Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington | Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum

Collections: Objects of the Month

Photo of metal and wooden grabbersSeptember 2013

Accession No.: 1995.16
Donors: Ruth and Vivian Weinstein
Description: Two grabbers, made of wood and metal, each stand 50" tall.

In the 1960s, Ruth and Vivian Weinstein took over Harry's Market, their parents' cornerstore in Mount Rainer, Maryland. They were among the few women who owned and ran a "mom and pop" store. Traditionally, women helped their husbands and fathers wait on customers and keep the shop's books. Rarely were they 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 opened "mom and pop" grocery stores in all four quadrants of Washington, D.C. as well as the Maryland and Virginia suburbs.

Photo of receipt books, early 1930s

Receipt books from Harry's Meat Market, early 1930s. Each book tracks the account of one customer or household. JHSGW Collections. Gift of Ruth and Vivian Weinstein.

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 can labels in their stores.

These Jewish merchants lived above or behind the shop and ran out to assist customers who rang the bell. Sidney Hais 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 were used to reach cans and other items from high shelves.

The Weinsteins were part of District Grocery Stores (DGS), which provided cooperative buying power and a means to fight discrimination from 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."

Photo of Vivian and Ruth Weinstein, mid-1990s

Weinstein sisters, Vivian and Ruth, in front of their store, mid-1990s. JHSGW Collections. Gift of Ruth and Vivian Weinstein.

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 Meat Market was one of the last Jewish-owned mom-and-pop grocery stores in the Washington area. The Weinsteins' sisters ran the store until 1996.

To learn more about mom-and-pop grocery stores, visit our online exhibition, Half a Day on Sunday!

This year, in conjunction with the Jewish Food Experience, our Objects of the Month feature DC's rich Jewish food history. For stories about this history and the latest on the local Jewish food scene – recipes, restaurants, chefs, events, and volunteer opportunities – visit jewishfoodexperience.com.