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A Brief History of The Schmidt Metzgerei, 1800 N. Hudson Avenue in Old Town
With special thanks to Diane Gonzalez for her research and writing
“Homemade sausages and smoked meats are our specialty” read an advertisement for Schmidt’s Metzgerei in the Old Town Art Fair program from 1958. Schmidt’s Metzgerei is the circa 1892 butcher shop built in the classic German “fachwerk” style with timber framing at 1800 N. Hudson Avenue at the intersection with Menomonee and old Ogden Avenue. The “Schmidt’s Mitzgerri” sign is still visible on the building’s facade. This relic of Chicago’s German history has survived for over 120 years, but it is now threatened with sale and demolition.
Long-term owner William Schmidt was born above the store in 1915. His father Bill Schmidt Sr. had emigrated from Germany six years earlier. Bill Sr. was sponsored by an uncle who was already working as a Chicago butcher. Bill Jr. followed in the footsteps of his great-uncle and father. Bill Jr. married Florence Vogt, and their daughter Marilyn Vrbancic revealed details of life above the shop and next door in 1802 Hudson which the Schmidt’s also owned. Behind the shop was the sausage kitchen where Uncle Frank Reiss, a Crilly Court resident, was in charge. Its smokehouse survives today in the northwest corner of what became a garage.
In 1968, Schmidt hosted a party in front of the shop where he had just installed today’s Bavarian façade complete with stucco and half timbers. Everyone was invited for beer and sandwiches. Entertainment included German music and Westphalian stallions harnessed out front.
Another celebration occurred in October 1970 two years after Marilyn married. Her dad wished that he’d been able to invite his Irish and German neighbors to her wedding. Belatedly he offered beer, root beer, and baloney on rye while Irish step dancers, Bavarian musicians, and those Westphalian stallions entertained. The Tribune estimated over 1000 attended!
In 1977 Bill Jr. retired and closed the metzgerei. The sawdust was swept from the floor, and the huge refrigerator with its three glass windows was donated to the Chicago History Museum. The shop became a contractor’s office; since 1997 it has housed Triangle resident Terry Sullivan’s law office. But memories of sausage and sawdust along with the generous, Germanic Schmidt spirit survive in its walls forever.