Eighteen years almost to the day it opened, Doug's Market in the Central North Side is closing at the end of business Saturday. For the first time in its 118-year history, 1327 Arch St. will no longer be a neighborhood butcher shop or grocery.
Competition from chain and discount stores have hunted small markets to near extinction for decades, but a more recent impact -- the replacement of benefit checks with debit cards -- was the death knell, said Latonya Beckett, owner Doug Nimmo's daughter-in-law, who took over the store's management six months ago.
"People would line up to get their checks cashed and shop on their way out," she said.
The check-cashing charge was "a small percentage," said Mr. Nimmo, who opened the store on Dec. 4, 1995. Doug's also sold money orders, Western Union services and provided an ATM from which it collected fees.
Mr. Nimmo, a Pittsburgh native, left a traveling sales job to move back in the 1980s. A butcher by trade, he settled in the Central North Side and worked for 10 years for an Aspinwall grocer. When Joe Saba retired, a neighbor urged Mr. Nimmo to buy the market.
Mr. Saba was the grocer there for 36 years. It was a Clover Farm Market in the 1940s and 1950s. A butcher named Max Strauss operated it for years before that. It started its run in 1895 with proprietor F.W. Hartman.
Mr. Nimmo went into business with Luke DeSimone, a food preparation professional.
"The neighborhood was so underserved," Mr. Nimmo said. "We did so well the first eight or nine years. We were working 12-hour days and had trouble keeping up, but it was so much fun."
A full-service butcher shop, Doug's sold ribs and burgers from a sidewalk grill in the summer. After Mr. DeSimone left, "it was never the same," Mr. Nimmo said. "Then Family Dollar and Rite Aid came [to Brighton Road nearby]. They sell so much cheaper than I can buy."
Most food distributors expect larger minimum orders than a small grocer can stock. Mr. Nimmo said he depended on Bell's Wholesale in Mount Morris, Greene County, which would fill partial orders. "They're about the only ones left who do."
Carl Williams, 32, grew up in the neighborhood and landed a job at the store in May 2012.
"I grew up coming to this store," he said. "My grandma used to send me with a note when they still ran a tab."
He said he has yet to line up another job. "It's a hard time to be looking."
Richard Romine Jr., the only other employee remaining, grew up several doors away.
"I watched him grow up from this big," said Mr. Nimmo, holding his palm several feet off the floor. "The last few days have been so emotional. People have been coming in and hugging me. I got so teary the other day, I had to leave."
Diana Nelson Jones: email@example.com or 412-263-1626. Read her blog City Walkabout at www.post-gazette.com/citywalk.