If you would go back to Duquesne today, you would find what I call a rather “limited” number of grocery stores. Specifically ONE, and that would be Save-A-Lot Food Store in the Duquesne Plaza on what used to be North 1st Street prior to it becoming a parking lot.
In fairness, there are two other large grocery stores that also serve the Duquesne area, although they are located within West Mifflin boundries. There is a Giant Eagle in the shopping center near Kennywood and in Duquesne Village, there is a Foodland. I’m sure that these three stores are serving the needs of the community, and that’s just the nature of the beast these days.
What has prompted my sudden interest in grocery stores, was an article that I remembered had been among our family pictures. It was rather yellowed and torn, but it was still readable. It was ripped from the pages of The McKeesport Daily News, however the date was missing. I remember the reason it had been save is that my mother’s face was supposedly among the crowd of spectators photographed. The crowd was watching a fire being fought at a grocery store at the top of Kennedy Ave near Peter Street. I vaguely remember the store. I remember walls that had high shelves and that the clerks had the long poles with a grabbing mechanism on the end that they would use to select product from the high shelves. Admittedly archaic by today’s standards, but back then, it was really cool to watch! The site of that store and fire became the eventual home of Kennedy Meat Market.
As usual, my mind started on a journey trying to recall other Mom and Pop grocery stores that supplied the food that fed Duquesne. It occurred to me that I had a rather limited frame of reference and could only recall a few. The stores were never very large. They only served a small portion of the area, most were within walking distance of a person’s home, and yet they were all able to survive and stay in business despite the number of stores in Duquesne. They were never really in competition with one another since each existed and served a specific geographic radius of families.
I had to call upon a few friends and readers to help me compile a list of stores in Duquesne. Lou Andriko, Dave Bonga and Tom Stoner were all very helpful in my informational quest and I really appreciate it! Unfortunately, I was not able to find any photographs of the stores during the time I was growing up, but I was able to capture a few shots of what they look like now, courtesy of Google Earth.
Prior to the introduction of a “Super” market into the area with the opening of Kroger’s at the former location of Kopriver’s Nursery, my mom basically shopped at the food stores that were within walking distance. Two-car families basically didn’t exist, and moms wouldn’t spend bus money on grocery shopping when there was one within walking distance. As a result, I grew up running to the grocery stores that were either at the top of Kennedy Avenue or to a small store at the corner of Mellon Street and Texas Ave. At the top of Kennedy, there was “Andy’s”, which was officially called Kennedy Meat Market and on the opposite side of Andy’s was Isadore’s Grocery Store. I really never knew the official name of the little store at Texas and Mellon, but it was referred to as “Puskie’s,” which was Croatian for “rifle.” Can’t figure that one out.
We shopped at Isadore’s quite a lot. I was quite young, so there isn’t a lot I remember. About the only thing I recall is that the door was recessed and there were tiny black and white tiles in the entry way leading up to that single door. Beyond that, I don’t recall. I believe that Isadore’s closed shortly after Kroger’s opened. Kennedy Meat Market on the other hand, remained open for many years following the arrival of the “supermarket.”
I used to do a lot of shopping for my mom and dad at Andy’s. I remember the meat counter at the back right in the store. They would cut and wrap to order from what I recall. I don’t think there were ever any self-serve meat counters. I can remember that there were two butchers there. One was Andy Valco(?) and I cannot recall the other’s name. I just remember they were very friendly and would call me by name. I always had a list from my mom or dad; so they would just read it, cut it, pack it up and hand it over to me. Once I had gathered everything I was supposed to get, I would head to the register. There were no conveyer belts, but I think I recall these wooden frames on the counter that the cashier would pull forward with the groceries in order to reach them all. Lo-tech but efficient!
I never had to carry money to buy the groceries. Andy’s had a system of cards at the register that would put the purchases on a tab that would be paid each month by Mom or Dad. They would ring the items up and then insert the card when the sale was totaled. I would have to sign my name on the card, and that was always exciting to me. The part that always confused me when checking out was the need to separate taxable items from non-taxable items. The cashier would always help me with this chore. Plastic or paper bags wasn’t a consideration back then. Brown paper bags were the only route to go, and they never went to waste once they were brought home. Book covers, trash can liners, masks, lunch bags are just a few of the uses my Mom found for the bags.
In downtown Duquesne, I remember Alexander’s Market at the corner of Grant and North 1st Street. The details are rather vague in my mind, but I think that as you entered, the produce was up front, followed by the bake goods. Beyond that, I don’t remember any other details. On Auriles Street, just off of Kennedy was Mann’s Brother Grocery. Mann’s Brother’s was about the largest non-spermarket in town. We didn’t shop there often since it was rather far from Thomas Street.
Tom Stoner and Dave Bonga remembered a number of grocery stores, such as Tutera’s across St. Joe on Auriles, Thomas (Louis Thomas) Market across from GBU on Grant Ave., Soltice’s Market on Grant Ave. across from Schinks Hardware, Bodnar’s at Fifth and Crawford, and finally, Sidney’s at the corner of 5th and Kennedy, but it might not qualify as grocery store and more of a candy store. In addition, Dave wrote that there also was another Tutera’s on Hamilton Ave between 1st and 2nd, however it was more like a modern day lottery store as he remembered it. Dave also recalled a small market, Basik’s, at the corner of 3rd and Hamilton. As a Duquesne Place resident, Dave spent many, many nickels on candy and baseball cards in Mary’s and Palchak’s Drug Store!!
Lou Andriko’s memory was in top form when he wrote about his Duquesne recollections. Coming down Pennsylvania Ave from Penn-Taft Pharmacy and just past Taft on the right, was Algeri’s. The store is still open, but is now called R&M Market. Further east on Pennsylvania just before getting to Mellon Street was Thomas Market. The building is still there but has been divided into two separate businesses. Lou wrote that he used to hand deliver weekly Thomas Market sale fliers for a penny a piece! He always wanted more to deliver, but he’d only be given a hundred. Lou took them door to door along Wool St. and Burns Ave, then up Maryland as far as they lasted. At the corner of Mehaffey and Crawford was the Anastas’ store, known for their very good butcher department and run by Boyko and Bricky Anastas. Boyko was the butcher, while Bricky ran the front end. Bricky was also the water meter reader for city of Duquesne. Lou remembers when his parents leaving all the doors open and Bricky would knock on the basement screen door and holler, ‘Waaaaaterman!”
One block further east was Helmeczi’s, a little mom & pop store with a fountain! It was next to Steve Farkas’s tavern on the corner of Crawford at Collier Alley. A bit further east on Crawford at the corner of Wool and Crawford, is a yellow brick two story building. A Jewish family used to live in the second floor apartment, and the father ran a kosher butcher shop on 1st floor.
Progress and competition have obviously forced virtually all of the small food stores out of business. I am certain that the convenience, pricing and speed of transaction at the Giant Eagles and Foodlands of the world far exceed that of the old Mom and Pop stores in Duquesne. Yet no matter how fast, big and quick those businesses are, just like the old TV show Cheer’s, it was nice to go to a place where everyone knew your name. Ma and Pa, you are missed!