The Boulevard, as it’s known in the neighborhood, is Pittsburgh’s broadest commercial street—which strikes out-of-towners as absurd, but Pittsburgh has never been a city of broad streets. The breadth comes from the history of the street: when streetcars ran in Brookline, they ran in a separate right-of-way in what is now the middle of the street, with a narrow lane for automobiles on each side of the tracks—just like Broadway in Dormont today, where the Red Line cars still run. That history also accounts for the Boulevard’s other peculiarity: unlike most business streets, it has almost all the businesses lined up on one side of the street, with the other side more residential.
In every way this is an eclectic street. There’s a high occupancy rate in the storefronts, but very few chains are here, giving the neighborhood an unusually rich collection of odd little one-off shops. The architecture is also eclectic: in one block we can see everything from the beginning of the twentieth century to twenty-first-century International Style revival.
Brookline Boulevard, known simply as “the Boulevard” in the neighborhood, is the broadest commercial street in Pittsburgh—which surprises visitors from flat cities, where it would be at best a middling business street. It’s a curiously one-sided business strip: almost all the businesses are on the southwest side, the northeast side being primarily residential.
That may be because, for much of the neighborhood’s life, it was effectively two streets. When trolleys ran in Brookline, Brookline Boulevard was two narrow strips for cars, with trolleys in a separate median in the middle—much like Broadway in Dormont along the current Red Line. Removing the trolleys and paving the median created the exceptionally broad street.
The Brookline business district is one that is seldom thought of as a destination for shoppers from out of the neighborhood. But it should be. It has very few chain stores, but it is prosperous enough that storefronts are seldom empty for long. The result is a delightful mix of little one-off shops, cafés, and ethnic restaurants.