IUPUI University Library, Neighborhood of Saturdays Collection

The near southside of Indianapolis was a melting pot of Appalachians, African Americans, several ethnic groups, and a large Jewish population from the early 1900s through the 1960s when many Jewish residents migrated north away from downtown. During the early 20th century, the southwest corner of South Meridian and McCarty Streets was a busy place in the neighborhood. The brick Italianate building on the corner housed a pharmacy for decades, including Harry Neller’s Drugstore in the 1920s and ’30s and Passo Drugs. Pharmacist Albert H. Passo (1913-1998) and Issie H. Passo operated the corner store from the 1940s through the 1970s. It appears in this early 1970s photograph that there had been a fire and the windows are being boarded up.

Russian immigrants Louis and Rebecca Shapiro opened Shapiro’s Grocery in 1905. Their three sons, Abe, Max, and Izzy, expanded the business as a restaurant after Prohibition ended in 1934. Shapiro’s web site states that they sold ten cent beers and people wanted some salami and corned beef sandwiches to go along with the brew, so they added a few tables. Eventually Shapiro’s expanded to the corner.


Google Street View, July 2009

Shapiro’s Delicatessen and Cafeteria was remodeled in 2003 after a fire and standing water damaged the interior. The New York-style deli, known for its large corned beef and pastrami sandwiches on homemade rye bread, is the last of the Jewish businesses in the old southside neighborhood and is now operated by a fourth generation.

Luckily, the history of this area is being recorded by Associate Professor Susan B. Hyatt’s IUPUI anthropology students in a project called “The Neighborhood of Saturdays.” For several semesters, students in a community research class have been interviewing former African-American and Sephardic Jewish community members who once lived side-by-side in the Concord/Babe Denny Neighborhood. The students have recorded interviews and scanned photographs and other documents and will publish a book in the near future.

Read more about their work in this New York Times article.

[Would you like to see your old photographs featured in this Then and Now column? If so, attach a high resolution jpeg or png and any details about the building within our “Say Hi” link in the footer of our website.]


19 responses to “Indianapolis Then and Now: Passo Pharmacy and Shapiro’s Delicatessen & Cafeteria, 802 and 808 S. Meridian Street”

  1. basil berchekas jr says:

    My mother introduced me to Shapiro’s when she taught at School # 8 (now a historically significant structure on Virginia Avenue in Fletcher Place). Later ate there when I worked downtown. Excellent food at a reasonable price today.

  2. Terry Shumker says:

    The Concord/Babe Denny Neighborhood is certainly worthy of a medal historical marker for the multi-cultural peaceful and not patronizing community interactions. It may be the IUPUI project could pursue the marker with the Indiana State Library for the application and funding requirement for a historical
    marker. Terry Shumaker

  3. Merri Anderson says:

    I worked at Marion Co. General Hosp. (later Wishard, soon Eskanazi) from 1969 to 1979. I knew a wonderful man named Charlie Passo who was a pharmacist in the out-patient building on W. 10th St. I had forgotten this till I saw this picture of Passo Drugs. Clearly Charlie was a member of a pharmacy dynasty. Thanks for reviving a fond memory.

  4. Paul Diebold says:

    Proof positive- history is tasty.

  5. basil berchekas jr says:

    Yes, it IS TASTY! Very much so, especially at historic locations like Shapiro’s! (Too bad the Virginia Grille on East Washington Street isn’t with us anymore…)

  6. David Brewer says:

    In the early 1970s, my folks used to take us down to Shapiro’s. I saw Max Shapiro on several occasions as a kid. I remember him as a friendly guy who would come by your table to make sure you got everything you needed.

    The photo is interesting. I don’t remember the drugstore, but do remember that Shapiro’s expanded into that space after the fire. Don’t know if they took the second floor off of the drugstore and remodeled the first or what exactly happened. I can just remember walking in there and seeing all of the extra space in the restaurant.

    Now I want to go there for dinner!

  7. Rick Passo says:

    Albert Passo was my father, Issie my uncle. Many memories, many lives touched. Thanks for Prof. Susan Hyatt of IUPUI for helping me to reconnect!

