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How do sounds in a grocery store reflect community? 
By Alex Ortiz 

The Hill District in Pittsburgh is recognized for the rich history surrounding its historically Black population. Less known is the fact that the neighborhood was also home to Irish, German, Scottish, Italian, Greek, Armenian, Syrian, Lebanese, and even a few Chinese families during the first half of the century. In this diverse neighborhood, a sizeable Jewish community settled around Shomin, Townsend, and Hazel Street, in the area where the Pittsburgh Penguins Arena now stands. As the Jewish population steadily grew from the 1890s to the 1940s, twenty synagogues were built and schools, like the Hebrew Institute, were established to support immigrant families with education and English language. As the Jewish population expanded, so did the need for kosher meat markets, family-owned stores that were central to community life and sustenance.

Hebrew Institute opened in 1916 on Wylie Avenue in the Hill District of Pittsburgh.

Most of the kosher markets were located on Logan Street. When community activist and leader Frankie Mae Pace moved to the Hill District in 1936, she recalled that kosher markets were the only neighborhood suppliers of quality meats. Pittsburgh ophthalmologist Dr. M. R. Goldman recalls how the Jewish community’s diet revolved around gefilte fish, chopped liver, marinated herring, kreplach blintzes, and chicken noodle soup, a cuisine that was dependent on kosher preparation. In many ways, the sounds of the meat stores were deeply connected to the preservation of dietary tradition and religious doctrine.

N. Krakoff Kosher Meat Market and Richest Sanitary Delicatessen Shop (1928), Pittsburgh City Photographer Collection, 1901-2000, University of Pittsburgh.

Hill District Grocery
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Sound clip created by Alex Ortiz

The sounds of meat market are familiar to me because I spent most of my teenage years working at my uncle’s meat store. Aside from the sounds of our family conversation, the slams of the meat cleaver, and the dings on the cash register, Mexican music always played in the background on an old, passed down radio. In the audio clip, I drew from my own memories as I imagined the sounds of the kosher markets in the Hill District. Listen for the sounds of a bustling business that was serving the local community. You will hear the bell jangling as people walk in and out the door. The sounds of the cash register are an indication that the store is profitable. Notice the rustling of paper bags as they are packed with goods, and the clang of metal baskets as they are stacked. Finally, in the background, the sounds of German band music are a reminder of the homeland and culture many left behind, as their families and livelihoods evolved in Pittsburgh.

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SOURCES

Burstin, Barbara. Jewish Pittsburgh. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2015.


Goldman, M.R. “Hill District of Pittsburgh, as I Knew It.” Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine
51 (July 1968): 279–95.


Heinz History Center. “The Jewish Hill District.” Google Arts and Culture. Accessed 9 May 2024.

Pace, Frankie. “Pace, Frankie, April 8, 1973, tape 1, side 1 and side 2.” Pittsburgh Renaissance
Project: The Stanton Belfour Oral History Collection
, 1971-1973. University of Pittsburgh.

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