A Day in Shadyside, Where a Real Toy Store Still Thrives

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Shadyside Variety Store, a wonderful toy store in Pittsburgh.
Shadyside Variety Store, a wonderful toy store in Pittsburgh.
We spent the day in this city of three rivers, in the Shadyside neighborhood where Mary spent her childhood. In our rented one-bedroom apartment, it was nice to decamp and be able to visit Mary’s family and have a place to come home to afterward.

Shadyside’s Walnut Street is one of the city’s premier shopping streets, here we found a very useful Apple store where a pack of geniuses stood waiting to help me with a simple iPhone question. Ten minutes was all my guy needed to set me straight, and it gave him several additional minutes to pitch me on the virtues of the new 11″ Macbook Air. That’s quite an engineering feat, packing so much power into something that feels like a file folder with a few papers in it.

We ventured out into the sunlight, stopping for jeans at a Banana Republic and at Shadyside Variety Store, a toy shop that’s been an anchor on the street since the ’60s. I love a store where the owner shows you her favorite toys and everything is easy to get at and play with. Try doing that with the blister-packed commercial-driven merchandise in Wal-Mart or Target.

I wanted to return to the impressive museums I saw when I first visited the city, so we went to the Carnegie Museum where an exhibit of photographs by Teenie Harris, who spent many decades shooting the city’s black communities. Using projectors the show featured gigantic images of the black and white shots, which were then viewable in an adjacent room. You can call a number and hear more background about each shot, which was when I learned about “Double V”: That meant victory over the Nazis plus a hoped for second victory over racism against blacks. The black newspaper promoted Double V throughout the war.

We ended the night right down the street from Mary’s dad’s apartment, in a Middle eastern restaurant called Ali Baba’s. After the smorgasbord of meze dishes, I asked the owner about the situation in Syria, where he is from. He seemed glad that he was here, a successful immigrant instead of still living in his native land, and shrugged when I suggested there would soon be a new leader over there. So far, the Arab Spring hasn’t brought much freedom or much prosperity, so I guess that was why he was less than excited about the future of his country, no matter who ends up being in charge.