Pittsburgh’s annual Italian Heritage Festival returns to Bloomfield starting Thursday.
The four-day festival closes sections of Liberty Avenue, is free and packed with vendors, musical acts and even a bocce court, with a tournament pitting local Irish-American officials against Italian-American celebrities, including the legend of the Steelers. Franco Harris.
Here’s what you need to know about Little Italy Days.
History of the Little Italy Days
Little Italy Days began in 2002 as a community festival to celebrate Bloomfield’s Italian heritage with a parade and party where local businesses and churches set up a dozen stalls selling Italian food and produce.
In 2012, the event was taken over by festival organizer Sal Richetti, a native of Bloomfield, who expanded the scope of Little Italy Days with additional performance stages and vendors, some from outside the region. The festival now attracts hundreds of stalls.
It turned Little Italy Days into a massive street festival, and the crowds followed. Richetti said the festival draws more than 100,000 attendees over four days.
As Little Italy Days grew, it also began to garner backlash from the community, with some Liberty Avenue businesses and local residents criticizing the festival for becoming too disruptive. Some businesses even close their doors completely during Little Italy Days, even as others rent out the extra business the festival brings.
What to eat?
With Little Italy Days being Pittsburgh’s largest heritage festival, there are plenty of food vendors to choose from. Some of the easiest to notice are the carnival-like vendors selling funnel cakes and chicken on a stick, but there are also Italian treats to sample.
Merante’s, near the intersection of Liberty and Cedarville, sets up a large stand where Maria Merante and her team sell a wide array of homemade Italian dishes.
Caliente Pizza has a stand near their storefront on Liberty and Pearl, where festival-goers can grab a few slices of their famous pan pizza and other pies.
The Little Italy Days website also encourages people to shop for produce at Groceria Bloomfield and great Italian fare at Pleasure Bar, both located on Cedarville Street.
Who is efficient?
Little Italy Days will have three stages this year: Cedarville and Liberty, Froggy’s Stage at Taylor and Liberty, and the first Commonwealth Stage at Gross and Liberty.
The Cedarville and Liberty stage will host the most acts, including guitarist Billy the Kid Thursday at 6 p.m., alumni band Magic Moments Friday at 6 p.m., Italian opera singer John Lupone Saturday at 7 p.m.
On Saturday, Froggy’s Stage will host magician and balloon artist Billy Heh at 3 p.m., followed by powerhouse rock band Elias Khouri and the EK Band at 7 p.m. On Sunday, Earth tribute band Wind & Fire Let’s Groove Tonight will perform at 2:30 p.m.
The Commonwealth’s First Stage will host rock bands Blind Colors and Ugly Blondes on Saturday afternoon, and R&B band Mojo Hand at 1 p.m. on Sunday.
A full schedule of performers can be viewed on the Little Italy Days website.
Where to park?
Taking public transit for Little Italy Days is encouraged, as congestion typically floods Bloomfield during the festival. Bus lines 54, 64, 86, 87, 88 all cross the district.
If you must drive, free parking is available on Liberty Avenue and Aspen Street and the UPMC Luna Garage on Baum Boulevard on Saturdays and Sundays, which also offers a free shuttle to the festival.
There are also paid parking lots throughout the neighborhood and on the streets, but these spaces tend to fill up.
What are the schedules ?
The Days of Little Italy take place from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursday, from 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday.