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Chicago’s Pizzeria Shuts its Doors

Walgreens is set to open a store at the site of the defunct Shoppes on Bower Hill.

A local pizza joint that served up slices for 21 years has closed its doors, making room for a major pharmacy chain and bringing an unceremonious end to The Shoppes on Bower Hill.

Chicago’s Pizzeria & Ice Creamery, located on the southern end of a now vacant strip mall at the corner of Bower Hill Road and North Wren Drive, turned off its lights for the final time earlier this month. A sign was posted in the window, thanking customers for 21 great years, and incoming phone calls are now routed to nearby Folino Brothers’ Pizza on Vanadium Road.

The Shoppes on Bower Hill, a business hub that once housed a jewelry store, bank, coffee shop, Chinese restaurant, greeting card boutique and more is now mostly vacant, boarded up and masked by wax on the windows. A separate building sits at the rear of the lot, where space is leased to Phoenix Rehabilitation and Health Services and a PNC Bank branch.

Next year, Walgreens, which currently owns three parcels of land there that span both Mt. Lebanon and Scott, will raze the empty plaza and build a new store, according to spokesman Robert Elfinger.

“We expect to have a store there by the end of 2012,” he said.

Plans for the 10,500 square foot store include a pharmacy, one-hour photo lab and aisles of everyday items, he said. About 25 to 30 employees are typically hired for each Walgreens store, he said.

When the company will break ground depends on various circumstances, including permits and environmental factors, he said. The Deerfield, Ill.-based chain bought the property a few years ago, and many businesses that once leased the complex relocated.

Chicago’s lease was valid through the end of the year, but the former owner could not be reached for comment.

Though Folino’s and Chicago’s were located less than a mile apart and competed for the same business, Folino’s owner Sean Walsh said he wasn’t happy to see the pizzeria go.

“He was a little guy like me,” Walsh said.

Walsh’s business has grown significantly since he opened shop in 2007. But despite his success, equipment would sometimes break, and he’d look to his friends at Chicago’s for advice.

“They had no reason to help me, but they did,” he said. "They're good guys."

The customer base at Chicago’s appears to have dwindled through recent years as businesses around the pizzeria boarded up their shops.

Mt. Lebanon School District, which operates Hoover Elementary near the former Chicago’s site, once allowed students a choice of going home for lunch, packing a lunch and eating in school or dining at an alternate location, district spokeswoman Cissy Bowman said. Many Hoover students would make the short walk to Chicago’s for lunch, especially several years ago when the district’s elementary schools also housed sixth graders.

But just as the district has moved sixth graders to the middle schools in 1998, it also added an elementary lunch program. Students can now either buy their lunch in school, pack a lunch, go home to eat or dine out with permission. However, the latter isn’t as common anymore, she said.

There weren’t many of St. Clair Hospital's 2000 employees and 500 physicians lunching there either, said spokesman Robert Crytzer.

Though it would be a short walk across the street, many of the hospital’s employees take advantage of in-house options, he said, which include cafes and a cafeteria. Still, the shopping center parking lot is teaming with cars as many hospital employees and patients now pack the lot to escape the garage fees.

Sara-Summer Oliphant March 18, 2011 at 02:54 PM
They are just now getting to that Walgreen's? I remember covering that issue years ago for the Almanac because of zoning issues. I think the shops became defunct because of the plans for the drug super store. It was inevitable that they were going to have to close or move, so I think they have just been phasing themselves out over the last couple of years. It is a shame. I remember going to those shops as part of a scavenger hunt in high school.
Mike Jones (Editor) March 18, 2011 at 03:07 PM
It's been a slow and painful death for that shopping center. They stopped allowing the businesses to renew their leases over the past several years, and Chicago's was the last holdout. It's a shame because that shopping center had everything for people living in those neighborhoods.
Candy Woodall March 18, 2011 at 04:47 PM
Most of the places relocated or closed within the last five years. It seemed like one day I was having lunch there with my husband, and two weeks later everything was empty. BUT I am happy there's a PNC branch there. I live on Bower Hill near the old plaza, and for a long time I was driving into Bridgeville or Mt. Lebanon whenever I needed an ATM.
Dan Gerson September 26, 2011 at 04:53 PM
This is a real loss for the community, as shops have spent the last several years bleeding out of our area. Big-box-ism and sprawl have claimed a great deal of what used to make this area unique. Grace's general store and Islay's dotted the landscape of my childhood, growing up here. My kids will know only cookie cutter, impersonal Walmart-wannabes. It's a loss repeated over the landscape of the country, and we're not exempt, it seems.
Mike Jones (Editor) September 26, 2011 at 07:01 PM
Dan... They're prepping the Bower Hill Shoppes for demolition, which could begin in just a few weeks. I also think it's sad what happened to that shopping plaza and Grace's. There used to be everything up there: A grocery store, barber, bank, pharmacy, coffee shop, Chinese restaurant, laundromat and pizza parlor. Now they're all gone and you have to drive how far to find any one of those things?
Dan Gerson September 26, 2011 at 07:06 PM
One of my very first jobs was bagging groceries at Food Gallery. I shudder to think how long ago that was. ...just to offer a memory. I do see where fencing has gone up around a portion of the parking lot, so it appears that activity may be starting up. I've watched Thrift Drug morph into Eckerd Drug. When it closed, Rite Aid demolished what was left of Grace's and built their huge mega-store (at least by standards of this neighborhood, if not my comparison to their other locations). Now, a second mega-drug store is coming (and has been, for years now)? I know that this is an "older" community, but how many drug stores does one community need? I know, I get it, I'm a throwback, but just because newer things are on the horizon does not necessarily always mean that better things are, as well.

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