Fairhill residents don’t have to go far to get a taste of their native dishes.
Making and selling popular products that include longanisa (chicken and pork sausages), morsilla (blood sausage) and octopus salad, Diaz Meat Market has been a staple in the Fairhill section of North Philadelphia for 35 years.
Fairhill features a mix of authentic ethnic delights in local stores and markets, but a government initiative to develop supermarkets in underserved areas may have caused an undesired effect for some smaller food businesses.
Pablo Diaz immigrated to Manhattan from Puerto Rico in 1961 before moving to Philadelphia and opening the meat market on North Fifth and West Somerset streets in 1973.
“My sister came to Philadelphia first and then one of my aunts came,” Diaz said. “And I had a business up there like this – not too big but I had a little business over there. And then they told me there was a business area being redeveloped over here and that’s when I decided to visit and check it out until I finally decided to buy it and I stayed.”
Aside from his popular products that he makes himself, Diaz sells meat he buys from Mid-Atlantic Foods and Stephen G. Manieri Meats, based in Philadelphia and Bechtelsville, Pa., respectively. Citing he does not like to throw any part of the animal away, Diaz offers a wide variety of items to choose from including cow feet, oxtail and pig stomach. Still, his distinct selection has not kept his business as strong as it once had been.“As far as the meats go, I don’t sell too much meat because I got supermarkets nearby now,” Diaz said.
Ranking as the second-lowest major city in the country in terms of supermarkets per capita, more than 363,000 Philadelphians travel outside their neighborhood to purchase groceries with lower-income and Latino residents more likely to have to do so, according to the Food Trust’s Food Geography from 2004.
The Fresh Food Financing Initiative followed soon after in 2004 to build more supermarkets within the city to provide fresh food. But an increase in supermarket presence has had a different effect and provided competition from markets, including Cousin’s Supermarket, on Lehigh Avenue and American Street.
“At one time I was doing real good, but then all these other supermarkets started moving in and that’s when my business started going down. And I use to have like six people working at this place at one time, but it started going down and down and down and until now I’m by myself.”
Down the street at North Fifth and West Cambria streets, Maria’s Grocery has been in business for seven years. While owner, Maria Garced provides typical grocery items, her store specializes in Goya products and Latino candies that she purchases from a man who buys the candies in Puerto Rico.
“A lot of people have tried [the candy] when I offer it [to customers] who have never tried it,” Garced said. “People are buying it not only from my country, but all over the place.”
The store’s customers mainly come in for the specialty items such as gofio cucas (cookies), said Garced, who also serves as owner and sole employee. However, Garced isn’t bothered by the new supermarkets popping up around the neighborhood.
“I don’t have a problem with that,” she said. “To me, competition is good. I come here and do whatever I need to do.”
While her friendliness may attract customers, she has another important attribute that is beneficial to the neighborhood, she said.
“I have something [supermarket owners] don’t have – I’m bilingual.”