For weeks, dark paper has covered the windows at 1912 Murray Ave. Behind the now opaque glass rests the former site of Smallman Street Deli, a Squirrel Hill haunt which for 13 years served Reubens, Rachels, latkes and grilled cheese. Prior to its closing, Jeff Cohen, co-owner of Smallman Street Deli, said the decision to cease operations in Squirrel Hill and focus on the company’s Strip District eatery, was due to “timing” and convenience. “The lease was up … and in the end we felt it was easier to concentrate on the one store due to the fact that our main plant was here.”
Occupying the deli’s former space is an equally familiar neighborhood institution. Murray Avenue Kosher, which was Smallman Street Deli’s neighbor at 1916 Murray Ave., is expanding, said Beth Markovic, a co-owner of the kosher grocery store.
“It’s coming along, we still have a way to go,” she said.
Markovic was not certain as to when renovations will be complete.
“There’s no firm time frame,” she said. “If anybody has ever remodeled they know things take longer than expected.”
Murray Avenue Kosher has been cooperating with the Allegheny County Health Department and Pittsburgh’s building inspectors as work continues, added Markovic.
Customers and community members are excited about the expansion. Rabbi Daniel Wasserman of Shaare Torah Congregation called it a “win-win” for the store and its patrons. “Murray Avenue Kosher is investing in the community and sees stability here,” he said, “and for the community the store owner is not taking the customer for granted and is constantly seeking to improve.”
Leslie Itskowitz, who has supported Murray Avenue Kosher for decades, was equally effusive. “We are very fortunate that they are expanding,” she said. “My understanding is there are going to be more options for takeout.”
Markovic would not say what exactly will fill the expanded store, and said “things are fluid.”
Itskowitz hopes to see more Israeli products, as well as “different kinds of chicken, salads and kugels.”
She mentioned a recent visit to Aroma Market, a kosher market and caterer in Boca Raton, Fla. Apart from possessing abundant parking spots, Aroma’s large aisles, cleanliness and vast selection of products and takeout provided an unparalleled experience, she explained.
Itskowitz understands space constraints restrict the ease of parking in Squirrel Hill, but hopes Murray Avenue Kosher can deliver similar customer satisfaction. “I am very grateful to have this store, and I think it’s important to support them and have always done so,” she said.
Perhaps a renovated store will enable people to understand “keeping kosher is not a limitation or a burden,” added Itskowitz. “Keeping kosher has boundless options and opportunities. We lack nothing. Our foods are delicious, healthy, traditional and tempting, and reminiscent of bygone years; there’s lots of nostalgia.”
Despite declining to give any specifics regarding the expanded store, Markovic offered a morsel of information consistent with Itskowitz’s sentiment.
“The potato salad will remain the same,” she said. PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org