Update February 25, 2016 – We are sad to report that Freda Hirsch has passed away peacefully, just a few days shy of her 98th birthday. 🙁
Update: June 20, 2010 we learned that the decision was made to close Freda’s store permanently, and she will be moving to an assisted living community.
While you can’t visit Freda’s anymore, use this as a reminder that nothing, and none of us, lasts forever, and visit a cool old vintage and retro business that you like in your area. It may not be there forever :-(.
On one of our first dog walks after we moved to Phoenixville we passed a curious little house with a storefront nestled in with the rest of the residential houses on Washington Avenue.
Not sure if it was open or not, and a bit wary of what we may find inside if it was, it was with great relief that we were told that the store was open and run by a sweet lady, Freda Hirsch.
This has been one of my very favorite places in all of Phoenixville and I make a point to take visitors here to meet Freda, see her cute little neighborhood store, and support one of the last vestiges of old time Phoenixville that remain. With Freda being 92 years old and still opening the store every day, I breathe a sigh of relief whenever we walk past and see her open sign.
Or one of the many signs she’ll put up during the day to inform customers about her whereabouts.
I’ve been meaning to write about Hirsch’s market for forever, and have even asked Freda throughout the years if I could snap a few photos inside. She’s always amenable to the idea but knowing I only have my little point and shoot camera I wasn’t sure if I could do the interior justice. I often do snap some photos of the exterior as we walk the RetroRoaddog by.
( that bare spot in the upper left is from all the notes Freda thumbtacks up)
This past week I was glad to see that another Phoenixville resident and Retro Roadmap Contributor Clint Weiler of OneNineFourSixZero.com had also seen the beauty of Freda’s store. When he happily agreed to allow me to reprint his writeup here, I knew this was my excuse to snap the photos I’d wanted to, and hope for the best.
Before I turn you over to Clint’s words and my photos, I have 2 quick things to mention:
1. It was sad to hear that many of Freda’s suppliers no longer will work with her because the quantities she needs to order are so small. However the kind folks at Foresta’s Market on West Bridge Street will add on to their order anything that she needs, and that helps her keep items in stock. Because of this neighborly arrangement I’m definitely giving more of my business to Foresta’s – and maybe you will to? I will make sure to let them know how much I appreciate them helping Mrs. Hirsch out. I can’t imagine the Acme just blocks away from Freda would help her out like this.
2. Freda told me that business is slow nowadays, and not like the olden times, which seemed to make her a bit sad knowing things will never be like they were. She’s 92 now, and we know she won’t be around forever, so wouldn’t it be nice to support her by buying whatever you can from her little shop? Granted we only picked up a roll of TP and some snacks today, but I’m making a commitment to buying at least $5-$10 worth of stuff from her per week. Join me, won’t you?
Once you read about Freda’s life and her store you’ll see why I have such a soft spot for her! she really is “A Treat” for us Phoenixville residents!
Hirsch’s Grocery – A Phoenixville Landmark
On February 28th, Freda Hirsch turned 92. Her store, Hirsch’s Grocery (147 Washington Ave), is truly a treasure of Phoenixville. Not only because it’s an instant throwback to simpler times, but mainly because of Freda.
On Easter morning, I stopped in to speak with Freda, who’s been the owner and operator of the store since 1951. As soon as I stepped in the door, she shared with me a greeting card that she received earlier that morning…
“As you know, I’m of the Jewish faith,” she said as she proceeded to read and show me the card. “What would the Easter rabbit be without his ‘T’?”
(she turns to me and smiles, shows me the front of the card with a drawing of a rabbit sitting at a table with a cup of tea)
“A Rabbi! I thought that was so cute,” she said as she laughed. ( you can see that card in my photo above! BL)
And that’s just the kind of thing that makes me love Freda and Hirsch’s Grocery so much. I usually stop in once a week for a bag of chips, a loaf of bread, or something like that. It’s a great place to pick up a few items and have a nice chat with a woman who’s experienced a lot, yet yearns for more.
Freda moved to Phoenixville when she was twelve years old. Her parents were bakers from Norristown who owned a wholesale bakery across from the Reading Station. Her father was particularly skilled at making rye bread and decided to move the business to the current location of Hirsch’s Grocery. They converted the house into a bakery and sold breads, donuts, pastries, etc.
Freda later attended art school and honed her passion for painting into a great skill. These days, she doesn’t paint quite as much, but she hopes to get back into it. Her son Chuck does a great job of preserving her artwork and sells framed reproductions here.
(a poster of some of her prints that are available, we’ve got a couple in the Hacienda, ourselves!)
Freda recalls graduating from art school…
“I went looking for jobs, it was the 1940s… it wasn’t easy. During the summer I used to work down in Atlantic City as a beach artist, right there next to the steel pier. And that’s how I met my husband… My husband was a pitchman on the boardwalk.”
Freda’s husband ended up joining the war in Okinawa, but they got married immediately after he returned home. At first, they traveled alot, worked at the Jersey shore in the summer, but eventually they had a son, and not too long after that Freda’s twins were born…
“My mother said, ‘Don’t you think you better settle down? You can’t be dragging them with you everywhere!’” Freda explained (with a big smile). “So my parents gave me the store. They were ready to give up. They were in their 70s, and here I am now at 92!”
Her husband passed away in 1984 due to a heart attack, but Freda continued to run the store. “I just worked it by myself,” she said. “Everybody on the street has been marvelous to me. Now if I need help or I have to go somewhere, or something like that, they’ll take me. I go to the YMCA twice a week to do my exercise.”
When asked about what she likes best about her store, she cited the customers / conversation. “The young boys that used to buy candy now come in with their grandchildren,” laughed Freda. “They tell me where they used to live and what years they’d come in.”
Freda likes to cater to the children in the neighborhood so she carries a nice selection of penny candy, which is now two cents due to inflation. She also has a snocone machine, which is one of her favorite features of the store. “I got that from an Italian lady over on the north side,” Freda explains.
In addition, she makes hoagies to order and has a fine selection of deli meats and cheeses.
As for her health, Freda is generally well, but she does have some back issues that developed in her mid 80s. “I was fine up until I was 85 or 86. Then my back started to hurt me. I had everything done to it, except an operation. It’s not a pain, but it just aches.”
While her physical complications are minimal, her business operations have become more complicated due to the size of her store…
“My shelves were always very full, but business is different now,” Freda explained. “You see now, the big companies want so much money to come and deliver, or you have to buy so much quantity. I don’t need that much, so the other stores in town help me out. Foresta’s (1098 West Bridge St) gets me whatever I want on his order, this way I can just buy halves from him. He comes twice a week to deliver whatever I order through him. He’s very good to me.”
Freda and Hirsch’s Grocery is the heart Phoenixville, not only by location, but also in spirit. New businesses are certainly welcomed, but supporting established entities is extremely important.
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