Category Archives: pittsburgh

Pittsburgh Light Up Night returns in 2021

What’s become the traditional kickoff of the holiday season in Pittsburgh is set to return.

Pittsburgh Light Up Night is back in 2021 — just in time for the 60th anniversary of the city’s first Light Up Night.

After pausing the event in 2020 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership promises a “refresh” on the holiday celebration.

Though details were slim in the Sept. 16 announcement, organizers did announce one big change: Light Up Night is moving to Saturday — Nov. 20. Traditionally, the event has been held on the Friday before Thanksgiving.

The Holiday Market at Market Square will celebrate its 10th year in the city and will kick off Nov. 19.

Also new to Light Up Night this year is a new title sponsor: Highmark.

If you know anything about Downtown Pittsburgh and the holidays, you know that the iconic Horne’s tree that dazzles all season long at the corner of Penn and Stanwix streets is now home to Highmark.

“Pittsburgh’s annual Light Up Night is a tradition for our community. Our sponsorship of the event complements the lighting of the region’s most iconic and historic Christmas tree affixed to our building at the corner of Penn and Stanwix Streets,” Highmark Health Executive Vice President and Chief Corporate Affairs Officer Dan Onorato said in a statement released by the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership. “We‘re excited that the move to Saturday will now make this signature event even more family-focused and welcoming to all.”

Did you know? Pittsburgh’s first Light Up Night was not tied to the holiday season. The city’s first “light up” event was held April 9, 1959, in honor of the Pirates.

It eventually moved to the holiday season. But Light Up Night took a nine-year hiatus beginning in 1973 in an effort to conserve energy.

Light Up Night returned in 1982 to help lift morale as the steel industry collapsed. Just a few years later, though, Gimbels — one of the last remaining Downtown department stores — would close.

Before COVID-19, Light Up Night, in recent years, recorded crowds of at least half a million people. In the ’90s, as the Downtown retail district began to implode, the event would see 25,000 to 50,000 people.

But something happened since then: The Downtown Pittsburgh Partnership has grown the event — along with the help of many other groups — which has attracted plenty more people to the city.

Gone are the days when Kaufmann’s would celebrate its grand window displays. (I wonder if any consideration has been given to pay homage to this tradition?)

Even once Kaufmann’s became Macy’s, the building would have festive events on nearly every floor.

And who can forget the Arcade Bakery thumbprint cookies with the iconic Kaufmann’s mile-high icing?

Gone are the days when people used Light Up Night and the holiday season to shop Downtown. Now, people shop online or at Target (guilty as charged).

Light Up Night has changed with the times to let Pittsburghers continue to usher in the holidays.

‘I don’t have to apologize for letting go or choosing things in the name of my peace and healing’

I did something this week that was long overdue: I stepped away from all of my volunteer and extracurricular activities.

I stepped back from volunteering* with an organization I’ve been heavily involved with for more than 25 years.

I officially resigned from a nonprofit board position, stepped back from a few other nonprofits where I’ve offered assistance or volunteered and said no to some recent asks for my help in other activities.

And it feels good.

(Continue reading below the Instagram post.)

Being forced last year to pause so much helped me take a hard look at what I was spending my life doing. Like a lot of you, I said “yes” far too much.

I’ve been going hard at volunteering for nonprofits for way too long. For many years, I tried to keep track of my hours spent volunteering and I easily racked up anywhere from 1,800 to 2,600 hours a year volunteering.

I’ve put so much time in, and I just needed to take a break — something I’ve been trying to do for a few years now. But every time I found myself with extra time, I found some nonprofit group or activity to fill its void. I’ve said “yes” too often just thinking it would be a simple ask, and it usually wasn’t.

The ongoing global pandemic has taught me that I need to slow down and live my life.

The nonprofit groups will continue. The other activities will go on.

When I’m ready, I’ll find my way back into volunteering — either for groups I’ve recently hit pause on or new endeavors.

