The Galleria Turns 35

A black and white image of the fountain at the galleria with the text overtop "the galleria turns 35"


anonsburg resident Amber Smith and her daughter, Everly, 3, have been coming here for about a year. Everly enjoys watching the puppet show and doing crafts, while her mom enjoys getting out of the house. “A lot of times when you’re a stay-at-home mom you don’t get to interact with other moms, so it’s nice that your kid gets to interact with other kids and moms get to interact with other moms. It’s a wonderful free event, for sure,” she said.

small children and parents gathered around sitting on the floor watching a puppet show at the galleria.
Mommy & Me Play Time meets on the third Tuesday of each month at the Galleria. /Photo: Elizabeth Ruby McCabe

Mommy & Me Play Time has been around for about two years. “It was a try me event at first, but it literally took off after the first couple of months,” said Stephanie Kiray, General Manager of management company JLL.

The hustle and bustle of activity is typical at the Galleria, now celebrating its 35th year.

Stop by on any given day and you might hear the clickety-clack of multiple mah jongg matches, or see a group of players gathered around a chess board. Across the room, remote workers are typing away on their laptops while sipping coffee. Mall walkers circle a business meeting or two in the courtyard as folks in workout wear hoist their yoga mats and gym bags under their arms and head to yoga, Pilates or stretch classes, while shoppers visit the retail stores and restaurants or take in a movie.

4 woman at a table playing mah Jongg
Mah Jongg draws players to the Galleria, which describes itself on its website as “a place to meet friends.” /Photo: John Schisler

It was First City Company, a Pittsburgh developer, that converted the former Kaufmann’s Department Store into a high-end $35 million dollar indoor shopping mall with 165,000 square feet of space and vaulted ceilings designed to give visitors the impression of walking through a cathedral. The Galleria, known back then as the Galleria of Southpointe, opened on March 3, 1989. It’s been through several renovations and transformations since then. Retail stores and restaurants have come and gone over the years, but what remains is a great spot for social gathering; a perfect example of sociologist Ray Oldenburg’s third place theory—a place outside of home or work where people go to hang out. The Galleria’s own website echoes that sentiment, describing the mall as “a place to meet friends.”

Laura Young, Shadowlawn Avenue, meets her friends regularly at the Galleria to play mah jongg. She moved to Mt. Lebanon from New York 13 years ago. The Galleria was a frequent destination when she first moved here and her kids were young. “And then, I’ve rediscovered it through coming here and playing mah jongg and, oh my gosh, I’m shopping at the stores again and I’m eating at Panera again and doing all the things that I was doing 13 years ago,” she said.

the galleria mall with 80s decor and palm trees
The Galleria’s design was based on Milan’s Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, completed in 1877 and still in operation, making it Italy’s oldest shopping gallery.

The Malling of America

The first fully enclosed shopping mall in America, Southdale Center in Edina, Minnesota, opened in 1956 triggering a significant impact on the U.S. economy that reached its peak in 1992 with the advent of the mega-mall. The 1980s were clearly the golden age of malls, with shopping complexes being built at a rate of over 1,000 per year, and Consumer Reports naming the shopping mall one of the top 50 revolutionary consumer innovations.

The 2000s saw a shift in consumer preferences, an increase in online shopping, the popularity of discount retailers, the closing of some major anchor stores, the impact of COVID-19 and shopping mall vacancies reaching a 20-year high.

By 1987, malls accounted for more than half of all retail sales in America.

the galleria mall with 80s decor and palm trees
The Galleria’s design was based on Milan’s Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, completed in 1877 and still in operation, making it Italy’s oldest shopping gallery.

Modern Malls Reimagined

Today, malls are being forced to reinvent themselves. No longer exclusively shopping destinations, they’re evolving into social and entertainment hubs, attracting customers looking for more than just a shopping excursion.

It’s a strategy known as experiential retail, focusing on the customer experience beyond traditional shopping, while increasing foot traffic and creating a sense of community. That sense of community is evident at the Galleria. “All of our events here are family friendly,” said Bill Luconti, marketing director, DRB Group, representing the Galleria of Mt. Lebanon.

That’s what appeals to puppeteer Sigurdur Erlingsson, aka“Siggi,” from Pittsburgh Puppet Works. “It’s so much fun,” he said about seeing the faces of the little ones in the crowd. “They light up. That’s why we do this.”

In addition to Mommy & Me Play Time, the Galleria hosts local artists and vendors at Galleria Local on the second Saturday of every month.