Pittsburgh’s Little Italy balancing old traditions with new development

PITTSBURGH — Bloomfield is known as Pittsburgh’s Little Italy.

And rightly so.

The moniker is on the sign entering the neighborhood at the foot of the Bloomfield Bridge, and you’ll see Italian names on many businesses.

91-year-old Orie Mariani is one of the last of the old-timers who still speaks Italian.

“Mi piaci, Bloomfield, per que sono nato qui. I was born here,” Mariani said. “I have less and less people to use it (Italian) with anymore.”

Maria Merante, who owns a shop and Italian kitchen, and also speaks the native tongue, understands.

“We don’t have as many of the ‘old school Italians’ that people expect to see when they come here,” she said.

Evan Miller, 27, is one of the new wave of young people moving in. He bought a house here last year.

We are getting real about the important issues in our communities – from racism to housing and healthcare inequities to policing reforms. We bring you stories that tackle the tough issues and give a voice to the often marginalized voices in our city.

“The character and charm of the neighborhood is what attracts a lot of young people,” Miller said. “It’s a very approachable neighborhood.”

Pam Ranallo, a lifelong Bloomfielder, welcomes the infusion of young blood.

“It’s a good thing. It’s multicultural. A lot of professionals,” she said.

But the arrival of newcomers who can easily buy an older traditional Bloomfield house, or even two, also means the exodus of longtime residents, especially renters, who can no long afford to pay the rising prices.

Christina Howell told Channel 11′s David Johnson that many here are being priced out.

“Yes. New city data shows that 40% of Bloomfield renters are experiencing hardship paying their rent--which means they’re paying more than 30% of the income for rent,” Howell said.

Howell is director of the Bloomfield Development Corporation, whose mission it is to foster development, but also retain and promote affordable housing. She wants to make sure “that people who helped make the neighborhood what is it today get to stay here.”

Howell said there are positive signs. The developer of a supermarket on Liberty Avenue has committed to building affordable units, as well as a new store. And Howell said she’s working with other developers to secure similar commitments.

All the while, the old, familiar Bloomfield hangs on.

Like at Cercone’s, where Dennis Scullion, the grandson of the founder, still cuts hair.

And at Donatelli’s, the Italian grocer that’s also a staple of the neighborhood, where you can shop for Italian delicacies.

And around the corner on Cedarville, an iconic residential street, where the long-timers kiss and hug every time they run in to each other, they cherish the old while welcoming the new.

As Bloomfield native Valerie Catena Sullivan put it, “Everybody in Bloomfield is like family. Even if you’re a ‘newbie’ we’ll make you feel like family in Bloomfield.”