There’s a song from one of the greatest musicals — “Avenue Q” — that I often am reminded of: “For Now.” The lyrics go: “Nothing lasts. Life goes on, full of surprises. … Except for death and paying taxes, everything in life is only for now.” This pause is only for now.

What led me to this decision that, from the outside, seems drastic? As I said earlier, it’s been a long time coming. When doing any kind of volunteering, I think of another “Avenue Q” song that goes: “When you help others, you’re really helping yourself.” Helping nonprofit groups began to feel like tasks mounting with no end in sight — and I started to feel as though I wasn’t helping myself.

A friend suggested that nonprofit work should still — at the core — be fun and fulfilling.

The other day, I ran across a post on Facebook with the quote posted above. I found Yasmine Cheyenne’s Instagram account to give her proper credit. But that quote (“I don’t have to apologize for letting go or choosing things in the name of my peace and healing”) really resonated with me. It’s OK to let go.

* Besides, did you really think I could completely step away? I’m still going to raise some money for the American Cancer Society because I signed up as a team captain and don’t want to have a zero-dollar team. But I’m going to do it with as little effort this year. And I still plan to help with a journalism group.

Of course, with an ongoing pandemic, there is little to fill this large chunk of time with. And maybe that’s for the best for now.

Election Day: Allegheny County DA fends off challenger, and more election news

Did you know 2020 is a leap year? One extra day has been tucked into the circus that will be the 2020 presidential election.

But until then, there is a slew of important local elections happening across Allegheny County and the country. Local elections matter.

In Allegheny County:

  • Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald (D-Pittsburgh) easily defeated his challenger for a third term (WTAE)
  • Controller Chelsa Wagner (D-Pittsburgh) also came away with a big win against her challenger (WTAE)
  • District Attorney Stephen Zappala (D) defeated challenger Lisa Middleman (Post-Gazette)
  • Joe Biden surprised Allegheny County Dems tonight with a random visit (Post-Gazette)
  • An ally of Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto will replace outspoken mayoral critic Darlene Harris on Pittsburgh council (Post-Gazette)
  • Pittsburgh residents to pay higher taxes after parks vote (Pittsburgh Patch)

By the way, it looks like voter turnout in Allegheny County was just shy of 28 percent. I think officials estimated a 27 percent turnout. (This percentage might change slightly as not all precincts are reporting, as of 12:10 a.m. Nov. 6.)

And some big news around the country:

  • Democrats projected to flip Virginia Senate and House, taking control of state government for the first time in a generation (WaPo)
  • Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear is the apparent winner over Republican incumbent Gov. Matt Bevin (NBC News)

Plus, check out these stories:

  • One Western Pennsylvania voter cast his absentee ballot … from the International Space Station (AP/WESA)
  • Woman who was fired for flipping off Trump motorcade won an election in Virginia (BuzzFeed News)
  • For the first time since 1981, Democrats won a majority of city council seats in Columbus, Indiana, which just so happens to be the hometown of VP Mike Pence (WXIN)

Getting nebby with Doors Open Pittsburgh

tl;dr: Scroll down for some amazing views.


For two days each fall, Pittsburghers get a chance to be a little nebby (that’s Pittsburghese for nosey) in many Downtown (and North Side) buildings.

Through the nonprofit group Doors Open Pittsburgh, dozens of buildings’ doors are opened to give people access that otherwise is off limits or rare.

I’m someone who loves learning about history (especially local history). I’m not someone who can spout off architecture or architects, though, but I can still appreciate it and understand that development threatens far too much of our city’s history.

With Doors Open Pittsburgh, participants can browse lobbies, theaters, top floors, ballrooms, boardrooms, vaults and so much more!

On the first day of Doors Open Pittsburgh 2019, I managed to get to 10 spots on the tour. (Sounds impressive, but there are something like 50-plus stops!!) I planned to get to a few more, but I got a late start and some places had closed by the time I started my trek.

