I Left My Youth at Fred & Rudy’s Candy Store

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12/13/2008

Avenue H & E. 9th St., Brooklyn, NY 11230

Neighborhood: Across the River, Brooklyn

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When I was a kid in Brooklyn, in the Sixties, the “candy store” was the local hangout, the crossroads of the neighborhood. Actually, these ubiquitous institutions were a combination of soda fountain, luncheonette and newsstand. We probably called them candy stores because as kids the candy we bought there was the center of our culinary universe, or just because they were called that by tradition. Old New York candy stores had a similar function to the barber shop in small towns and working-class black neighborhoods. They were a place where the generations mixed and local gossip was shared.

There were three candy stores in my immediate neighborhood, but our favorite was Fred and Rudy’s. Up front were the newsstand, the candy counter and the ice cream case, where they stored the tubs of Breyer’s for our cones. Then, as you moved further into the shop, there was the lunch counter, with revolving stools, of course, and booths. As kids we preferred the counter. It was our bar. We’d sit on stools and drink malteds, or egg creams, or cherry-lime Rickeys, or Rock ’n’ Root root beer in frosted mugs, or Cokes, large or small, in official Coke glasses. I remember when the price of a small coke went up from six cents to seven. We often munched on long two-cent stick pretzels while drinking and shooting the bull.

Fred and Rudy were like night and day, good cop and bad cop. Fred Leibowitz was a slight, bald guy with a mustache, a good-humored sweetheart. He reminded me a bit of Groucho Marx. Rudy Schiffman was a big bastard, mean and humorless. We spent less time in the store during Rudy’s shifts, especially since he often kicked us out when we got rowdy. There was even a little ditty, well-known in the neighborhood, that summed up the two men, sung to the tune of “Camptown Races,” but all I can remember now is:

Fred’s OK but Rudy stinks, Doo-dah, doo-dah!

I was a wise guy, even as a little kid, and I was always arousing the ire of Rudy. I remember, when I was ten or eleven years old I had been learning about largely defunct diseases, a favorite subject of fifth grade social studies in the New York City public schools. Mr. Malachowsky had taught us about scurvy, and rickets, and berri berri, as well as a rare tropical disease called yaws. Well, in Brooklyn we pronounce “yours” and “yaws” the same way. Rudy, when he would take our order, would often say, “What’s yours?” So one day I responded, “A rare tropical disease,” and my friends on the adjoining stools started cracking up. “Out of the store,” Rudy yelled. “All of you!”»

When Fred and Rudy weren’t looking we’d often stand by the magazine rack and peek at the Playboy centerfold. If Rudy caught us he’d make us stop. Fred usually turned a blind eye, though sometimes he’d say, “What do you think this is, kid, a library?”

A couple of celebrities grew up in the immediate neighborhood. One was a minor stand-up comic named Morty Gunty. The bigger star was Lainie Kazan, whose real last name was Levine. Lainie, who got her big break as Barbara Streisand’s understudy in “Funny Girl,” was extremely well-endowed, and in 1970 she did a photo spread for Playboy.

Lainie was long-gone from the neighborhood by this time, but her mother still lived in the old apartment. Lainie’s mother had to give Fred and Rudy’s wide berth for a while after one of the neighborhood wise guys (not me this time) said to her, “Hey Mrs. Levine, I saw your daughter’s big tits in Playboy--Hubba-hubba!”

Fred and Rudy’s closed some time in the Seventies, a few years before I left the neighborhood. For the most part the neighborhood candy store is a thing of the past in New York, but there are still a few left. I hope the kids in those neighborhoods appreciate their local treasures.

 

Peter Cherches is a writer who specializes in very short prose, both fiction and nonfiction. He blogs about food, travel, dreams and writing at petercherches.blogspot.com

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§ 5 Responses to “I Left My Youth at Fred & Rudy’s Candy Store”

  • susan ab says:

    some of my best memories, too, were at F&R.
    the “made in Japan” toys that were in the shelves with the Pensy Pinkies and Spauldings. (to the right of the soda counter). great malteds. penny candy machines outside that broke enough times that kids had real paydays. 5 cents for a roll–which we only bought only Sundays after church when we bought the NYT (for mom) and Daily News (for dad).
    soon it will be the season of lighting “punks” and “snakes”.
    sigh.

  • Susan V says:

    Rudy was my dad – he really wasn’t bad. I used to work with him on Sunday mornings.

  • Remington Vandergriff says:

    It’seems pretty cool too see a write up about this place. Rudy is actually my maternal grandfather.

    I never met him, as he died in 1975, i believe. I can see how as children he way have come off as a “bastard” but I would encourage you to use your now adult eyes and see that he was merely maintaining order from some rowdy punk kids. Can you blame him? Even your description of yourself is that of a disrepectful kid.

    Rudy was a WWII combat veteran who received a Purple Heart in the Pacific theatre. He owned a business and raised a family. I wish I had met him and I wish you could see a different perspective of him.

    Either way…I do thamy you for this glimpse into something I never got the chance to experience.

  • Bart Palamaro says:

    A terrific article with many memories, but I have to disagree regarding personalities. I found Fred to be harder and Rudy was like a teddy bear. Never the less, in the mid to late sixties, I had wonderful times in Fred and Rudy’s. I hung out with my group, more girls and fewer guys. Roberta, Rhonda, Harriet, Lynn, Buffy (my girlfriend), Terri, Anita, Joanne and couple of others whose names escape me. Then there was Richard, Rob, Billy, and me. We’d meet at Fred and Rudy’s, hang out with the juke box. In the winter there was Prospect Park at the ice skating rink where we went Friday and/or Saturday nights or in the summer we were off to Manhattan Beach then to Fred and Rudy’s at night and the for corners at E. 9 th and H or E.10 th and H. It was the best times of my life and Fred and Rudy’s was a huge part of it. It was our place to meet and hang out. It had terrific good, fountain drinks and it was safe.

  • Don Z. Block says:

    Rudy used to allow Larry Warren and me to play scrabble in a booth at night. I would nurse a cup of coffee and Larry would have a soda, and all was right with the world. We were kids, and when you are dealing with kids, you have to maintain some kind of order. Both Fred and Rudy were okay. I bought my copies of Mad Magazine there. When we played punchball, we had to hit the ball to right field to avoid Fred and Rudy’s and the Marlo supermarket, so F & R carried some clout on Avenue H.

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