One-time Jewish-owned grocery reborn as local ‘living market’

One-time Jewish-owned grocery reborn as local ‘living market’

Elisa Beck gives a speech before cutting the opening ribbon Friday, June 21, during the opening ceremony of the new Schwartz Market on the South Side. (Chronicle photo by Ohad Cadji)
Elisa Beck gives a speech before cutting the opening ribbon Friday, June 21, during the opening ceremony of the new Schwartz Market on the South Side. (Chronicle photo by Ohad Cadji)

A Jewish-owned grocery store on the South Side, which later turned into a Polish market known for its kielbasa, became reincarnated last weekend.   

Schwartz Living Market, a renovated version of the Jewish-owned Schwartz Sanitary Supermarket, opened its doors to customers for the first time since March 2011.

Now, in place of pierogies and goulash, pea shoots and sunflower sprouts met customers who ventured into the store to peruse vendors from local businesses who set up shop for the grand opening.

The opening of Schwartz Living Market is intended to be an engine for green growth on the South Side, creating an epicenter for sustainability, permaculture and healthy foods.

“I was interested in helping to reinvent [the market] as local and organic,” said Elisa Beck, a developmental optometrist, somatic movement educator and founder of Sustainable Monroeville.

Beck and her husband, Stan, own the Schwartz building.  The Schwartz family, including Stan’s parents, actively participated in the Jewish community as members of Congregation Poale Zedeck in Squirrel Hill.

Morris Schwartz, Stan’s grandfather, established Schwartz Sanitary Market in 1927.  In 1938, Schwartz moved the store to its current location at 1317 East Carson St., and changed its name to Schwartz Sanitary Supermarket.  The family sold the business in the mid-1980s to two other families, but still retained ownership of the building.  During that time, the market catered to the Polish community, selling items such as duck blood and kielbasa, Beck said.

The store operated continuously until March 2011.

Schwartz is a living market because it is working to meet the Living Building Challenge, a green building certification program that defines the most advanced sustainability in the built environment  today, and acts to diminish the gap between current limits and ideal solutions, according to the challenge website,

The building has been registered in the Living Building Challenge since 2010.   

The Living Building Challenge is broken down into seven areas or “petals,” including site, water, energy, health, materials, equity and beauty.  The challenge also contains 20 imperatives that give specific requirements for each area. The petals, of course, are representative of a flower.

“Create a building that’s as beautiful as a flower,” Beck said of her goal, “and functions as efficiently and effectively as well.”

The building is between 18,000 and 25,000 square feet, depending on inclusion of the basement and the roof in the measurement.  Located in the South Side’s historical district, it may be the only historical building in the world that is a Living Building Challenge project, according to Beck.

“This is the ultimate challenge,” Beck said.  “A lot of people that have old buildings let them deteriorate or move out to the suburbs or farther than that and build what they want on empty land from the ground up.”

Instead of starting from scratch, Beck and company have to work with what already exists.  Because it is designated as a historical building, it has even more requirements.

The front 4,800 square feet of the market have already been renovated. They just completed the first part of the project with their occupancy and a certified cold-prep kitchen, which could potentially be made into a vegan-kosher kitchen.  Beck has talked to a mishgiach about that possibility.    

There are other Living Building Challenge projects going on in Pittsburgh including the Phipps Center for Sustainable Landscapes and the Frick Environmental Center.

Beck is an ambassador for the Living Building Challenge in Pittsburgh.  

“The idea is to educate building owners, business owners and individuals who own homes or apartments or own apartment buildings to go for the Living Building Challenge,” Beck said.  “It’s moving our culture forward in the green economy and it’s really exciting.”   

The three-day grand opening included dozens of vendors and activities from area shops, artists and more.  Navajo craftsman Harry Nez made necklaces and key chains with colorful beads.  Author Darrell Frey signed his book “Bioshelter Market Garden: A Permaculture Farm.”  Wheatgrass being grown right in the storefront turned into juice for customers.

The plan is to have 16 vendor booths in the market, along with a kitchen and a café focusing on raw and vegan food options.

There are also opportunities to watch educational movies and learn about growing foods from local experts.   

The market is only open on Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. until the fall, when it will expand to four days a week.  They are eventually working to expand to six days a week.  Free parking is available behind the store.

It is a relatively slow start, but in the time frame of the market’s whole progression it is not too long.  The market opening took several years because of the slow and mindful process required to meet the Living Building Challenge guidelines.

“People in our culture are used to commercial endeavors opening [and] we know exactly what to expect.  We know what the façade is going to look like, we know it’s going to be exactly the same every time because there’s a formula,” Beck said.  “We’re reinventing local.”

(Andrew Goldstein can be reached at