Urban redevelopment by small people

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .

Polish Hill has diversified its retail beverage service. Not that beer isn’t great, but now you can get a good cup of coffee... and a pastry or a salad ...liligroup

and consume them at a sidewalk table!! We told you awhile ago that Polish Hill was changing.... back.

Lili Coffee*Shop is just one new retail business in Polish Hill, at the corner of Dobson and Hancock. It is one of three in the same building. The fourth is Paulette Still-Khouri's beautiful shop on Brereton called The Urban Gypsy. You can read more about the four businesses -- all of which have opened in the past two months -- in (I hope) Monday’s print edition of the Post-Gazette.

The people who revived 3138 Dobson -- Catherine McConnell and Mark Knobil -- moved to Polish Hill eight years ago. (They're in the photo at right, flanking Carrie DiFiore and Rob Levkulich, the cafe's owners. Below left is Paulette Still-Khouri, owner of The Urban Gypsy.)

“We stumbled into it and fell in love with it,” said Mark, referring to the neighborhood.

urbangypsy“We drove over every hillside trying to find a little perch with a view,” said Catherine. “We wanted a new adventure. We wanted sky.”

Two years ago, they bought the moribund building that now houses Lili Coffee*Shop, Mind Cure Records and Copacetic Comics. It had been shabby apartments; now it was just shabbily vacant, its formerly large windows bricked over and replaced with  ‘70s-era horizontal sliding panels you couldn't fit a bread box through.

Mark and Catherine met me at the coffee shop the other day to talk about the amazing way things fell into place with this building. (The details will be in the Monday story.) As we stood beside the huge window facing Dobson, Mark pointed out a former storefront diagonally across the street.

“That used to be a store,” he said. “This neighborhood had lots of stores. It was complete. But community was blown away by our mobility. We had to have cars. Now people are wanting this back. Wouldn't it be great if that became a market?"





before/after photos, 3138 Dobson, by Mark Knobil

It's Walkabout’s special fantasy that people out in Sprawlsville will realize the error of their ways and come back to cities, or at least to the first ring suburbs, and let farmers and black bears have their old land back and repopulate neighborhoods with little stores and shops and all the things you want that too many people have to drive to buy now. We'd beef up the expectation of our city schools and bring back tax base to our desperate infrastructure yadda yadda yadda.

In the meantime, the small people are going against the obstacles, jumping through the hoops, maneuvering the mazes of urban development ... with scanty help and meager incentives while sprawl developers are hurrying to the hinterlands like freed prisoners to a red-light zone ... little by little, people who love and live in the city are putting in the sweat and gettin’ ‘er done.

To read other people’s blog posts about the Polish Hill enterprise epidemic, visit:

Join the conversation:

To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner. Thank you.