Hip, Healthy and Historic: Bellevue Comes into its Own
Nov 30, 2018 11:55AM
By Vanessa Orr
A home on the Live, Worship, and Shop House Tour
Bellevue has always been a charming borough filled with stunning historic houses, and its location close to the city makes it even more attractive. But it hasn’t been until recently that this area, whose name means “beautiful view,” caught the interest of businesses and home buyers alike.
“While Bellevue is close to the city, it really has a small-town feel,” explained Kathy Coder, former president of Bellevue City Council and the founder and chair of Bonafide Bellevue. “We’re fairly eclectic in the population we have and we embrace this diversity—some people have been here their whole lives, some are new to the area, and we see all income levels and educational backgrounds. It’s a real melting pot.”
Originally a dry borough, the passage of a referendum in 2015 to allow alcohol to be sold has paved the way for the opening of a number of businesses, which is breathing new life into Lincoln Avenue, the heart of Bellevue’s business district.
“Our business district has stood the test of time; we’ve had anchor stores here for 50-plus years, and with the influx of new businesses coming in, it’s a truly unique mix,” said Coder.
Anchor stores include Classic Chevrolet; Dietz Floral, which has made its home in Bellevue for generations; Joe’s Rusty Nail, best known for its delicious breakfasts; and Lincoln Bakery, which has been in Bellevue for more than 50 years.
New businesses include the restaurant Revival, which opened the first weekend in November in the historic 1902 Andrew S. Miller House, and Scoops Ice Cream, which opened in the borough this past summer. Lincoln Avenue Brewery is expected to open up in late January, as is a new taco shop.
“We also have a chocolatier opening a store; she recently moved here from Virginia, where she had a very successful business,” said Coder.
Grant Saylor, a member of the Bellevue Council and the owner of Lincoln Avenue Brewery, is pleased to see the borough embracing all that it has to offer.
“My wife and I grew up in Bellevue, and as lifelong residents, we’re really excited to see that the years and years of work that people put in to give Bellevue the boost that it needs are finally paying off,” he said. “We can see the results in the way that people are getting involved in the community and in local projects.
“I joined the council three years ago and used to see one person in the audience attending the meetings,” he continued. “Now, there may be 20 or 30 people in the audience, getting involved in what’s going on around them; it’s really refreshing.”
With the passing of the alcohol referendum, Saylor decided to invest in the community through Lincoln Avenue Brewery, a small, local microbrewery that will serve upscale, handheld food and small plates.
“When Bellevue was dry, we would see restaurants come and go,” he said. “There was never the opportunity to open a really good establishment because they couldn’t get a liquor license. It was a tough business environment.”
In addition to new eateries, Bellevue has a number of other attractions including three public parks and the John A. Hermann Jr. Memorial Art Museum, which houses the oil paintings, sketches and watercolors of Bellevue native John Hermann. The museum holds special exhibits including student art shows and exhibits by other Pennsylvania artists.
“It’s a treasure that no one really knows about,” said Coder. “People are always pleasantly surprised when they visit.”
RJ Thompson, a professor at Youngstown State University, wants people to know how special Bellevue is. To this end, he started the Bellevue Believes project, which will showcase different residents’ beliefs about what makes the borough special.
“It came from the idea that every single person in the community believes something specific and true about Bellevue, whether they discovered it years ago or just yesterday,” Thompson explained of the art project, which will include a print series of tabloid vertical posters and an audio and visual component. “We will focus on approximately 200 individuals and their beliefs, and people can learn more about their story at BellevueBelieves.org.”
Four local creatives, including Thompson, a painter, an illustrator and a photographer, will design the posters and create the videos, which will also be seen in rotating exhibits. “Not only will this showcase people’s Bellevue stories, but it will also recognize that Bellevue is an artistic community,” said Thompson, who has applied for a grant to underwrite the project.
Creating the Infrastructure to Grow a Community
A large part of the credit for Bellevue’s growth can be traced to the Bellevue Council and to Bonafide Bellevue, an all-volunteer community development organization that has been working for the past 10 years to attract new businesses and families to the area.
Approximately four years ago, the council approved a streetscape project, working with the county and the state to get grant money to revitalize Lincoln Avenue. “We redid the street lights, sidewalks, and some streets,” said Saylor, adding that these investments in the borough’s business district were designed to create a more business-friendly environment.
Bonafide Bellevue sponsors numerous initiatives, including Improve the Vue, an annual volunteer event now going on its ninth year. Each year, 200 to 300 volunteers show up to participate in projects to improve the community, and also do smaller projects each month.
“We started the Live, Worship, and Shop House Tour four years ago, and it has been a huge success,” said Coder. “We started a farmers’ market last year and have had an incredible response. We also hold two or three wine crawls a year, as well as a Light-up Night.”
One of Bellevue’s newest, coolest events is WizardVue, the brainchild of Mayor Emily Marburger. This event, which was held for the first time this past August, attracted hundreds of people to a street festival featuring activities, performances, and fun for wizards and witches of all ages.
According to Coder and Saylor, another reason that people are moving to Bellevue is that the area has excellent housing stock, which is attracting young families. “There are a lot of really nice houses here, and you can get a lot more for your money than in other areas,” said Saylor, adding that new residents also appreciate that the borough is so walkable. “We’ve seen a lot of single-family homes, which had been split into multiple units, being flipped back into single-family homes and resold.”
“I’ve seen a couple put their house up for sale and get five offers the first day over asking price,” said Coder, adding that she has been offered double what she originally paid for her home. “This is a great place to live.”
Residents also want to be involved in what happens in the community. “People here are excited to take part in things they care about; we’ve had more than 500 volunteer hours logged on our brewery project so far, with people helping with the demolition and with hanging drywall,” said Saylor who adds that anyone who volunteers 20 hours or more gets rewarded with a growler package once the brewery opens.
The community also supported a skate plaza, which is the first of its kind in western Pennsylvania, and raised money through WizardVue to support the Andrew Bayne Public Library.
“Up until this point, we have really been a hidden treasure, but people are starting to recognize our assets,” said Coder. “Not just as a destination, but as a place to live, worship and shop.”
“It’s a great time to be in Bellevue,” added Saylor.