by Tina Portelli    

Four stores and fifty years ago, we had good local stores.  And still do. In this world of constant change and major chains, it is a comfort to walk to the shopping area of my neighborhood, Court Street, and still see my four of my favorites still doing business in these highly competitive times.

I have lived here for over fifty years, and these stores remain intact with little interior and exterior change. The children of these aging family owners still run the businesses.    Remnants of my past are evident as new stores take root in this ever-growing popular neighborhood, some only lasting for months.

Frank DiAmico, once operating as our  local grocer, has changed with the times, only to survive and prosper.  The walls are no longer lined with shelves of canned good 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, and keep up with the times. I remember being twelve, 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, the price, twenty-six cents a pack.    I’d hand the list to Frank D’Amico, and wait while he sliced the cold cuts and packed the  order  in a brown paper bag.  He would use his pencil to scribble the prices of each item on the bag, add them up and total the amount.  (No one uses paper anymore, or adds without a calculator.)  Bologna, ham, and American cheese, a quarter pound each, Wonder bread and milk, and the smokes, don’t forget the matches. Food was simple then and matches were free.

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 never changed. Cannoli remains the top seller.  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, there hang old photo ’s of the store, the bakers in their while powdery aprons.   Little has changed.   They eventually got a new sign for the storefront and the price list definitely skyrocketed. But no matter what the price or time it takes to buy, the people will come.

And then there is the Florist, Gloria’s, in business since 1938.Salvatore “the Son” has 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.  Really very morbid looking. Not a good way to start a marriage.  But,  I can’t complain because in every other situation where I’ve needed Sal to send flowers to someone for me, he does a great job. He doesn’t charge me FTD prices and his Florist touch shines through with creativity.  His storefront has been renovated on the outside, but the inside stays intact.  A photo of his mother hangs on the wall above his desk, posed in front of the store, wearing her Gardner’s apron and her 1930’s shoes.

And lastly, not really a store, but a last stop, is our funeral home, which is only included as my favorite because of the Director.  His respected reputation in the neighborhood is carved in stone.   Call on him anytime, 24 hours a day, and he will be at your door in moments.  As a child I remember thinking, “When does he sleep, and where, in the caskets?  He’s too quick to change from pajamas to suit in such a short time. He shows up instantly.  He will sit in your kitchen, over an expresso 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.

Considered a family member by all who use his services, his establishment hasn’t changed.  The grey brick building sits on that lonesome corner  and beckons  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, nothing has changed.  Still the scary life-sized chipped saints and paisley dark red rug.  Tissue boxes on every end table in
the place. He still wears that black suit, drives that black car.  I’ve never seen him wear any other attire,  or color, ever, not even on his day off, if he’s ever had one.  When we meet on the street, he will always ask, “How’s your Father”?  I always reply, “Not dead yet”, and then we laugh. And God forbid Vinny should ever die, (impossible), where would we all go?

Vincent  has buried most of my family and many friends and neighbors.  I can call on him for any emergency, even for a pet death, he would help me.  Of course I would never let him bury me, he’d have to see me naked and I know him far  too long for that.  That won’t do, I’d rather be reduced to ashes.

Four stores, four stops, one street. You go to D’Amico’s for fresh brewed coffee, Court Pastry for delicious dessert, then you die happily. Your friends will go to Sal the Florist, they will order you the traditional giant “broken heart” shape flower piece made of red carnations, which will be delivered across the street to the Funeral Home, to Vinny’s. If you happen to be a gambler, Sal can whip together a carnation slot machine or deck of cards. If you are the musical type, he can do a  guitar  too.  He will customize yourtributes to suit your needs.  For me, I’d like my friends to send a giant flower pen.

So what makes these four so special to me?

We have history.

Tina says, "I am 54, single and live in Brooklyn, NY.  I work in Manhattan as a full time office manager.  My writing is a newly found passionate hobby. I get my ideas from personal experiences and the adventures of family and friends.  I have never taken a writing class, but three years ago I started practicing meditation.   I attribute my newfound passion of writing to that practice, meditation gave me a clear and open mind.  No better friend than the soul of my pen." Contact Tina.

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