With the opening of the Linea Verde Green Market in early June, residents of Pittsburgh’s Little Italy now have a full complement of neighborhood shops to sustain a hungry household.
Bloomfield’s new greengrocer carries a beautiful selection of fruits and vegetables purchased fresh each morning in the Strip District, as well as from local farmers.
Owned and managed respectively by sisters Maria Palmieri and Gina Merante, the store carries staples from Apples to Zucchinis, but it also offers more rarified produce when available. In the past month alone shoppers have filled their baskets with arugula, shitake mushrooms, and fresh figs.
In addition, the store carries organic dried herbs, local olive oils, and an assortment of cookies baked daily at Merante’s Gifts, Palmieri’s store, which is well known for its fine Italian kitchenware, traditional baked goods, and cooking classes.
Although Palmieri’s has made a career catering to those who share a love of Italian food, she and her sister are returning to their roots with the Green Market. Given that they were raised in the Italian grocery business and learned the ropes at Groceria Merante in Oakland, it wasn’t a leap for them to open their own market. So despite the fact that the building was in a state of disrepair, when the storefront that had housed The Bloomfield Mini Market became available, they agreed that it was the perfect opportunity.
Because the space was small, the sisters thought they could clean and renovate it in a month, but it was three months before the Green Market finally opened, and although there is still fine-tuning to do, business is now booming.
Giving a tour of the store, a tired, but ever-cheerful Gina Merante explained that everything from floor to ceiling needed to be either repaired or replaced. For the renovations, the sisters turned to George Clayton, a family friend and master carpenter who meticulously transformed the space into a charming backdrop for Merante’s artful arrangements of the fruits and vegetables that she buys. In the back of the store, she shows off a small, but well designed kitchen that will soon enable her to make fresh smoothies from her well-stocked shelves.
When asked what inspired the Green Market, Palmieri explained that her cooking classes and the private dinners require daily shopping anyway, “so now we just buy a little more.” An unexpected bonus from opening the market is that local growers are now seeking them out. “We had a guy drop by the other day with his organic herbs, and you should have seen the things he brought. There was purslane, there was tarragon, there was dill, and the purple basil was just gorgeous. I used the herbs to make frittata sandwiches for the annual Italian shopping tour that I led to New York this past weekend. We always provide a boxed breakfast for it and the herb frittatas were a big hit.”
As a guide who also leads an annual tour to Italy, Palmieri has seen first hand how locals shop daily for fresh ingredients at small, neighborhood shops owned by their butcher, baker, and greengrocer. Not only do small stores with steady turnover ensure that customers find fresh fare, these small business can be the glue that knit together a sense of community that comes from knowing, and being known, by their local purveyors.
Palmieri also explains that the Green Market is a complement rather than a competitor to other, local grocers. “I try to keep it as local as I can. Many of the meats I use for my classes come from DJs Butcher Block and I get most of my dry supplies from Donitellis and the Groceri, but I couldn’t always get the Swiss chard or arugula I needed, so the Green Market fills a niche that we didn’t have here.”