Four stores and 60 years ago, we had good local stores. We still do! In these times of rapid change and major chains; it is a comfort to walk to the shopping area of my neighborhood, Court Street, and see some of my favorites still doing business as usual.
I have lived here over 50 years, and these four stores remain intact, with little interior or exterior changes. In each case, the businesses are still run by members of the original families.
These remnants of my past are comforting, as new stores take root in our ever-growing neighborhood, but with some only lasting months.
Frank D’Amico, once operating as our local grocer, has changed with the times, not only to survive, but to prosper. The walls are no longer lined with shelves of canned goods and macaroni, but instead coffee urns are mounted, positioned above barrels of flavored and international coffees.
The musky odor has been transformed to blended bean aromas. Frank has turned his plain old grocery store into a gourmet coffee bar. And, you can still get a sandwich or cold cuts. His reputation for good service and quality goods has enabled him to keep his long-time address, while keeping up with the current trends.
I remember being 12, walking into his store with a short shopping list from my mother. I’d stand there and say, “I’m Chris’ daughter from Tompkins Place” and hand him the list. Of course, he knew who I was. The list included Pall Mall cigarettes, which at that time you could sell to minors. I still remember the price — 26 cents a pack.
After handing the list to Frank, I’d wait while he sliced the cold cuts and packed the order in a brown paper bag. He’d use his pencil to scribble the prices of each item on the bag, and total the amount. This was before bar codes and scanners.
Court Pastry has always had long lines. Especially on holidays — Easter being the longest. Relationships had time to start or end in the time it could take waiting for your number to be called for service.
With the recipes of Father, Son and Grandson, the taste of the pastry has never changed. The cannoli remains my favorite. People who have moved from Cobble Hill to suburban neighborhoods still make the trip to Brooklyn, as no one makes cake like them.
On a wall to the left, above the pie case, hang old photos of the store. The bakers are in their white powdery aprons. Little has changed—a new storefront, prices—that’s it.
Gloria Flower Shoppe
And then there was my Florist, Gloria’s. Salvatore “the Son” who had adorned me in flowers since childhood. My Holy Communion bouquet, my Confirmation corsage, graduation flowers, my prom corsage, and the infamous wedding order.
I had ordered a dozen long stem white roses to be carried Miss America style, instead of the traditional Italian bridal bouquet. What I got was long stem, almost dead yellowish roses flanked by green limp ferns. Not a good way to start a marriage, which lasted little longer than the roses.
But, I can’t complain because in every other situation where I’ve needed Sal to send flowers, he has always done a great job. He didn’t charge me FTD prices and his “designer techniques” shine.
His storefront has been renovated, since his death and a new business has taken its place. But the photo of his mother hangs on in my memory—wearing her gardener’s apron and 1930’s shoes.
And lastly, not really a store, but a last stop, is our funeral home, even though it has also passed away and is no longer there.
Racuglia was one of my favorites because of the director. His reputation in the neighborhood was carved in stone. You could have called on him anytime, 24 hours a day, and he would be at your door in moments.
As a child I remember thinking, “When does this man sleep, and where — in an unused casket? He’s too quick to change from pajamas to suit in such a short time.
And when he arrives, he will sit in your kitchen, solemnly, over an espresso discussing your needs; money is never mentioned, contracts don’t exist. A handshake and his arm around your shoulder seals the deal. You know everything will be ok. Just leave it to him.
Considered a family member by all who use his services, his establishment was the last time for many residents of this neighborhood. The grey brick building sits on that lonesome corner and beckoned new arrivals.
Except for the increasing number of “Appreciation letters and plaques” hanging on his wall and the electronic stair chair he installed for the elderly, not much had changed in the many years he was there. The scary “life size” paint chipped saints and the paisley dark red rug, and tissue boxes sit on every table in the place. He still wore that black suit, drove that black car. When we met on the street, he would always ask, “How’s Papa John?”
Four stores, four stops, one street. You go to D’Amico’s for fresh brewed coffee, Court Pastry for delicious dessert, then you’d die happily. Your friends would go to Sal the Florist, they will order you the traditional giant “broken heart” shape flower piece made of red carnations, which would be delivered across the street to the Funeral Home, to Vinny’s. If you happen to be a gambler, Sal could whip together a carnation slot machine or deck of cards. If you were the musical type, he could probably do a guitar, or just about anything you’d want. He will customize tributes to suit your needs. For me, I would have liked my friends to honor me with a giant flower pen, made up of white roses.
So, what made these four establishments so special to me?
We had history.