This ad from 1933 is strictly about the liquor. (J. Archives)
This ad from 1933 is strictly about the liquor. (J. Archives)

100 years ago, Jewish grocers had the market on local service

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San Francisco has been a mercantile city from its earliest days when it became an outpost on the Pacific coast. And Jewish merchants have been part of the city’s ebb and flow of trade from the start, with neighborhood markets, in particular, as their mainstay.

Not limited to running kosher markets, Jewish families operated neighborhood grocery stores that catered to the general public. A couple of these businesses are still around, while the others have become part of local history, preserved in archives.

In the second half of the 19th century, one of the biggest Jewish power players in the local grocery industry was the Haas family. German immigrants, they started as liquor salesmen and grocers.

In a history of the Haas businesses written in these pages in 1982 by Norton B. Stern, we attempted to untangle the somewhat complicated history of the family’s presence in the Bay Area.

“Reckendorf, Bavaria, was the birthplace of Kalman and Charles Haas, with whom the name of Haas Brothers of San Francisco originated,” Stern wrote. “Kalman Haas, born in 1829, made his home in San Francisco from the early 1860s, and his office was at 304 California. In 1870, Kalman, for his brother Charles and himself, purchased Henry Levi’s share of H. Levi & Co., and that business became Loupe & Haas, ‘wholesale groceries and provisions,’ located at 216 California.”

Later, “William Haas, who had started as a clerk, became a salesman for Haas Brothers by 1875, and by 1879 he had become a partner of his cousins, Kalman and Charles.”

William was succeeded by his son Charles, whose obituary we carried in 1927.

“The Haas family has been prominent in San Francisco business circles since the establishment of the grocery business bearing their name in the ’70s,” we wrote. (That would be the 1870s.)

The Haas name is still well known, particularly for philanthropy, as is the family’s connection to Levi Strauss’ company and family, which began when a Haas married into the extended Strauss family. Their heirs continue their philanthropic work in the Bay Area today.

Other big names in retail at the time, such as Goldberg Bowen & Co., are little remembered.

In 1915, we ran this ad: “You put your money in the safest bank — then why not pick out the safest grocery store?” Goldberg Bowen & Co. was a thriving food business, with three stores in San Francisco (on Sutter, Haight and California streets) and one in Oakland in the expanding Bay Area.

You put your money in the safest bank — then why not pick out the safest grocery store?

In 1920, we carried this notice about the founder of the business: “Jacob Goldberg, Pioneer Grocer Is Called by Death.”

“Goldberg came to San Francisco from Nevada many years ago with Leo Liebenbaum. They purchased a small grocery, known as the Cronin Emporium. This firm prospered, Bowen was taken into partnership and after a time Liebenbaum retired and the firm took the name of Goldberg Bowen & Co. and became one of the largest grocery firms in this city.”

While Goldberg Bowen & Co. described itself as the “safest grocery story,” a Lesser Bros. ad from 1910 made some bold claims, too.

“Did you ever stop to consider what the meat business is now and what it was before the Lincoln Market opened in San Francisco? A visit to our market will convince you that we are entitled to your trade if clean meats of the highest quality at low prices is any consideration, then call at the Lincoln Market and be convinced.”

And nearly lost to history are Kippel’s on Geary Street and H.C. Meisel’s on Fillmore Street. Both grocers were in the heart of bustling Jewish neighborhoods. The same was true for Werner’s and Meinert’s on California Street.

There were many other Jewish-owned stores too. Some, like the Eagle on Fillmore Street, were owned by Jews, though the shop names didn’t hint at that. Another is Bi-Rite, still standing in the Mission District.

In 1955, we wrote about Bi-Rite because of the founders behind the counter, both of them Holocaust survivors.

“Through the efforts of the San Francisco Committee for Service to Emigres and the Hebrew Free Loan Association, Alexander Weinstock, 50, and Samuel Reinharz, 32, are now in business for themselves.

“Weinstock and Reinharz, both natives of Poland, are relatively new arrivals in San Francisco. Weinstock and his wife, who is an active member of the Mission chapter of Hadassah, have lived here five years. During the Hitler era, he was interned in a concentration camp in Austria for two years.

“The younger partner, Reinharz, saw two and a half years in a concentration camp in Poland. After his release he went to Sweden where he worked before coming to San Francisco sixteen months ago. Still another service rendered by the Emigre committee was driving school instruction for Reinharz, who will take over deliveries and buying of produce. The store, Bi Rite Market, is located at 3639 Eighteenth St. and will feature groceries, fresh fruits and vegetables and liquors.”

The efforts behind these Jewish-owned markets are a snapshot of the hard work and determination of immigrants in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The merchants, grocers, deli owners and kosher butchers, not to mention the tailors, cobblers and carpenters, tell a familiar Jewish story that is also baked into Bay Area history.

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.