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Unique Shopping, Charming Atmosphere Part of Aspinwall’s Attractions

Located 10 minutes north of downtown Pittsburgh, Aspinwall packs a lot of amenities into its 243 acres.

During the steel industry’s heyday, Allegheny County Workhouse Superintendent Henry Warner developed a residential community along the Allegheny River by purchasing 155 acres from Annie Aspinwall and forming The Aspinwall Land Company. According to the borough website, Aspinwall was officially incorporated as a borough on Dec. 28, 1892.

Today, the community continues to take advantage of its proximity to the Allegheny River, with its 10-acre Aspinwall Riverfront Park offering sledding, free ice skating, kayaking, a walking trail, fishing dock, native gardens and playground centered around artist Tom Otterness’ brass sculpture of a giant.

Residents and visitors can walk to plenty of shops and restaurants.

“The word ‘charm’ is a big part of Aspinwall, with the beautiful old homes, tree-lined streets and shops with beautiful window displays,” said Debbie Lynch McManus, owner of Lynlott Miniatures and Dollhouse Junction.

Her Commercial Avenue store boasts more than 20,000 items in all price ranges including dollhouse kits and finishing supplies, as well as amazingly detailed miniatures. “We're really particular about proper scale and the design and craftsmanship,” Lynch McManus said.

Despite the fact that Lynlott Miniatures will ship purchases, people travel from all over the world to visit the store, one of only 75 dedicated dollhouse shops in North America.

Besides constructing custom dollhouses, Lynlott Miniatures’ staff is skilled in dollhouse restoration. Employees are currently refurbishing a more than 100-year-old farmhouse structure. “We had our carpenter rework it so that it is more playable,” Lynch McManus said. “We gutted it, and we’re turning it into a really cool, more contemporary interior.”

During its 40 years of business, Lynlott’s staff has assisted customers in designing dollhouses to pass down for generations. Lynch McManus said that people often leave personal messages on the bottom of the buildings for relatives to find. She recalled discovering a note from a person to his grandchild, asking her to always remember him.

Lynch McManus encourages her customers to dine at restaurants and visit other shops while in town. She even promotes the borough through the “Local Aspinwall” Instagram account she manages with Rob Rago of Aspinwall’s Willie’s Smokehouse.

Spark Books embodies fun by fostering literacy for children up to 12 years old. Guests will find books arranged by topic such as cars, trucks, dance, music, nature, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), dinosaurs, princesses, mermaids and unicorns. Owner Adriene Rister also offers a small selection of books for adults. Additionally, the shop sells craft kits, puzzles and games.

The shopkeeper envisioned Spark Books as a community gathering place when opening the Brilliant Avenue shop in 2018. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, children created free Christmas ornaments, Chinese New Year decorations, flags, insects and Play-Doh sculptures at the store’s craft table.

“I just wanted someplace for kids to be able to come and be creative. And I wanted to have a craft table in here because there’s always a craft table at my house,” said Rister, the mother of 5- and 8-year-old children.

Youth ages 9 through 12 form Spark Books’ Youth Advisory Board, which is responsible for reading advance copies of books prior to their publication and determining if the store should stock them once they are available. An adult book club currently meets via Zoom.

The Spark Books’ website ( details the store’s extensive regulations to limit COVID-19’s spread. A Maine native, Rister previously worked as a tuberculosis control coordinator at the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. She met her husband, Ben, a former Carnegie Mellon University graduate student, while attending the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health. She brainstormed the store’s concept when caring for her young children at home.

Rekindled Spirits owner Joan Gennarini encourages people to prioritize massages in the new year. Her business, located inside Commercial Avenue’s Green Heiress Holistic Health, provides massage therapy and Reiki sessions focused on energy healing.

“A lot of people have been sedentary during the pandemic. A lot of people are upset and nervous. A lot of people have been working in odd positions at their homes. People can get back on track again by starting their wellness programs in 2021,” she said.

Gennarini relocated to Pittsburgh in 2019 after operating a thriving massage business in Delaware for 15 years. “Aspinwall’s just got a good vibe to it—a Main Street feel where people can walk around and relax,” she remarked.

At Rekindled Spirits, Gennarini performs Swedish, Cayce/Reilly, reflexology, hot stone, cranio-sacral, senior therapeutic and oncology massages. She utilizes her pregnancy massage certification when educating expectant mothers about trigger point palpation during labor, and through an oncology massage class, researched cancer types and treatments. She is also available to provide chair massages at events and in the workplace to enhance productivity and morale.

Massage may improve one’s quality of life, revitalize energy, tone muscles and eliminate toxins. Gennarini says she also teaches Reiki to provide deep relaxation, healing and overall balance.

She follows the Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals’ COVID-19 safety protocol, which requires sanitizing treatment rooms and changing linens in between clients. The licensed massage therapist wears both a face mask and shield, takes client’s temperatures prior to sessions and asks them to complete paperwork regarding their health symptoms.

Lynch McManus said that Aspinwall’s businesses keep the community viable by offering unique goods and services and excellent customer service.

“I tend to go into a store and stumble onto something special,” she said. “The business owners really work together, collectively.”

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