Monday, July 11, 2005

Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills to open Thursday

Entrance to the GalleriaThe anticipated news event for the Valley this week will be the opening of the Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills on Thursday, July 14, 2005. Located on 200 acres in Frazer township the locals have watched the construction of the mall's own exit on the 28 expressway, and have been able to see various other signs of construction when driving past the site on 28. But one has to drive up to the site to see that this mall will be very, very big.

I am one who has been looking forward to the opening of the Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills because it will feature a Borders bookstore. In the close to three years that I have been living here I have missed easy access to a good bookstore. It will be very nice to have a place to browse books so nearby.

Borders Books and MusicThe touchy question for everyone is whether the changes brought by the Pittsburgh Mills will be good. Clearly the collection of so many stores in one location will create pressure on the many smaller stores that continue to populate the small "Main Streets" of the neighboring towns. The opening of the Galleria accentuates the growing and artificial distinction between the places where people live and the places where they shop. On the other hand, the mall is able to create this pressure because it brings so many shopping opportunities close to communities where the alternatives have not been overwhelming.

The trip from downtown Tarentum up to the Pittsburgh Mills is a journey through the history of where people have lived and where they have shopped. I start at the edge of a dense residential neighborhood once dotted with so many corner stores that it was possible for any resident to get to a shop in ten minutes. I drive up East Sixth Avenue, where there are a number of stores open for business, but, as many of my older friends remind me, there is today no place a woman could go to buy a dress. I take a short trip on the expressway to enter an easily navigated set of access roads where the Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills comes into view, an expansive structure where many of the treasures of the world will be for sale, and, at the same time, a place where no one lives.

While the distinction between the places where people live and the places where they shop continues to grow, I suspect that many people long for the distinction to disappear. Last week I was briefly in Philadelphia and had an opportunity to visit Main Street at Exton, a shopping center designed to look like a familiar, charming "Main Street" in a small town. It was all a clever illusion. The tall facades of the many stores suggested the presence of second floors where dwelling might be possible, but they were only facades. It was certainly another attractive place to shop, but not an actual recreation of the mixture of dwellings and stores that made up the main streets many people remember.

CinemarkHappily, my own decision to start shopping at the new Borders is not at the expense of any existing business in Tarentum. And when I see a movie at the new Cinemark, it will be because that cineplex is the closest one to me, not because I am abandoning any theater in Tarentum.

While I wish for the possibility of a greater geographical proximity between the places where I live and work and the places where I buy the things I need from day to day, the opening of the Galleria will be an important step toward being able to do more of my shopping a lot closer to home.

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