Good Business: Pitt and the Oakland District

Issue Date: 
August 24, 2015

Shoppers fill their baskets with glossy notebooks and other supplies at The University Store on Fifth. Down the street, customers craving a refreshing treat form a line, crowding the sidewalk outside Rita’s Italian Ice. In the city bustle, would-be patrons glimpse into restaurants, looking for an empty seat among diners, many of whom are clad in blue and gold.

The end of summer means the return of students to the University of Pittsburgh—and the return of their business to Oakland restaurants and stores. It is a partnership that benefits both the Pitt community and the surrounding business district.

“Business owners choose to locate in Oakland because we are the mecca for the region’s universities and hospitals,” said Georgia Petropoulos, executive director of the Oakland Business Improvement District (OBID). Oakland is Pennsylvania’s third-largest economic center, and the OBID membership comprises more than 250 businesses and property owners, including the University of Pittsburgh. 

Kannu Sahni, Pitt’s director of community relations, cited the University’s prominent role in boosting the Oakland corridor’s economic strength. “The University is at the heart of the ‘eds and meds,’ knowledge-based economy that has driven the resurgence of our region. Our direct contributions through OBID—and our active partnership with OBID and its members—help make the central business district clean, attractive, and welcoming, which draws both businesses and customers to the district.”

For instance, Brandon Smith (A&S ’06), co-owner of Fuel and Fuddle, has observed the dynamic between the University and the Oakland business community from both sides. The restaurant hired Smith as a server during his sophomore year. Smith progressed as a bartender, manager, and general manager until he purchased the restaurant about a year ago.

“The University plays a huge role in what we do,” said Smith. “Stop in before a Pitt hoops game, and you’ll get the idea. Students, alumni, fans, players … it’s crazy.”

Fuel and Fuddle experiences a 20 percent business decline during the summer, but the lunch crowd remains steady, Smith said. During the academic year, the $5 menu offered between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. draws an influx of students eager to satisfy their late-night hunger. 

3 Guys Optical is another Oakland business—among many—that caters to students and others in the Pitt community who set their sights on shopping near campus. 

“We offer free repairs and adjustments to students and University staff, even if they did not purchase their eyewear with us,” said Joseph Hisker, the Oakland store manager. 

“We also offer exclusive in-store student and University discounts throughout the year.”

As Pitt’s Arrival Survival commences today, literally thousands of first-year students will be rolling into town with filled-to-the-brim vans and cars, ready for their move into residence halls. Soon, Oakland’s streets will be flush with a steady stream of shoppers.

“Oakland’s businesses look forward with great anticipation to move-in each fall,” said Pitt’s Sahni.