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Emerging Market

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Citing declining sales and a changing South Side culture, the owner of Schwartz Market says it's time to close up shop ... and let new blood modernize the Carson Street grocery store.

"It's time to say adios," says Martin Dorfner, who's owned the store for the last 25 years. "The town is loaded with college students who don't cook. All they want is to go to bars and chase women."

Dorfner, who put the business up for sale roughly six months ago, says the past three years have been especially difficult. As nearby bars have filled up, the South Side store has gradually emptied out. These days, the 68-year-old dejectedly asks, "How many people cook?

"It's been a tough battle," he adds, noting that he's ready to retire. "I'm disappointed in the way it's ending."

But some say they're excited for the market's new beginning -- one focused on selling local, organic foods. 

Elisa Beck, who owns the Schwartz Market building, says she is working with Dorfner to sell the business to a grocer with plans to update the store and sell fresh, healthy food. "We are interested in health and healing," she assures. "We are not interested in a bar."

Recently, Beck says, Dorfner signed a letter-of-intent with a potential buyer. Though she declined to name the grocer, she did say they are Pittsburghers.

"It's very exciting," says Beck, a Monroeville resident whose husband's family founded Schwartz Market, which has been located at 1307 E. Carson St. since 1938. Dorfner -- who calls it a "basic meat, potatoes and vegetables grocery store" -- bought the market from the Schwartz family in 1985.

"They want to bring it up to date and offer some organics and some fresh, local brands," Beck says.

Ideally, Beck says she'd prefer the market to be run as a co-op, like the East End Food Co-op, where shoppers own and operate the store. But she understands that remaking Schwartz Market "is going to be a gradual transformation."

Local residents say they're ready for a change. Megan Dietz, who attended two community meetings in March and April concerning the market's future, says the community has expressed a desire for a store that sells local produce and organic food. But some have said that they don't want to lose Schwartz's mom-and-pop feel -- as well as its famous kielbasa and pierogies. 

Dietz, who lives in Mount Oliver, says buying healthy foods usually means a trip to the East End Food Co-op or Whole Foods. But she's glad to see that her commute could soon be shortened. 

"The potential buyer has lots of experience in natural foods," she says. "They would be a great asset to the South Side."

"A lot of people are weighing in," says Pittsburgh City Councilor Bruce Kraus, who represents the South Side. "People don't want to lose [Schwartz Market]. But people understand that it needs to be updated to meet the needs of the neighborhood."

Even Dorfner won't argue that. 

"We've had a good following" over the years, he says. But "[the store] needs some new blood."

For now, at least, Dorfner and Beck say there's no timetable for selling the business. But Dorfner hopes his retirement isn't far off.

"This [business] is very demanding," he says. "The sooner the better."

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