The area of North Memphis commonly known as the “Pinch District” has played an important role in local immigration since the early nineteenth century. The city’s first business district, the Pinch encompassed all of Memphis north of Adams Street. Although fluid in its application, the name Pinch expanded southward to Market Street, much to the dismay of some local citizens who viewed the classification as a pejorative.
The area was originally known as Pinch-Gut, a seemingly derisive term that referred to the area’s starving Irish immigrants who were so thin that their stomachs were pinched by their belts. In addition to the Irish, the area was home to significant numbers of Jewish, Italian, Russian, and Greek immigrants. From the 1890s to the 1930s, the Pinch was the center of activity for Memphis’s substantial Jewish community. While the area was impoverished, there existed a great sense of entrepreneurship among first-generation immigrants who sought upward mobility for their children.
World War II greatly changed the dynamic of the Pinch District. America’s post-war affluence, along with opportunities provided by the G.I. Bill, led many young families to relocate to the eastern parts of the city where they could purchase single-family homes that provided more living space and yards. While family businesses initially remained in the area, they soon followed the residents toward East Memphis. The once vibrant Pinch District quickly deteriorated and was devoid of significant commercial development for many years.
Since the late 1980s, however, urban renewal has changed the character of the neighborhood once again. Endeavors such as the construction of the Pyramid and the development of downtown trolley lines revitalized the area. As a result, popular restaurants and bars now distinguish the Pinch District, and developers have recognized it as a promising area for the construction of new residences such as condominiums and townhouses.
William F. Currotto, The Pinch, Market Square, Brinkley Park Neighborhood Story and a Guide Map of Historical Places (1993)