For 46 years, nothing really changed at Engel’s Market on Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill.
The small storefront featuring an array of fresh fruits and vegetables hearkened back to a simpler time, a time before people could buy quality produce at bigger stores like Costco and Wal-Mart, Trader Joe’s, Giant Eagle and Whole Foods.
But time could not remain perpetually frozen for the popular green grocer, and Monday, April 30, its owner, Claire Engel, closed its doors forever.
“The hardest part for me was that there were people who stuck with me through thick and thin,” Engel said. “It’s difficult. I’ve felt I’ve somewhat let them down.”
The nature of business has changed on Murray Avenue, she said, and it became no longer feasible for her to run the market that her father, Milton, opened in 1966 to support his family.
“Business isn’t here anymore,” Engel said. “This end of Murray Avenue isn’t what it used to be. I used to have all kinds of connections. When someone came to get one thing, they would go into another shop for other things. There used to be delis, bakeries, butcher shops. When people came to Bageland on Sunday mornings to get their bagels, they would come down to me to get their tomatoes and onions. Now, people don’t venture down here. I was the only one left with that kind of product.”
Parking also became an issue for her customers, Engel said, with the advent of 15-minute meters.
“Now, there’s a ticket on your car if you stop to talk,” she said.
Engel had made a career out of running her family’s market, although that was not her intention when she graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 1977 with a degree in economics. She offered to help her father for a time as he was recuperating from surgery, and told him she would stay until he found someone else to hire.
“That’s how I first embedded myself in the business,” she said.
Engel worked alongside her father until his death in 1996.
She said she was surprised at how much attention the community has given to her decision to close her shop.
“People were very surprised I was closing,” she said. “I think that people are used to seeing this little market. It was just always there. It was a staple. I guess it made people realize that nothing is forever.”
Engel said that she will still maintain the wholesale end of her business, and will still make fruit baskets, using space at her former neighbor, Charles Catering.
While Murray Avenue is still a business hub, bustling with pizza places and Chinese restaurants, the street can no longer support a business such as hers, she said.
“There is still occupancy here,” she said of that end of Murray Avenue. “There just is not a place for me. I didn’t belong here anymore. It’s just another time. Things change.”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)