyal clientele to a new corner location, and on Potomac Avenue, a much-needed market, People’s Grocery, is open for business.

And more growth is on the way. With its selection to participate in Allegheny Together, a new assistance program for pedestrian business districts in the county, Dormont’s merchants will get help with everything from facade improvements to new residential development.

Meanwhile, Aiken Elementary, one of three grade schools in the Keystone Oaks School District, achieved a top-10 rank for its third- and fourth-grade state test scores last year. “Dormont’s in transition,” says Colleen Lehman, a real-estate agent who co-chaired this year’s Pub Crawl. “There’s more foot traffic and a nice feel. It’s really exciting.”