If you want an indication of how awash the Pittsburgh region is in municipalities, consider a couple of its high-profile shopping centers.
The 19-year-old Waterfront complex that hugs the Monongahela River and sits on the site of the former Homestead Works sprawls over three municipalities – Homestead, West Homestead and Munhall.
And then there’s South Hills Village.
Let’s say you pull off Route 19 and park outside the Target store. You’re in Upper St. Clair. However, if you leave Target, wander into the mall and head to the food court to munch on a burger or grab Chinese food, you’ve entered Bethel Park.
So, the question is: Where is the border between Bethel Park and Upper St. Clair located within the two-level, 53-year-old mall?
According to Timothy O’Connor, Bethel Park’s acting manager, Target and the Dick’s Sporting Goods outlet are in Upper St. Clair. But the Barnes & Noble store is in Bethel Park – for the most part. A corner of the bookstore’s back wall is in Upper St. Clair, however. O’Connor estimates that 95 percent to 99 percent of the Barnes & Noble is in Bethel Park.
The border cuts diagonally through the mall, O’Connor said, bisecting the space that had been the Sears outlet until that closed in September. Jennifer Carroll, the area director of marketing for South Hills Village and Ross Park Mall, said she doesn’t know where the precise demarcation is within the mall, but she has a rough idea – it’s right about where the Apple store is on the lower level, and Victoria’s Secret in the upper part.
Unlike what you would find on the roads outside the mall, there are no signs saying you have left one municipality and are entering another.
“It’s never been an issue,” Carroll says.
That’s O’Connor’s take as well. Both Upper St. Clair and Bethel Park police respond to calls at the mall. Representatives of both police forces meet frequently with mall security and “we’re all on the same page,” he explains.
And consider this: Not only does the border of Bethel Park and Upper St. Clair run through the mall, the border of Mt. Lebanon is less than a mile north on Route 19.
South Hills Village opened July 28, 1965. It was one of many sprouting up across across the country as suburbs swelled and postwar prosperity proceeded unimpeded – in 1965, the gross domestic product grew at a rate of 6 percent. Before the mall was built, Gammons Restaurant sat at the corner of Fort Couch Road and Route 19. To make way for the mall, the restaurant relocated to McMurray Road. It eventually closed and was followed by a succession of other restaurants, the most recent being an Outback Steakhouse that was flooded in the devastating rainfall that also inundated Bridgeville and other parts of the South Hills last June.
Larry Godwin, a local historian and author an “Images of America” book on Upper St. Clair, explains that the majority of the property was a golf driving range that went south along Route 19. Three private homes were at the south end of the property.
South Hills Village was the second enclosed shopping center to be built, following Northway Mall in Ross Township. Taking up 8.5 acres, it was the Pittsburgh region’s biggest mall until it was overtaken by the Monroeville Mall in 1969 (Monroeville Mall and the Westmoreland Mall in Greensburg remain the region’s largest shopping centers). Some of the earliest tenants of South Hills Village were mid-century retail giants like A&P and Woolworth’s, as well as specialty shops like National Record Mart, Your Father’s Moustache Barbershop and the jewelers Bailey, Banks & Biddle.
The mall was given a spit-and-polish in the 1990s, with skylights and marble flooring added, as well as a food court and escalators.
“It’s a timeless structure,” Carroll says.