Four Stores and Fifty Years Ago



Court St & Union St, Brooklyn, NY 11231

Neighborhood: Brooklyn, Cobble Hill

In today’s times of rapid change and major chains, it is a comfort to walk to the shopping area of my neighborhood, Court Street, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, and see my four favorite stories still doing business in this highly competitive market.

I have lived here over fifty years, and these stores remain intact with little interior and exterior change. The children of these aging family owners are running 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 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 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, while keeping up with the trends.

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. After handing the list to Frank D’Amico, I’d 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, 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.

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, there hang old photos 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. 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 stemmed, 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 to someone for me, he does a great job. He doesn’t charge me FTD prices and his “Florist talent” shines through with creativity. His storefront has been slightly renovated, 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, (It has not been there as long as the others, but deserves to be included as one of the four.) The Funeral Director’s 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 this man sleep, and where, in the unused caskets? He’s too quick to change from pajamas to suit in such a short time. He shows up instantly when called.

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 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, not much has changed. Still 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 wears that black suit, drives that black car. And, he’s added a hat. 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 Papa John”? I always reply, “Not dead yet”, but I never let him hear that.

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, I’m sure 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 would never do, I’d rather be reduced to ashes.

Four stores, four stops, one street. You go to D’Amico’s for fresh brewed coffee, you cross the street to Court Pastry for delicious dessert, and 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 instead. If you are 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, when my time comes, I’d like my friends to honor me with a giant flower pen, made up of white roses.

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