The Storefront Project / Beechview: Where have the shops gone?
The Post-Gazette initiated the Storefront Project last year to systematically tell the story of the city's neighborhood retail transitions from 1930 to 1960 to today.
Since then, it has featured Centre Avenue in the Hill District, the Mexican War Streets in the Central North Side and today, the heart of Beechview -- the 1400-1600 blocks of Beechview and Broadway avenues.
Although the neighborhood has a bank, a few bars, a supermarket, an auto repair shop, a coffee shop, a charcuterie, a hair and tanning salon, three small Mexican markets and a convenience store, it presents a picture similar to that of many city neighborhoods where vacant storefronts dominate once vibrant retail corridors.
In 1930, the portion of Broadway and Beechview under study had 24 active storefronts. In 1960, it had 29. City directories from those years listed stores that served a wide enough range of needs that, even though a trolley ran through, people didn't have to ride it, or drive, to buy basic necessities.
Nate and Sabina Marini were married and lived in Beechview for 60 years. Ms. Marini, now a widow, remembers the vibrant days and watched them fade.
"There were open-air fruit stands, ladies clothing stores, baby supplies, a bridal shop, a theater, a hardware store, an Isaly's, restaurants, drugstores, barbershops, a bakery, doctors, hairdressers," she said. "Every church had a dance on the weekend. That's what we did; we danced all weekend. It used to be a great place, like a lot of places."
Bucky Bianco was born in Beechview and has lived in numerous houses there. While sipping coffee in Brew, the coffee shop at 1557 Broadway, he recalled businesses that occupied the same space over the years, Benny the Furrier and Rizzo's Hardware among them.
"The American Legion was upstairs," he said. "They had dances."
He remembered Stanley's Market at that location in the 1960s. "He was Polish and that was his butcher shop."
Maffie's Grill at 1602 Broadway "was a bar with a kitchen, and it was a very nice place," he said. "They had bands, piano players.
"Tony's Barber Shop [at 1617] was Tony Silvestri. He was a singing barber. He used to sing opera."
In the '40s, he said, the 1400 block included Russo's Market. "They killed chickens in the back. Me and my friend Lou Corvino used to spend Saturday mornings watching them."
When Mr. Bianco was a boy, he delivered clothes for Abraham Schwartz, a tailor in a building that was torn down at 1624 Broadway "probably 30 years ago," he said. "I worked two hours a day, eight hours on Saturday. I made $3.50 a week, and for tips, people gave me cookies."
By the mid-1960s into the '70s, Beechview still had a lot of retail. That was when Phyllis DiDiano, now president of the Community Leaders United for Beechview, went to St. Catherine of Sienna.
On her walks home from school for lunch, she remembers passing through a little market on Broadway. Sam's Market had newspaper on the floor and sold sundries, ice cream, a few groceries, she said.
"Morry's 5&10 was a big store where the IGA [supermarket] is now," she said. "At one time, there were four grocery stores."
Ms. DiDiano became active in community advocacy in the early '90s, when the neighborhood was trying to hang onto its retail as population dropped and the roster of businesses began thinning.
"We had a slogan then," she said: "Come home to Beechview: A complete community."
At that time, the slogan was almost true about a neighborhood that still had two banks, a laundromat, a tailor, a barber, hair salons, a fitness club, dentists, doctors, real estate agents, a TV repair shop, lots of taverns, a dance studio, a hardware store, an Asian restaurant, pizza places and John's drugstore.
First Published November 25, 2012 12:00 am