Schmidt's Brewery site (now the Piazza at Schmidt's)
Poised on the boundary between Northern Liberties and Kensington, this sprawling 15-acre site was home to Schmidt's, Philadelphia's largest and most famous brewery, established in 1860. Schmidt's was the last survivor of Philadelphia's brewing industry, closing down in 1987 after over 125 years and leaving Philadelphia without a brewery for the first time in 300 years. Schmidt's Beer — and its tenacity — was a point of pride for all Philadelphians. The Schmidt's closure signaled once and for all the end of Philadelphia's industrial era. In 2000, a developer purchased the complex at sheriff's auction for almost two million dollars, and demolished all of its 26 buildings. The huge empty lot lay dormant for years as several plans for redeveloping the site were proposed, protested, and stalled. After years of delays and battles between residents and the developers, the Piazza at Schmidt's, a mixed-use complex, opened in May of 2009.
Schmidt's Brewery was founded by German immigrant Christian Schmidt in 1860 and remained in Schmidt family until 1976. Unlike workforces at some other large manufacturers, the Schmidt's Brewery workers—primarily of German and Irish descent—were unionized. The union, and not the Schmidt family, took care of the recruitment, hiring, and promotion of production workers, and provided employee benefits including medical insurance, pensions, and recreational programs. This differed from companies like the nearby Stetson Hat Company, which provided cradle-to-grave services and benefits to employees and their families in the hope of instilling workforce loyalty. The Schmidt family was willing to work with the union, and Schmidt's Brewery earned a reputation as a good place to work, often employing several generations of the same family.
Beginning in the 1990s, Philadelphia has experienced a renaissance of local craft brewing, some if it happening in the same neighborhoods that spawned the city's brewing golden age: Yards Brewery is at Delaware Avenue and Poplar Street, and the Philadelphia Brewing Company occupies the old Weisbrod and Hess Brewery (1882-1939) at 2423 Amber Street in Kensington.
Since developers purchased the Schmidt's site in 2000, their plans for redevelopment of the land have not gone uncontested. Some neighborhood groups expressed concerned about environmental pollution issues stemming from the site's industrial past, and questioned the neighborhood's need for another upscale shopping/condo complex. Despite these issues, the Piazza at Schmidt's, a $150 million complex that includes residential units, retail space, and a large public courtyard, opened in the spring of 2009.
- Licht, Walter. Getting Work: Philadelphia, 1840 – 1950. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999.
- Shaffer, Gwen. "Brownfield Blues." The Philadelphia Weekly, September 28, 2005. Available at: http://www.philadelphiaweekly.com/news-and-opinion/brownfield_blues-38400774.html
- Sixpack, Joe [Don Russell]. "Right in their own back Yards: Kensington again gets a brewery." The Philadelphia Daily News, May 3, 2002.
- Tower Investments. Press release dated Jan 26, 2009. Available at: http://www.citypaper.net/blogs/clog/2009/01/26/bart-blatsteins-schmidts-brewery-projects-finally-gets-an-opening-date/