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Exploring Downtown Erie: A One-Day Guide

Tuesday Mar 21st, 2023

Downtown Erie is a vibrant and dynamic area, bursting at the seams with energy and community pride. There is growth around almost every corner, from impressive new buildings and extraordinary expansions to repurposed spaces and inspiring stories. If you have yet to explore this thriving, revitalized neighborhood, come discover firsthand why it’s worth celebrating. Here’s one way how to make the most of a day spent exploring Downtown Erie, Pennsylvania.

As the journey begins, a few things are highly noticeable:

  • Downtown Erie is a hub of activity, filled with cheerful and inviting storefronts, colorful plants, clean well-lit streets and sidewalks, charming outdoor seating, and lots of smiling faces.
  • Colorful artwork, murals, and sculptures adorn buildings, utility boxes, and green spaces.
  • The area is pedestrian friendly with clearly marked crosswalks, signals, and street signage.
  • There is ample parking on the street and in parking garages and all street meters have a MeterEZ option, a convenient, easy-to-use parking meter app.

Morning

Start your day with a walk along State Street, the city’s main thoroughfare, to South Park Row and the heart of downtown Erie, Perry Square. A plaque at the foot of a nearby military statue indicates that this spacious public park got its name from Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, a naval commander who played a significant role in the War of 1812 and is known for his victory in the Battle of Lake Erie. Before continuing on, snap a selfie with Erie’s famous maritime hero and commemorate the occasion. Perry Square is central to everything there is to see and do downtown and is often home to local food trucks, live music, summer movie nights, farmers markets, and community celebrations including CelebrateErie, Downtown d’Lights, and the Erie Winter Carnival.

Many of these community events are led by the Erie Downtown Partnership. “The area around Perry Square has been the heart of downtown for years, and with so many events, so many new businesses opening up, and several exciting public space developments, Erie Downtown Partnership Events and Marketing Manager David Tamulonis remarked. “The Perry Square District is a vibrant, safe, and welcoming place to enjoy all the things that downtown has to offer.” (Photo by David Tamulonis)

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Continue walking around Perry Square and it’s hard not to miss the cluster of stately buildings located near the Square’s far west side. This area is referred to as “Millionaire’s Row”, a historic portion of West 6th Street lined with grand, Victorian-style mansions that were once owned by some of Erie’s wealthiest residents during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many of them have been repurposed to house local businesses: the Watson-Curtze Mansion (home of the Erie County Historical Society), the Erie Club, Spencer House Bed & Breakfast, and Gannon University Old Main. The architectural beauty of each building is stunning, with ornate details and meticulously landscaped grounds.  

Afternoon

Across the street from Perry Square on the north side, stands a modern-looking building that houses the Flagship City Food Hall. Built in 2022, this isn’t a typical mall food court. This food hall has a contemporary design with historical accents including high ceilings, industrial lighting, exposed brick walls, and communal tables, meant to encourage socializing and meeting new people. It features nine local vendors, with not one chain restaurant in sight! Showcasing Erie’s diverse culinary scene, the food hall features local flavors including Dina’s Dominican Kitchen, Shawarma Station, and Noodlelove. Tempting as it may be to order something from each, a generous bowl of flavorful ramen is more than sufficient, however, a return visit is definitely required. The atmosphere at the Food Hall is bursting with lively groups of people chatting, savoring their meals, or enjoying drink specials. Just steps away from the Food Hall is the Flagship City Public Market, home to three distinct local stores (a fresh produce market, butcher shop, and Luminary Cocktails and Bottle Shop). Happy shoppers are seen entering the stores smiling in anticipation and leaving with their arms filled with overflowing bags of locally sourced produce, freshly cut meats, and bottles of expertly crafted artisanal spirits.

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Just around the corner from the Flagship City Food Hall and Public Market is a diverse stretch of shops with colorful, inviting-looking facades waiting to be explored. Opening for business in 2021, “The Shops at Fifth & State” is Erie’s newest block of retailers and contains an eclectic mix of trendy shops, restaurants, and art galleries. Housed in repurposed buildings, they each have their own stylish charm including Glass Growers Gallery. “Glass Growers has been a part of downtown Erie since 1974”, owner Emily Ernes stated. “Watching the new development and growth take place around us is so exciting. We love seeing new faces walk through our doors and then introducing them to a unique and beautiful environment that provides a glimpse into Erie’s incredible arts community.” From handmade crafts, vintage merchandise, custom apparel depicting Erie’s “814” area code, inspiring artwork from regional artisans, and ridiculously creamy hand-scooped or frozen custards such as banana, butter pecan, or chocolate peanut butter at Rita’s Downtown, shopping among all of these fantastic retailers is the perfect way to end the day.

Evening

After a day well spent exploring this vibrant hub of culture, cuisine, and shopping, it’s time to return home, but the energetic atmosphere and spirited vibes of Downtown Erie left a lasting impression. Tamulonis summed things up, “If you haven’t been to Downtown Erie in a while, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by all of the many new developments, businesses, and activities. It's an exciting time to be downtown!" Planning a return trip to Downtown Erie is a no-brainer. 

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