To avoid being conscripted into the Russian Army in the nineteenth century, Morris Caplan took the name of a recently deceased man from his village and became Morris Shapiro.
The new Morris Shapiro had eight children, Max, Hyman, Nathan, Sam, Lena, Sarah, Celia and Bessy. Hyman Shapiro (c.1882-1959) immigrated to Canada in the 1890s and later worked on the Lower East Side of New York until he could afford to send for his family.
A contingent of the family moved to Pittsburgh. Hyman and Nathan Shapiro started H. Shapiro and Brother, a leaf tobacco wholesale business on Fullerton Street, in the Hill District. Their sister Lena Shapiro married Abe Baskind, who sold wallpaper and paint.
About 1913, Hyman Shapiro married Sarah Safier (c.1893-1970), who had immigrated to Pittsburgh from Austria in 1908. They had three sons, Sam, Howard and Jason.
The brothers opened the Jitterbug Record Mart at the corner of Wood and Diamond streets in 1937. The business originally sold used 78s from jukeboxes. Recognizing the business opportunity in new records, the brothers soon opened the National Record Mart.
While the three brothers served in World War II, their wives and their father kept the business afloat. After the war, National Record Mart expanded within a small geographic area around Pittsburgh. It eventually became one of the largest record stores in the country. “In this business, you’re either a specialist or you’re nothing,” longtime president Sam Shapiro (1914-1998) told a trade publication in 1975. The chain also sold tickets for shows, including for the Beatles’ 1964 stop in Pittsburgh. By the time the family sold the business in 1986, National Record Mart had expanded to more than 75 retail stores.
Sam Shapiro married Pearl Shapira. They had four children, Barbara, Claire, Nancy and Michael. “He was known throughout the music industry as a tough but fair man. You could deal with Sam Shapiro one a one-to-one basis and you would be treated fairly,” NRM executive George Balicky told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in a 1998 obituary.
National Record Mart vice president Howard Shapiro (c.1917-1998) married Sadye Barniker. They had two children, Robert and Louise. Howard Shapiro was the United Jewish Federation campaign chairman in 1979 and 1980. He also sat on the boards of the Jewish Community Center, Yeshiva Schools and Jewish Residential Services and established the “Hyman and Sarah Shapiro Gymnasium” in the Israeli town of Tirat HaCarmel, a twin city to Pittsburgh. Sam and Howard Shapiro died within months of each other in 1998.
Louise Shapiro, a well known quilter, married Leonard Silk.
The youngest brother, Jason Shapiro (b.1920), joined the business after World War II and became treasurer of National Record Mart. In the 1960s, he partnered with Lenny Litman and Gabe Rubin to run the Penn Theater, now Heinz Hall. They used the profits from a successful run of “Hello Dolly!” to start the Pittsburgh Pipers, one of the inaugural franchises of the American Basketball Association.
Jason Shapiro married Hope Lewis. They had three children, Frank, Gerrie and Robbie.
Gerrie Shapiro, an artist who regularly exhibited with the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh, became the oldest woman to win the bodybuilding portion of the Ironman/Ironwoman competition by bench-pressing 181.7 pounds in 2003.
The Shapiros were members of Torath Chaim. Sam Shapiro is believed to have celebrated his bar mitzvah during the first service held at the Negley Avenue synagogue in 1927.