SoWe Store Stories: 509-509A Saint Joseph St., Charles Falk (1885)

This article is part of a series of posts from SoWe Volunteer Historian Jim Gerhart about the stories behind the stores on Old Cabbage Hill.

Close to the corner of East Filbert and St. Joseph Streets, across from the green “Welcome to Cabbage Hill” house, is a two-story brick house with adjoining shop that was the headquarters of the meat business for four generations of the Falk family for nearly 100 years.

Charles Falk, Sr. and his wife Frances immigrated to America from Germany about 1850, when they were in their early twenties. He and Francis went on to have four sons and one daughter. Charles, Sr. was a shoemaker, and he worked in that trade for several decades in their log house at 516 High Street.

In 1883, the Falks, in their son Charles, Jr.’s name, bought the lot where 509-509A are located today. The lot was on the northwest side of St. Joseph Street, fifty-five feet wide and extending back to West Vine. By 1885, Charles, Sr. had given up his shoemaker business, and he and his sons had built a two-story brick house facing St. Joseph (now 509A), with a butcher shop and slaughterhouse behind it on West Vine. Charles, Sr. and Frances lived in the house, while their sons Charles, Jr, and Louis continued to live at 516 High while they worked at the butcher shop.

The business got off to a rough start. On a Sunday morning just after Christmas in 1885, shortly after moving into the new house and starting the meat business, Charles, Sr. had an accident while delivering meats. He was traveling in his new wagon on Chestnut Street at Water Street when he almost was hit by a passing train. He barely avoided the collision, but the scared horse bolted and veered into a lamp post, destroying the wagon, which he had just bought a few weeks earlier. The wagon and a new harness were a total loss at $150. Charles, Sr. was not seriously injured, and the horse survived.

Frances died in 1895 and Charles, Sr. died in 1902. Their sons, Charles, Jr. and Louis took over the family meat business, which they named Falk Bros. Meats. About 1920, they built a shop, or meat market, on the southwest side of the house. This is the small building (now numbered 509) that still stands next to the house (now numbered 509A).

By the mid-1920s, the next generation of Falks had taken over the business. Charles III and Louis Falk continued to sell meats under the name of Falk Bros. Meats. They were quite successful, selling meats in their shop, delivering meat to customers, and operating meat stands at Central, Southern, and Northern Markets. Louis also branched out into property management, when in 1923 he purchased the grouping of three houses next door at 513-17 St. Joseph for rental income.

The fourth generation of Falks took over the business by the 1940s. Robert and Richard ran Falk Bros. Meats for several more decades, until they closed the business in 1980, making it nearly 100 years that the Falks had been in the meat business on St. Joseph Street. Increasing Pennsylvania health regulations were part of the reason for their closing in 1980.

Over the years, the Falks had built quite a complex of buildings on their property. In addition to the house and shop facing St. Joseph, and the slaughterhouse facing West Vine, they built a smokehouse, a rendering shop, a wagon house, a wagon-loading stage, and later a garage for cars and trucks.

In the mid-1980s, after the business had closed, the house remained a residence, the slaughterhouse was converted to apartments, and the shop remained vacant. By about 1990, the shop was converted to an apartment as well. In 2022, Mike Brenneman, who lives on the same block, purchased the property and began repairing and updating the apartments. He also opened up the display window in the shop that had been closed up when it was converted to an apartment. See the photo for the renovated buildings.