In the 1960s, Ruth and Vivian Weinstein took over Harry’s Market, their parents’ corner store in Mount Rainer, MD. They were among the few women who owned and ran a mom-and-pop store. Traditionally, women helped their husbands and fathers in stores by waiting on customers and keeping the shop’s books. Women were rarely sole proprietors or shop managers.
Vivian and Ruth’s parents, Leah and Harry Weinstein, had opened Harry’s Market in 1924. They were among the hundreds of Jewish immigrants who operated mom-and-pop grocery stores in all four quadrants of Washington, DC as well as the Maryland and Virginia suburbs.
The grocery business was popular with immigrants because it required little start-up capital and minimal knowledge of English. In fact, many grocers learned English by reading the labels on the cans stocked in their stores.
Jewish merchants often lived above or behind the shop and would run out to assist customers who rang the bell. Sidney Hais, whose family owned Hais Market on Seventh Street NE, remembered, “In those days, you waited on each individual customer. There was no such thing as self-service…It was exhausting.” Grabbers such as the ones pictured here (below right) were used to reach cans and other items from high shelves.
The Weinsteins and Haises were part of District Grocery Stores (DGS), which provided cooperative buying power and a means to fight discrimination by non-Jewish wholesalers. Explained by Jenna Weissman Joselit in The Forward, “At once indispensable and taken for granted, the grocery store owner sought out the company of other grocers. Banding together, they formed trade associations that not only expanded their purchasing power, but also provided opportunities for socializing and for exchanging ideas.”
The era of mom-and-pop grocery stores started declining with the end of Prohibition in 1933, the movement of population from the city to the suburbs in the late 1940s and 1950s and the introduction of self-service supermarkets. Harry’s Market was one of the last Jewish-owned mom-and-pop grocery stores in the Washington area. The Weinstein sisters ran the store until 1996.
To learn more about mom-and-pop grocery stores, visit the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington’s online exhibition, Half a Day on Sunday.
This year, the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington, in conjunction with the Jewish Food Experience, is featuring DC’s rich Jewish food history as its Objects of the Month. For information on DC’s Jewish history—including programs, exhibitions and publications—visit jhsgw.org. Do you have material documenting a local Jewish-owned business that you’d like to donate to the Jewish Historical Society’s collection? Please contact JHSGW at email@example.com or (202) 789-0900.
Top photo: Ruth and Vivian Weinstein in front of their store, mid 1990s. JHSGW Collections, gift of Ruth and Vivian Weinstein.