Before big supermarket chains took over, stores in my neighborhood specialized in one thing. On Bryn Mawr Avenue, our main commercial strip, for example, there was an egg store, a fruit and vegetable store, two fish stores and three Kosher butcher shops. (See my Bryn Mawr Hall of Fame for a complete listing.)
Most Bryn Mawr Avenue shops, food or otherwise, were family owned. Many of these families lived in the neighborhood and their children attended local schools, Peterson Elementary School, Von Steuben High School or Arie Crown Day School. Everyone knew everyone–actually, many were related–not just from our neighborhood, which we called Hollywood Park and now is more widely known as North Park, but they knew one another from their previous neighborhoods on the Jewish West Side of Chicago. From about the mid-1950s to the early 1970s, on the strength of those personal relationships, Hollywood Park supported a lively, healthy business district that was about four city blocks long. In her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs described this kind of neighborhood as having “eyes on the street.”
There was another butcher, a couple doors south of Bryn Mawr on the east side of Kedzie, called Lazar’s Kosher Sausage Factory. It’s where my mother bought salami and hot dogs. She didn’t just buy for our immediate family; twice a year she bought salami and five pounds of hot dogs for her father, who lived in a small town in southwestern Pennsylvania, Beaverdale, which did not have and was not near a Kosher butcher. My mother froze the meat and we took it in a box by train or by car, depending on how we were travelling at the time.
My Zeide, my grandfather, really enjoyed the Lazar’s meats. In my eyes, being the supplier of something my grandfather appreciated so heartily gave us–the Chicago branch of the family–a certain temporary status. He hung the salami on a cabinet knob in his kitchen, and for a meat lunch, he would slice the thinnest of slices and make us sandwiches on black bread. To be honest about my memories, I have to admit I really wanted Wonder bread but that was forbidden in my Zeide’s house. In fact, most of the Eastern European foods that he ate and expected us to eat were a 1960s-era American child’s nightmare. In retrospect, however, he was ahead of his time in terms of natural food trends.
A few years ago, I wrote a blogpost about my vivid “smell the salami” memories of Lazar’s. In researching the history of Lazar’s, I found out the business had moved from the West Side in 1955, following its clientele to the newer Jewish areas in Albany Park, Hollywood Park and Peterson Park. From the comments I received, I learned many others shared my fond memories. I also learned more about the family who had owned–still owns–Lazar’s.
I learned that the owner, Sol Lazar, and his wife, Eva, had lived in Peterson Park, the neighborhood to the north of Hollywood Park. Eventually they had 23 grandchildren. One of his great-grandchildren wrote a lovely note to me saying she hadn’t met him, but appreciated that people remembered the family business. A number of newspaper accounts note that the family generously supported Jewish causes. Terry Brown, the son of Willie Daniel, a butcher who worked at Lazar’s, wrote this comment about Sol Lazar:
Sol Lazar was a good man. He would show off the plant and have a tray of house made goodies for us, hotdogs, salami, baloney, kiska, pickled green tomatoes, Kaiser rolls, onion rolls, etc., just to name a few. He loved helping people, he treated his employees like family.
In Jerusalem, Sol Lazar’s daughter and her husband, who had worked at Lazar’s on Kedzie, uphold the legacy of Lazar’s Kosher Meats. I learned of the store from one of my classmates from Von Steuben, Sherry Cizek Magid, who sent me these photos. On the wall of the Jerusalem store are photographs of the Chicago Lazar stores. On the right is the one I remembered on Kedzie Avenue; on the left the location that preceded it on Roosevelt Avenue on the West Side.
In remembering the old neighborhood as it was, I don’t often come across photographs, so each one feels like a gift. In those days, people did not take a lot of photographs. Some did, but many families who owned businesses on Bryn Mawr in Hollywood Park do not have photographs of the family stores.
So, thank you, Sherry, for thinking of me and sharing these photographs. After Lazar’s on Kedzie was sold to Kosher Zion, Sherry’s father, Sam Cizek, worked there as a counter man.
Read more: My first blogpost about Lazar’s: If they wanted to live next door to a sausage factory, they would have stayed on the West Side.