The Hill District: Still waiting for something great to happen

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Longtime Hill Resident Leeretta Payne looks out from the ledge at the recently renovated Cliff Side Park Overlook. (Photos by Richard Kelly Photography with Kristi Jan Hoover)

Are a new grocery and coffee shop enough?

by Susan Jacobs Jablow
PublicSource

Leeretta Payne rises at 5:30 on warm mornings to take care of her Cliff Street garden. Her corner townhouse is similar to others on the block — red-brick and well-kept. Standing on her street in the Hill District, Payne can look west and see the U.S. Steel Building towering over nearby Downtown. It feels close enough to touch.

The view in the other direction is dramatically different. Facing east, two sides of the intersection of Cliff and Cassatt streets are empty lots, with grass growing tall where buildings used to be. This study in contrasts is apparent throughout the Hill District, a place where home ownership and community pride intermingle with desertion, decay and untapped potential.

Payne has lived in her Cliff Street home for 30 years. Two of her sisters live on her block. And three of her other siblings are in the neighborhood. Payne has seven children of her own, the youngest of whom is 15.

“We really look out for each other,” said Payne of her neighbors. “We know each other’s business.”

Payne has endured the area’s ups and downs. As a teenager, she worked at Eddie’s Restaurant, a popular spot in the area’s prime. She can point to empty lots throughout the neighborhood that used to be bars, restaurants and retail businesses.

Almost all of that is gone now.

These days, the Hill District doesn’t even have its own coffee shop.

“If you want a cup of coffee you literally have to take a Styrofoam cup and freeze-dried coffee and ask for hot water,” said Payne.

But that won’t be the case much longer. In the same plaza where the new Shop’n Save supermarket opened in mid-October, a Crazy Mocha Coffee shop is planned.

And Payne, who runs a catering business, plans to open the Legacy Café, a coffee shop and eatery, on the first floor of playwright August Wilson’s childhood home on Bedford Avenue in the next year.

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