Some of the spots offered are in the same building. For instance, the tour separately lists the Office of the Mayor, Council Chambers and the City-County Building. It also separately lists the Kopper Building and the Kopper Building Innovation Space.

So, I mapped out my trip for Saturday afternoon, following Fourth Avenue and Grant Street.

On Day 1, I followed Fourth Avenue and Grant Street, taking in a number of buildings along those streets.

The Bank Tower on Fourth was my first stop. I was not aware that Point Park University owned the building. And I also was not interested in walking up 16 flights only to walk back down!

Be sure to scroll through the photos to see more from The Bank Tower.

Among my stops was Dollar Bank on Fourth Avenue near Smithfield Street. This building isn’t the bank’s headquarters (that’s on Liberty Avenue), but the amount of history and stunning features inside of it might make you think otherwise.

Also, be sure to check out a surprise photo of who one of the customers of Dollar Bank was! Most of you probably won’t care, but I geeked out when I saw!

I then made my way to the City-County Building. I’ve been here before, but it’s usually been for business, so no time to really enjoy the space. (Sadly, the archives room was full with some kind of apparent tour group, so I wasn’t able to peek inside.)

I also forgot to edit these photos, so they’re all a bit slanted. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

They all lean left, though, just like Mayor Peduto!

OK, check out this gorgeous view up from the Union Trust building.

OK, so I care about one building more than any other, and sadly, the insides were destroyed and gutted to make way for progress (insert eyeroll emoji). The shell of the building still stands as does its iconic ornate piece.

And while I’m happy to see the building standing, it’s hard to accept it as a total win when very little of the inside architecture remains.

Of course the building I’m referring to is the Kaufmann’s Department Store at Fifth Avenue and Smithfield Street. Since Macy’s closed it in 2015, the building has been turned into a multi-use development that includes apartments, a hotel, a parking garage (that I don’t think is open yet?) and lower level retail.

On a walking group tour last year of Pittsburgh’s old department store scene, I was able to go inside the Kaufmann’s Grand on Fifth apartments, which was the old Arcade level – with the Arcade Bakery, candy counter, card shop, etc. The third and fourth floors were gutted to make the lobby massive. But the row of elevators that existed in the department store remain.

On Day 1 of the 2019 Doors Open Pittsburgh event, I noted Kaufmann’s in a few different ways.

First, Kaufmann’s Department Store was a customer of Dollar Bank back in the day.

The bank even had old bank forms from the department store.

At the 2018 Doors Open Pittsburgh, I made a surprise discovery on the 25th floor of the Embassy Suites – you could look at the Kaufmann’s building to see the construction happening.

Last year’s shock was seeing the giant hole cut into the building.

I hadn’t planned to go inside the Embassy Suites this year, but did just to see the view of Kaufmann’s and check in on rooftop construction.

Also, peek-a-boo, clock!

You’ll want to swipe through my Union Trust building photos on Instagram.

Quite possibly some of the most breathtaking views came from the Koppers Building on Seventh Avenue.

On the 29th floor is an innovation center and a rooftop area that offered some amazing views of the North Side and beyond, down Bigelow Boulevard and The Strip, and the Hill District and Oakland.

And, this amazing note in the Koppers Building is rooting for all of us:

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.

Getting around Pittsburgh ain’t easy

Ever get caught in construction that you either didn’t know about or forgot? We’ve all been there.

One Sunday night several years ago, I was coming home from the Harrisburg area and was excited to be getting off the Turnpike at Monroeville, only to be stopped several miles later in standstill traffic.

What should have been an easy 25-minute ride from the Turnpike to my house ended up taking nearly an hour on a Sunday night.

Or many years ago when PennDOT was screwing with the old West End “Circle” and had squiggly arrows on detour signs that made zero sense.

Admittedly, this sign making the rounds on Facebook isn’t the worst I’ve seen (though, it does send all of the detour traffic the same way, which can’t be good), but it’s still very much so very indicative of Pittsburgh traffic.

But from the looks of it, if you’re going to Mt. Lebanon, you won’t hit much traffic.