Essay

Half a Day on Sunday: Jewish-Owned “Mom and Pop” Grocery Stores

Between 1880 and 1924, a million and a half eastern European Jews came to the United States in search of economic opportunities and religious freedom. Arriving from ports in New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and other eastern cities, thousands settled in the Washington area, encouraged to try their luck in the burgeoning local economy by family members and landslayt (fellow townspeople from Eastern Europe). Of these, several hundred opened small “mom and pop” grocery stores.

Joseph and Lena Shankman inside Economy Meat Market

Joseph and Lena Shankman inside Economy Meat Market at 2827 Georgia Ave, NW

JHSGW Collections.

Newcomers often apprenticed in a family member’s grocery store until they had gained some experience and saved enough money to open a small store of their own. The business appealed to many immigrants because it required little start-up capital and only minimal knowledge of English. Moreover, because most grocer families lived above or behind the store, family members of all ages were readily available to serve customers.

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