When talking about Oakmont’s history, it's hard to focus on just one thing—do you lead with its rich beginnings starting with the Native Americans, or zero in on its industrial roots and ties to the railroad? It’s the same when you discuss modern-day Oakmont, and why people live and visit here. Do you focus on the small-town atmosphere? The charming, walkable business section? The plethora of small, independently owned businesses and restaurants and the well-preserved historical homes? Or, of course, the people?
Whatever you focus on, there is a lot to enjoy in Oakmont Borough. Located along the Allegheny River in Allegheny County, the borough is only 1.57 square miles and has a population of a little over 6,000. Despite its small size, it is definitely on the map. From the recently expanded Oakmont Bakery to Mystery Lover’s Bookshop, one of the longest independently owned bookstores in the country, it is home to established businesses that attract worldwide customers.
“Oakmont is one of Pittsburgh’s most distinctive suburban communities with its old-fashioned charm and wide variety of unique shops and restaurants,” said Karen DeTurck, executive director, Oakmont Chamber of Commerce. “It’s a regional destination whose unique luxury wares can’t be found in any national chain or mall.”
One of those unique shops is Amanda Lee Glassware. When Amanda Lee was looking to expand her hand-painted glassware business to a storefront, it was an easy decision. “I grew up here and knew the area. It's a walking town that’s great for shopping, and there’s free parking,” she said.
Oakmont’s charming brick roads add to the appeal, Lee said, along with the business community itself. “The support we have for each other is great,” she added.
Lee started her business after studying abroad 10 years ago and opened her shop along the main corridor of Oakmont seven years ago. Business was so good that she expanded to her current location on Third Street in 2018. Despite recent challenging times, she said the strength of Oakmont has shown through.
“This year especially, people have shopped locally. This community has really come together,” she said.
DeTurck added that visitors to Oakmont particularly like its old-fashioned charm.
“It’s almost like it's trapped in time,” she explained. “Victorian gas lamps line the main boulevard which is paved in brick, and our clock tower and train station add to the charm of our small town.”
Like Lee, when Sharon Carroll and her husband, David, were looking at locations for their business, Oakmont Olive Company, the location was a homecoming of sorts.
“My husband grew up here and we live here. We have a viable main street with so many wonderful shops and restaurants. When our storefront became available, we took advantage of the location,” Carroll explained.
The shop specializes in single-source olive oil sourced from family friends in Greece, balsamic vinegars, and specialty food items. Oakmont Olive Company is located on Allegheny River Boulevard, the main street of Oakmont.
In addition to the shops and restaurants, Oakmont has an attractive walking trail along the main drag. “The odd thing during COVID was that we actually had an increase in traffic because it is a great destination for families, and a lot would come to take advantage of the walking trail,” said Carroll. “It became very popular. Then they would do a little bit of shopping and just enjoy our town.”
Like all small towns, Oakmont has evolved over time, but holds onto many of the qualities that have made it unique.
“Through the years, the community has been able to change with the times while maintaining its small-town character,” said DeTurck, adding that the biggest change has been the replacement of the old Hulton Bridge with a much more modern structure, which allows for easier travel into and out of Oakmont.
Chef Michael Flowers, owner of The Mighty Oak Barrel, also grew up in Oakmont. He calls his restaurant a “small, casual American cuisine spot that has become a local favorite.” While the pandemic streamlined his business, he has adapted by expanding his sandwich and take-out menu.
“We have a lot of customers that we knew by their faces and now we know them by their names,” he said. “They have supported us through all of this, and they are happy to hear we are still in business.”
Some of the customers are well-known to Flowers. “The woman who used to babysit my brothers and me comes in,” he laughed. “It’s great.”
Oakmont is also an area that is primed for growth. In addition to the new bridge increasing accessibility, there are new housing opportunities available. As older homeowners downsize, the area is attractive to new families.
“This has allowed many of the beautiful homes to become available for younger families to move into the area,” said DeTurck.
To learn more, visit the Oakmont Chamber of Commerce at www.oakmont-pa.com.