Diana Nelson Jones' Walkabout: Polish Hill market gives itself new look like neighborhood

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Anna Misiaszek had been operating Alfred’s Deli in Polish Hill for 25 years in a building she and her husband, Alfred, bought as an investment.

In 1989, many of her customers were Polish-born or the children of Polish immigrants. A native of Poland herself, she and her husband picked the neighborhood as an obvious place for the deli, which specialized in food from the old country.

Today, the store at 3041 Brereton St. is Alfred’s Deli & Market. It reopened Saturday after a renovation. A new sign was installed Monday.

If you had been in the deli before and walked into the market today, the before and after would tell you as much about Polish Hill’s transition over the past five years as any demographic data.

The walls are the soothing color of sage. The floors are wood, there’s track lighting and a vase of gladiolas on top of a shelf. Now, for the first time in decades, you can buy asparagus in Polish Hill. And lettuce, blueberries, carrots, peppers and squash.

If you can’t eat gluten, if you’re a vegan, there are gluten-free and vegan products. There’s almond milk, organic cereal and sesame rice crackers amid your basic cans of beans and soups, ketchup, macaroni and cheese and frozen pizza. The new Alfred’s also still carries deli meats and specialty Polish foods.

“We want to have a little something for everyone,” said Leia Nachele, a Polish Hill resident who works for Ms. Misiaszek along with Natalie Misiaszek, her daughter.

The store is open every day but Monday from 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.

During the grand reopening Saturday, the market was swamped with residents and visitors, including Mayor Bill Peduto, Ms. Nachele said.

“Oh, dude,” she said, “we made 45 hoagies on Saturday and tons of pierogies. It was incredible.”

I asked Anna Misiaszek if it was hard to make the switch, and her laugh was one of concessions, although she said she agreed it was time.

“I think it was, finally,” she said. “I remember all the Polish people who were here when we started.”

“There aren’t as many Polish people anymore,” said Ms. Nachele, “but we do have many people who don’t drive,” and who rely on bicycles. “So they can walk here instead” of schlepping to the Strip or Bloomfield.

The 52nd Street Market fills the same role in Upper Lawrenceville, as do the Allegheny City Market in the Central North Side and the Bryant Street Market in Highland Park.

The small market was ubiquitous in city neighborhoods up until just after the baby boom of 1946-1964. It is gradually making its return, and although it probably will not threaten the supermarket for years, if ever, it is a crucial asset and more convenient than getting in the car to shop.

Ms. Nachele said all of the market’s produce comes from farms within a 75-mile radius of Pittsburgh. She is trying to encourage neighborhood gardeners to bring what they grow and said she would pay them for it.

Ms. Misiaszek’s standards for kielbasa are such that it must come from Chicago, she said. Otherwise, “we changed everything.”

While redecorating, the Alfred’s team dusted off old photos of Polish Hill that Anna Misiaszek and other people donated and hung them on the walls. There are old scenes from the neighborhood, group pictures that suggest organizations, classmates or families.

Ms. Nachele said one elderly customer on Saturday made his way shakily through the store to a cluster of photos on a side wall in back.

“I think he was a World War II veteran,” she said. “He pointed up at that one. There are so many people in that photo, but he said, ‘I know all of those men.’ ”

Diana Nelson Jones: djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626.

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