South Side's Schwartz Market to close

For 83 years, it served community; now it's ready for a new calling


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After 83 years on the South Side, Schwartz Market will close at the end of the week. Its four owners, having failed to find a suitable buyer, will leave the building to a transition team that includes Elisa Beck, one of the property owners.

She said Wednesday the doors will reopen with the shortest delay possible for community discussions about the building's next life as a sustainable enterprise that will eventually include a market.

Ms. Beck, a developmental optometrist whose family opened the store, said the transition will not be fast, "but it's happening now. We are frontloading it with a planning process." She established a nonprofit, Unity Through Creativity, to begin raising money to change the building in phases.

The current business owners -- Marty and Audrey Dorfner and Richard and Donna Stanton -- bought the store, at 1317 E. Carson St., 25 years ago.

"We would rather have sold the business intact," said Mr. Dorfner, "but no prospective buyer has been able to work out a lease, and the ones who could didn't have the money for the business."

The asking price of $75,000 dropped to $39,000 two months ago, he said.

A dairy case that eight years ago cost $1,000, with another $5,000 spent moving it, installing it and adding a compressor, will sell at auction at a loss if it sells, he said, "because there aren't many small stores like this left."

The owners will continue to stock fresh meat, produce and dairy products but are letting their non-perishable items deplete with 25 percent reductions in price. The closing date isn't definite, he said. "March 5 or shortly thereafter, depending on depletion of inventory."

What does not sell will be donated to food banks, Mr. Dorfner said.

Plans for the three-story, 18,000-square-foot building include the use of all three floors, a full-scale market with a focus on locally and organically raised and grown foods that are affordable to the store's stalwarts; a production roof garden; a worm farm; solar generation of electricity; and community programs incorporating the creative arts into nutrition and health education.

Margaret Baco, a registered nurse, is part of Ms. Beck's team, which has reached out to foundations, green enterprise organizations, universities, students, holistic health professionals and others interested in social justice, climate change and sustainable businesses and buildings, she said.

"We have an extensive community [that also includes] permaculturists, gardeners, worm farmers and strategic planners," she said. "We really feel that this space has such potential as a community place for health programming around food."

The first priorities will be to remediate lead in the upper floors and make them stable and accessible.

Ms. Beck said she is using Phipps Conservatory's Center for Sustainable Landscapes as an inspiration for the transition of Schwartz Market.

Phipps' project is designed to be an education, research and administration complex that is part of a $20 million expansion project. The center is planned to be a net zero energy building "that captures and treats all of its water on site," according to http://phipps.conservatory.org.

"Our project will be very different because we don't have $20 million," said Ms. Beck.

By early April, Unity Through Creativity should have "the clearest assessment of the investment needed," said Ms. Baco.


Diana Nelson Jones: djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626. Read her blog City Walkabout at www.post-gazette.com/citywalk .


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