Best of the ’Burgh 2013
From vegan shakes to popup block parties to foodie classes, here are 40 of our favorite Pittsburgh things.
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Best Place to Buy the Coolest & Weirdest Imported Japanese Toys & Collectibles
“Kawaii” is Japanese for “cute,” and Kawaii Gifts is cute overload. A tucked-away treasure trove down a pathway between stores on Walnut Street in Shadyside, Kawaii Gifts specializes in Japanese imports, and the store is “overflowing with everything pink and fuzzy,” as its website says. You’ll spot lots of the requisite Hello Kitty, plus San-X characters, vinyl toys and full lines of accessories, from pouches and bags, stickers, notebooks and erasers, housewares and bling to dress-up phones and other mobile devices. There are plenty of “plushies,” too, as well as Ugly Dolls and Giant Microbes. — J.W.
5413-B Walnut St., Shadyside; 412/687-2480, shopkawaii.com
Most Relaxing Place to Have a Ball
Whether you’re a ninja with a knitting needle or merely a novice, Knit One in Squirrel Hill welcomes everyone. It is, after all, as much a community gathering space as a business, providing funky leather sofas for informal group sessions as well as classes for those who’d like to try the craft. While owner Stacey Wettstein does sell yarn and other supplies at her shop, she’s especially pleased to offer a place for folks to pursue a calming hobby. — M.S.
2721 Murray Ave., Squirrel Hill; 412/421-6666, knitone.biz
Best Way to “Rent” a Shirt
Share Closet App
People exchange outfits all the time — skirts and jackets, shoes and hats — but the process is slow. You have to fish through wardrobes, try everything on and haul it all home. Andrea Wetherald and Sara Longo decided to simplify the process by making a social media platform with specialized iOS and Android apps, which won first place in April at Startup Weekend Pittsburgh. Share Closet helps people meet, talk trends and share, sell or trade lightly used garments. Its distribution model can be compared to Google+ in that it enables you to build circles of connections for sharing; some access is based on familiarity of people. Users clean out their closets and obtain free vestments at the same time; as with Instagram, folks upload photos of items that are up for grabs and post usage terms. Bonus: There are even borrower ratings and automatic return reminders so you know who to loan to and when to give back goods. The app is starting small, but as with ModCloth — which began as a tiny startup — there’s enormous potential. — R.I.
Download the app at sharecloset.net; sharecloset.com to debut in September
Best Way to Cheekily Sport Hometown Pride
Steel City Cotton Works T-Shirts
Want to wear your hometown pride on your (short) sleeve? Steel City Cotton Works creates fun shirts that are perfect for giving — unless you later decide that you’re keeping them for yourself. Some sports-related tees feature icons from Pittsburgh’s past — including “the Igloo” and the Pittsburgh Hornets and Homestead Grays teams. There’s even a Warholesque portrait of newscaster Sally Wiggin and a shirt decorated with “Smiling Like a Butcher’s Dog,” a line famously uttered by Penguins play-by-play announcer Mike Lange. Besides shirts, offerings include hoodies, buttons and a bumper sticker: “Keep Pittsburgh Weird.” Look for products at such places as the Sen. John Heinz History Center, Mattress Factory and Decade. — M.M.
Best Use of Salvaged Materials for Handmade Furniture
Imagine a table built from planks rescued from a Coney Island boardwalk and a desk crafted out of wood from an oyster house in Maine. Those are among the one-of-a-kind items available from Reclaimed Things, which specializes in home wares created from sustainable and salvaged resources. Co-owners Jenna and Jeremy Shock are “passionate about giving life to forgotten things,” as they state on their website. There are items for kids, including a step stool/storage box, and for animal companions, such as elevated holders for pet bowls. Commissioned and personalized pieces are also available. Reclaimed Things is currently located at a home workshop, but future plans include an expanded workshop and studio.
Best Place to Try a New Game That Has Absolutely Nothing to Do with a Video Screen
Games Unlimited is 3-D gaming at its best. Not “virtual 3-D,” but real 3-D, as in actual board games with pieces you can pick up. Since 1979, Games Unlimited has lived up to its name by providing a wide variety of games, many of which can’t be found elsewhere in the area. Chess player? You won’t find a better selection of sets than you will here. The same goes for varieties of Monopoly, Euro games and a collection of jigsaw puzzles that makes aficionados fall to pieces. — J.W.
2115 Murray Ave., Squirrel Hill; 412/421-8807, bgamers.com
Best Way to Ensure You Don’t Skip a Beat
Visit Unifaun Records
It’s official: Vinyl has made a comeback. iTunes may have ruined the CD industry, but the demand for floppy black discs is soaring. For whatever reason, Lawrenceville has become a mecca for phonograph merchants, and the newest firm is Unifaun Records. In this quirky shop, you’ll find crates brimming with albums, plus CDs and cool green walls covered with vintage posters. There’s even a “listening station” for sampling tunes. A transplant from New York City, owner Larry DeMellier theorizes that Pittsburgh is hungry for some 45s. For those of us with turntables and extra shelf space, let’s help prove him right. — R.I.
5417 Butler St., Lawrenceville; 412/781-2027
Best Line of Hip Swag for Little Lads
Boys will be boys. Style-conscious moms of boys want them to look sharp. Marybeth Mahoney and Lori Sipes, who each have two sons, are partners at YOBRO and, with an eye for style and affordability, have created a line of boys’ apparel. With diverse backgrounds in apparel design, graphic design, marketing and business development, they’ve forged a common sense of style and color in creating clothes ranging from “Baby Bro” (6-12 months) to “Big Bro” (up to size 10), including onesies, hoodies and T-shirts. YOBRO donates 10 percent of profits to local kid-related charities each season. Keep an eye out for the reopening of YOBRO’s renovated shop — expected to be up and running by early September, and open certain weekends and during special events. — J.W.
3818 Butler St., Lawrenceville, with limited hours of operation; 412/407-7689, yobroapparel.com
Best Shop for Finding Décor with an Eclectic Approach
The name alone implies a varied mix. That’s just what Urban Cottage owner Linda Nawrocki presents in her home decor and accessories shop. With a keen eye for design and combining vintage items with new, Nawrocki chooses each item herself. She also pays close attention to what her customers favor. She carries items for every room of the home, plus jewelry and office goods. Nawrocki opened Urban Cottage last August when she moved back to Pittsburgh after living in several locations around the world. Now that she’s back in the ’Burgh, Nawrocki especially enjoys featuring items made in the area. — J.W.
4602 Penn Ave., Lawrenceville; 412/683-1950, urbancottagedecor.com
Easiest Way to Make a Buck for Science
CMU Research Truck
On a warm afternoon, a long white trailer appears — splattered with colorful graphics, boasting “RESEARCH” across the side. Friendly students stand outside with clipboards, and as you pass, they ask, “Excuse me, would you be interested in earning $5?” Officially, the vehicle is called the Center for Behavioral and Decision Research Data Truck, and experimenters use the mobile facility to test community and targeted subjects, such as basketball fans. Tasks vary, as do the rewards. Some people type on a computer and walk out with cash, while others fill out a survey and receive a candy bar. One thing’s for sure: For everyday people, science was never so satisfying. — R.I.