Saturday, March 28, 2009

A McDonald Avenue Egg Cream

The candy store was no larger than your cubicle at work, or at least it seemed that small. It was right next to Dennys on the McDonald Avenue side off Church Avenue, just a few feet from the subway entrance. It may be a Bangladeshi hairdresser place now.

The two guys that ran it were simply known to us as “Izzy and Benny”. They may have even been brothers, but we never really asked them. Izzy was the older of the two; he was rather skinny with salt and pepper hair. He usually wore a baseball cap, no matter what the season. Benny was shorter and a little heavy; he had red hair and green eyes and always wore a “cab drivers” cap.

The inside of the store had a black and white linoleum tiled floor. The magazines and comics were directly to the left as you walked in. A small counter was to the right. It had chrome edges with a red Formica top. There were also about four stools by the counter where one could sit to get a quick bite to eat.

Izzy was usually there during the day, while Benny did the night shift. It was one of the few places where you could still buy a “Vanilla Egg Cream” all the way into the 1980’s. It was also one of the few candy stores where you were timed on how long you could read a magazine. And I’m sure being 16 years old didn’t help with the clock either.

“Hey Boys, come on, this isn’t a library, if you want to read go to the library, I heard they just built a new one on East 5th and Fort Hamilton". We usually heard this verse from either Izzy or Benny, and it really didn’t matter if you finished you egg cream or not. No, it was strictly business at Izzy and Benny's.

Izzy and Benny also had more than one thing in common. Besides running the store together, they must have shared a tragic past.
Both men had numbers tattooed on their forearms and were
Holocaust survivors.

Just sitting by that little glass window, sliding it open to collect your change for the morning paper. The numbers usually appeared from under their shirt sleeves when either one reached for your quarter. A quick smile and “thank you” and the numbers once again hid out of sight. It just seemed like they wanted to keep them hidden anyway.

I guess in some ways they both watched me grow up too. From the days I held my Moms hand as she walked me down the subway entrance by their store, to a six foot three longhaired teenager being told to find that new library up on East 5th.

“Why you all dressed up, a date?” “No Izzy I’m working in Manhattan now”. “Well, save your first dollar, and tape it to the wall like this”. Izzy pointed up to an old dollar bill above the grill. It was yellowed from cooking grease. “Why, a hair cut too?” “Yeah, sometimes things change you know” I said.

This morning, almost 35 years later I stopped by the store that was once known as Izzy and Benny's. I looked at the former site of the simple little newsstand. There inside the store were two or three barber chairs where the counter used to be, and a long wooden bench where the magazines racks were. Through the glass I could see the owner cleaning up and getting ready for the new day.

And you know what, I’m sure his simple barbershop will be the memory of some grown man someday. Thinking about someone he once knew when he was a kid. There will be a dollar taped on the wall, and talk of someone’s first day at work.

“Yeah Izzy, sometimes things change you know”
I smiled and said goodbye and headed for the train.

“Hey, mister, can I help you?”
There standing by the barbershop was the owner.
“Can I help you with something?”
I just looked at him and said, “you already have, you already have”.

Ron Lopez

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William said...

It's amazing how these little news stand/ candy stores were around back then, and they all seemed to fade away around the same time, does anyone remember Nats on Caton, between 7th, and Ocean Pkwy? And even when I had my first job in L.I.C. you had Jack and Rose, my wife remembers a place in Astoria where she grew up. They were mostly run by Jewish imigrants, and the places were all very similar, but it seems as they got old and worn out they just closed, It seems like their kids didn't want to carry on a business that their parents worked so hard to establish, but I sure miss those egg creams, Will

Mark b. said...

Louie's on the corner of Albemarle and MacDonald across from what was a vacant lot, then a Sunrise supermarket and when I left...a Grand Union. Right next door to Louie was Artie's grocery store where you could get fresh cheese and butter and little wax-coated megaphone containers of SunDew. I think Artie was a victim of the supermarket that rose across the street on that empty lot.
Louie's had the best supplier of French Cruellers, moist and eggy with a nice coating of vanilla frosting on top. I remeber waiting for "tomorrow's paper" to get tossed out the back of the news delivery truck at about 8:30 PM every night....

Anonymous said...

There were FOUR candy store/newsstands on McDonald and Church. One near each corner right at the exits of the D train. Where you lived depended which one you went to. I went to the one near the Beverly Tavern (catty corner from the Bank).


Josh said...

Church & McDonald had 4 candy/newspaper stands because Church Ave. was at one time the last train stop. Besides Benny & Izzy's, there was Herman & Irene's across the street. The word on the street was that Herman had a bookie operation in the back room. Many kids from the neighborhood worked there and we frequently had free egg-creams, ice-cream sodas and candy! Libby had a store on the other corner. We didn't know if Libby was a male or a female but she/he made good egg-creams but not better than Benny & Izzy! Remember how the gamblers would wait for the Night Owl edition of the Daily News to be delivered? They all wanted to find out what the "Brooklyn number" was. I think it was the last three digits from the mutual handling at Aquaduct or from the track's attendance. It was a great corner to get great egg-creams, malts, ice-cream sodas, and my favorite, chocolate covered jelly rings! We could eat all that stuff and never gain weight because we were so active!
Good times!!

Vi said...

I remember Libby's. We would get a seltzer and a stick pretzel, or an egg cream. We never did figure out if she was a man or a woman. She ran the candy store with her sister. We lived on McDonald Avenue and later moved to East 2nd Street. I learned to ride my bike without training wheels in the Sunrise parking lot. They had a green stamp redemption center in the basement. Such great memories.......