At the 52nd St. Market in Lawrenceville, a chalkboard sign invites customers to order freshly-made deli sandwiches while they shop.
It’s a personal touch that one of the owners, Dora Walmsley, wanted when she and business partner Deirdre Kane opened the market in 2014. They had no experience in the grocery business, but they knew the community. Residents had pressed for more grocery options and, after all, the neighborhood — like many in Pittsburgh — used to have more than one “corner store.” Today the pair tries to offer something for every budget and taste in a space that’s been a market since the early 20th century.
“We pride ourselves on having everything from quinoa to chipped ham,” says Walmsley, who has a background in nonprofit work.
Local markets, once a fixture in neighborhoods where walking to a corner store was a necessity, are making a comeback in some parts of the city. Though several markets in town have been around for decades (think Groceria Merante in Oakland, Tom Friday’s Market in Brighton Heights, and Alfred’s Deli & Market in Polish Hill), since 2010, newer ones have opened in Highland Park, Downtown, Oakland, Troy Hill, Lawrenceville and the Mexican War Streets. At least three are on a corner, in buildings where markets long operated.
There are small grocers aplenty in the city — and here are a few newer neighborhood spots where, if you stop by often enough, the employees might know your name:
Bryant Street Market, 5901 Bryant St.
In Highland Park, Rob Collins opened Bryant Street Market in 2010 stocking staples such as paper towels and cereal, and as many local products as he can offer. He bought it as a convenience store and “cleaned it up” offering organic food, produce, a deli counter and more local products. They also make sandwiches to order: The “Owners Favorite” is roast beef with cheddar. The Bubba, which features roasted pork loin, pepper jack cheese and house-made slaw, is a good one to try. They also carry authentic church pierogies in their freezer case.
“I think, nationwide, there’s a trend of shopping small and local,” said Collins, whose first job as a teenager was at a local grocery in McCandless.
Local shop owners say they can’t — and won’t — compete with big-box stores, but instead aim to provide neighborhoods with convenient options while supporting small business owners who seek wider distribution for their homemade products.
“Whatever we can get locally that makes sense for both parties we carry,” Collins said. “We don’t compete with Giant Eagle, but a lot of people don’t have cars, and if you can walk down the street and get groceries, that’s what we want.”
Market Street Grocery, 435 Market St.
This spot opened in 2015 likely pleasing many neighbors, as annual surveys by Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership show that residents consistently request more grocery shopping options. Market Street Grocery offers breakfast, lunch and dinner along with a welcoming coffee bar, a wine room and beer, local produce and baked goods.
It’s located on the edge of Market Square in the historic and beautiful Thompson building, built in 1928. The market also offers catering, and commuters can grab a quick lunch during the day or stop in for takeout — the crab cakes are a favorite — or a few staples after work.
There are now more people Downtown to support such a business: Population went up nearly 34 percent between 2010 and 2015 in the Golden Triangle, according to Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership.
Allegheny City Market, 1327 Arch St.
On Arch in the Mexican War Streets, Allegheny City Market has fully stocked shelves of pantry items, as well as frozen and refrigerated goods.
Owner Mike Mitchell offers made-to-order sandwiches and soon will begin selling pizza made on site. The building has been a grocery store since the late 1800s — a sign found on the property, “F.W. Hartman, est. 1895,” hangs inside the store. Allegheny City Market opened in 2014, following the closure of a previous store there.
“We’re a small little market on the North Side and we try to do the best we can for the community,” says Mitchell who, like many market owners, is on site to help run daily operations.
Pear & the Pickle, 1800 Rialto St.
One of the newest markets is Pear & the Pickle, which opened in April 2016 in Troy Hill. Husband-and-wife team Bobby Stockard and Alexis Tragos moved to Pittsburgh from Brooklyn and opened the market, refurbishing a building that housed grocery stores dating back to the earlier 20th century. An expansive set of shelves holds some staples, while the café offers breakfast and lunch, including soups, salads and sandwiches. They are known for their bodega-style egg sandwiches, which are served all day.
“Corner markets used to be found in nearly every neighborhood, and I feel that as Pittsburgh neighborhoods become more community-minded once again, the desire to shop local and support the businesses where you live is organic,” Tragos says.
Growing up, she spent time at her grandfather’s general store in Derry, Westmoreland County, “so a lot of the inspiration behind Pear and the Pickle” draws on those memories, Tragos says.
They began with the grocery as a larger part of the business, but they found that residents wanted to have a cup of coffee and chat, so they shifted towards fewer groceries and more made-to-order food. Today they employ three people, not counting Stockard. They plan to start selling cookbooks, coffee accessories and gifts such as War Admiral Press’ “Pittsburgh Misses You” coasters, Tragos said, all while serving the famed Stumptown coffee.
Do you have a favorite corner market, new or old, not mentioned here? Let us know in the comments.