Is Pittsburgh ready for glam?

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

Pittsburgh has never been hailed for its shopping or fashion culture. However, fashion aficionados in the area can now do some serious shopping (and burn through some serious cash) with the opening of a number of specialty stores in Ross Park Mall. The mall is getting a major face-lift with the opening of Nordstrom, which is bringing Tiffany & Co., Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Kate Spade, and Michael Kors as well.

I think it’s great that Pittsburgh is trying to revitalize itself, particularly as it appeals to my inner fashionista. As a Pittsburgh girl, I love to see my city becoming more of a commercial, metropolitan area.

But is Pittsburgh really ready for this? Is it the right place and time for such expansion? Pittsburgh isn’t New York or Los Angeles, where there is a defined fashion scene emulated by the people of the cities, and there’s certainly no Pittsburgh Fashion Week. Pittsburghers just aren’t that focused on fashion, unless the clothes are black and gold and sport a Steelers emblem. A city with a working-class foundation just isn’t the typical setting for residents that are willing to drop hundreds of dollars on a monogrammed LV wristlet.

The addition of a Nordstrom to Ross Park Mall is one thing; it’s an upscale department store with a variety of items and a range of prices. However, Louis Vuitton, Burberry, and other specialty stores don’t have the variety of items or prices that make Nordstrom commercially sustainable. Maybe because I’m in college (and on a college student’s budget), my thoughts are a bit skewed, but while I’d love to have Louis Vuitton luggage to take with me when I pack to go home in December for winter break, chances are it’s not going to happen during my time here at Carnegie Mellon.

Not only do I question if Pittsburgh is the right location for opening the new shops, but I also wonder if it’s really the right time to be opening such expensive stores. Clearly, the economy is not doing so well right now, and multiple companies are going through major layoffs. Will these stores actually earn the revenue they need to stay in Ross Park Mall — and is it responsible of Pittsburghers to spend money on the items they sell? Moreover, if the stores close within a few years, might the failure of the project look worse than Pittsburgh does now, sans upscale, pricey stores?

There are certainly wealthy areas of Pittsburgh, though, and very, very well-paid Pittsburgh athletes. In fact, an article in the Pittsburgh Business Times points out that people in Pittsburgh were making trips to Cleveland, where the closest Nordstrom was located, to do their shopping until the closer location opened. So clearly, the market is there in some respect, but making a special trip to Nordstrom once or twice a year is a little different than going there every weekend to do all your shopping. Since people are clearly willing to travel for specialty shopping, however, maybe Ross Park Mall will become to others what Cleveland once was to Pittsburghers — a destination point for upscale shopping.

I think it’s great that Pittsburgh is trying to make a better name for itself, whether it’s technologically, as seen in the Robot250 over the summer, or fashion-wise, with the opening of the new shops in Ross Park. While I’m not sure how much business these stores will generate from Pittsburgh residents, or if they’re really going to make a profound difference in Pittsburgh culturally (Pittsburgh Fashion Week 2010, anyone?), I am hoping that the stores will still be open a few years from now when I cash in my hard-earned engineering paycheck for a Burberry scarf and Louis Vuitton handbag.