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”.