  8. Greg Bowman says:

    The photo of Passo’s Drug Store boarded up was taken not long after a natural gas pipe had exploded, basically causing the structure to be unsafe. I worked at Regan’s Bakery at the time {across from Shapiro’s parking lot}, and heard the explosion. It blew out several of our windows. It blew Mr.Passo out onto the street, and burnt his clothes, but he survived without any serious injuries. That was around 35 years ago, and I remember it well.

  9. Linda Hoffman says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed this article and the old photo. In the mid and late 1950’s, my Dad would drive us from Anderson to Shapiro’s for a treat or to buy food for an afternoon picnic in Brown County. We moved away from Indiana in 1961, and I moved back in 1969. The first place I wanted to go was Shapiro’s! My Dad visited me from Texas twice a year, and we always ate there during his visit. As the generations have progressed and food laws have changed, i think the quality and taste of the food has declined somewhat, but not to the point I won’t eat there! I was there three days ago and bought two sandwiches and two potato pancakes to go. It was pricey, but I am a little old lady who doesn’t eat much, so that was about four meals for me! I also remember Sam’s Subway. I thought I remembered it at 22nd and Meridian, but the company tells me it was 28th and Meridian. Great food memories! Thank you!

  10. Sally shapiro says:

    I know this reply is very late but I’m revisiting some old sites for research on my husbands family.
    Passo’s Drugs was on the corner of Meridian and McCarty Streets for more than half a century, starting in 1935. Rick Passo (his son) is on Twitter.

    In 1976, Passo Drugs called the gas company to report a gas smell in their pharmacy. They came and told them everything was fine…2 hours later their building blew up. You can find this story on our website.
    Mr Passo decided to retire and Great Uncle Max bought the corner, damaged building. It had to be torn down because of the extensive damage. Max added on to create the 3rd expansion to his family’s original 808 South Meridian location, founded in 1905. One further addition came to the south when Regans Bakery closed and Max expanded to the south soon after.

    Thank you for your loyalty and stories about our restaurant and helping to make it a legacy in the neighborhood!
    Sally Shapiro

  11. Sally Shapiro says:

    1976 actually. Rick Passo helped us with our timeline.

  12. Billy McCurdy says:

    My family moved to 728 S. Illinois in Aug.1942,just off of the corner of McCarty St. I knew Al and Izzy Passo very well as I grew up in the neighborhood until i went into the Marines in 1949. I met my wife to be,Ruth Ann Shires, at the drug store in Dec. !952 when I got out of the Marine Corps.She worked there at the time.She lived on the 800 block of Union street,one block east of Meridian Street.As a child she frequently ate at Shapiro’s.

  13. George Ringham says:

    Hi, Rick, I am George Ringham a very good friend of your father,uncles Izzie and Charlie. I did not know aunt Sophie as well as the boys. Your father and uncle Izzie use to give me a ride after closing the pharmacy each night to my area home at 1000 block of Park ave and Ft Wayne ave. My father owned the Pure Oil gas station across the street from the pharmacy. Just wanted to hi to you and your family with my fond memories of the lates 30,s and early 40,s.

  14. Tiffany Benedict Browne says:

    Hi George, I run this website, and am curious if you have any photos of Fort Wayne near where you lived. I am currently working on a book about Indianapolis bicycle history and sounds like you lived near where the Munger Cycle factory was once located. Cheers.

  15. Cecelia scott says:

    Issie and Al were both really nice men. When I was five years old I had a super crush on Issie. I think he gave me a small pack of crayons.

  16. Cecelia scott says:

    I remember Ruth Ann and I remember you Bill. We lived at 808 Union St. Your mother in law Mrs. Shires was one of my favorite people on union st. I was only 4 or 5 but I would cross the street to visit her. Our last name was reese. Your wife had a twin sister but I cant remember name
    Hope you are doing well

  17. Dr. Beverly Newman says:

    Rick, reconnecting is joyful. It is wonderful to see how you relish our memories as do I.

    Your Cousin,
    Beverly Newman

  18. Dr. Beverly Newman says:

    Please share more about my uncles’ drug store. It is a repository of wonderful memories for me!

    Beverly Newman

  19. Dr. Beverly Newman says:

    The extended Passo Family is trying to collect information on the Union Street residents where and when the Passo brothers grew up there and worked close by. We can be reached at, please.

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