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Occupy Wood Street

Sheriff’s Sale for 16,500-square-foot property set for Mon., Feb. 3

Tracey Evans sees opportunity knocking, and it’s right next door. The executive director of Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation (CDC) spends her days working out of the nonprofit’s office on the south corner of Penn Avenue and Wood Street, in the business district. From there, she sees the obvious—buildings that need to be refurbished, retail spaces to be occupied.

For years, she and others in the borough have tried to get 1009 Wood Street, the property next to the CDC’s office, fixed up and redeveloped. On Mon., Feb. 3, the property will be sold Free and Clear at Sheriff’s Sale. All back taxes on the two-story, concrete and brick multi-use structure will be forgiven. “A wise investor could get this building for a song—maybe as little as several thousand dollars based on recent sales,” Evans said.

It could be the best real estate investment opportunity in Pittsburgh this year. The property, which has 11 retail spaces on its first floor and apartments on the second, has just a small market and a hair stylist occupying two of the spaces now. But not so long ago, it was full of businesses.

Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation (PHLF) president Arthur Zeigler and his organization have long been proponents of the quaint town. The group has invested more than $13 million in Wilkinsburg in recent years, much of it in residential housing and restoration of homes and apartment buildings. PHLF officials see the borough as many opportunities in one place.

“Here’s a building that defines a block,” Zeigler said of the Wood Street building. “It needs some restoration work, but we’d like to see it saved.”

When Evans moved to the borough decades back, the building was full of shops. For a while, one of those shops was owned by Up Beat Records proprietor Matt Lemon, who moved his music store a few blocks up Penn Avenue in October 2009. He’d been in the building along Wood Street since 1994, but water problems that went unfixed forced him to move, he said.

Lemon remembers the shoe repair, bookstore, dry cleaner and other shops that occupied the building. He was in the middle of that block of stores, and things were good for a while. He’d like to see the building full again. Others in the borough also would like to see the spot reinvigorated with new businesses, such as a café, another bookstore, an ice cream shop, or a bakery.

Now, some smart property developer could grab a whole lot of building for a small investment. Covering 16,757 square feet of land with a fair market land value of $69,100, the property has an assessed value of $228,700. Since it has 11 first floor retail spaces and a deep enough building footprint to allow for various uses, Evans sees a unique possibility for the property: first floor workspace/commercial/residential use, with living quarters to the rear of the first floor spaces. After all, the property is particularly suited for the traditional workshop-artisan quarters living arrangement.

In Wilkinsburg, an older town that’s reinventing itself, some areas are almost like blank slates, to be written upon by the next comers. But having many longtime businesses, there’s also a generations-long stability provided by the borough that, combined with available space, is making new things possible in established spots. What was older is becoming younger and hip, and it’s happening all over the borough, with dozens of business properties being sold in the past year.

A few blocks from the CDC across Penn Avenue and down South Avenue just past Nancy’s Diner, the former Lehman Typesetting shop at 608 South Ave. has been transformed into Tip Type, which is continuing in the long tradition of Wilkinsburg printmaking. Owned by Brandon Boan, Tip Type’s doors swing wide Feb. 8, with an open house from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tip Type will become part of the borough’s illustrious “Printer’s Row”—a small collection of printers in that block of South Ave., of which Mercury Printing and Challenge Printing are a part. The late Rudy Lehman operated his shop there from the mid 1950s until about a year ago.

For more information about these and other projects, visit

The Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation was formed in June of 2008 with a mission to revitalize Wilkinsburg and surrounding areas through business and residential development, organizational and individual civic leadership, and cultural enrichment.

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