Friday, February 19, 2010

Joe Mirada's Pet Store

I think Joe Mirada’s pet store was somewhere way down Church Avenue near 36th street.
And from what I remember as a kid, the place was a very, very long walk from East Fourth.

A small, smelly pet store that may have been in “Gods Country” for a reason you know, far removed from all the grocery stores and fruit stores that lined the heart of our Church Avenue. And for anyone who grew up in Kensington, the “Heart” of Church Avenue was anywhere between McDonald Avenue and Ocean Parkway.

So here was this pet store way the hell down Church Avenue and almost in Boro Park. Yeah, maybe because it smelled so much the rest of the merchants told old Joe Mirada to stay as far away as possible.

But still when you’re a kid you’re going to
find a pet store no matter where it is.

And even if it's practically in Boro Park

“Hey Joey, did you hear that Joe Mirada’s
selling hamsters for a dollar?”

I remember that day quite well; I was playing on my front porch with my cousin Pete, my brother Joseph and Johnny Reilly from the Margaret Court across the street.

“Here, take a look at the one Kevin and I just bought”

There inside a cardboard milk container with the top sliced off was this small brown looking thing that looked something like a rat. It seemed to be sniffing around with barely any room to turn it’s little body in the confines of the sour smelling Borden’s milk carton. There was also a bed of shredded paper underneath it as well; it’s tiny teeth just chewing away at the remains of yesterday’s Daily News.

“So guys, what do you think?”
“There only a dollar and Joe Mirada
said he just has a a few left”.

Now when I was growing up my older brother always made the “corporate” decisions, not me. And maybe it was because he was almost two years older than me, I don’t know. So when it came to things like when we were going to ride our bikes, or roll tires down our driveway and hit a car, it was always Joseph who made
the decisions.

“Ronnie, go upstairs and see if mom can give you a dollar, tell her it’s for ice cream from Morris. But DO NOT tell her it’s because we want to buy a hamster. You understand?

“But Joey, you know mom hates mice”

“It’s not a mouse you idiot, it’s a hamster”.

“Now just go upstairs and ask mommy for a dollar”

Well, I asked my mom for a dollar, came back downstairs and we were on our way to Joe Mirada’s pet store. I remember it was a very hot summer’s day as we rode our bikes there. A caravan of bicycles on two wheels and training wheels, making their way down the hot gum dotted sidewalks of Church Avenue to the “End of the Earth”.
Well, almost Boro Park, but that might as well have been the end of the earth to us.

“Oh I see we have more customers,
I bet you kids are here for the hamsters right?”

Now from what I remember Joe Mirada was this short little Italian man who always wore checkered shirts. The store like I mentioned earlier smelled to high heaven, and given it was a hot summer’s day in Kensington Brooklyn, the smell today was worse than it usually was.

Joe Mirada stuck his hand inside a cage and pulled out this little brown thing that looked something like a rat. He quickly put it inside another Borden’s quart milk container and handed it to my
brother Joseph.

“Here you go kid, that will be one dollar”

My brother handed Joe Mirada the dollar, and in return Joseph was handed a smelly Borden’s milk container with something inside of it that looked very much like a rat. I was sure my mom was going to have a fit when she saw it. But I would never tell my brother, because it was his decision to buy it. And that was that.

So we got on our bikes and slowly moved Eastward towards East Fourth. Spoke wheels, and solid silver wheels just spinning away until we finally made it back to the concrete confines of our front porch with our little hamster and the smelly milk carton.

Now, we may have even been trying to play with it somehow, I can’t quite remember. And just like Johnny Reilly’s hamster, it had the hardest time trying to turn its little body inside the bottom of the empty quart of milk barely able to move.

"Hey Joey, see if it wants to play with this stick"

Johnny Reilly handed my brother a small twig from
our front bushes and he threw it into the carton.

The hamster just looked at it and did nothing.

"Oh well, maybe it's tired"

But then suddenly we saw our mom walking up the block,
and unlike my brother, I knew it was all going to be over real soon.

“What are you boys doing with those milk containers?”
“Is there something inside”?

Now this is one of those moments you
always remember and tell your kids about.

My mom slowly leaning over to look inside the carton,
and then her loud blood curdling screams.


I think my mother’s screams could be heard all the way from Church Avenue on that warm summer’s day. The hamster just spun in circles at the bottom of the carton as she screamed and screamed. The milk container bellowing outwards at the bottom from the hamster's attempted escape.

You see I knew my mom hated mice,
yet my brother wanted to buy the hamster
and I was powerless.


My brother Joseph put his hand over the top of the carton trying to shield the hamster from my mom’s screaming. Yet you can still hear it scurrying around in circles on top of it’s bed of shredded Daily News.

“But mom, it was only a dollar at Joe….”


“I don’t want to see that thing in my house, you understand!”

Well, the rest is history folks, we went back to Joe Mirada’s
and returned the hamster, and I’m sure he gave my brother
the dollar back as well.

But I never dared to tell my brother "I told you so".
Because he'd kick my ass you know.

Yes, Joe Mirada’s pet store, the hamster, and my mother’s screams.
Just another day in the Kensington of my youth, so many years ago.

Ron Lopez


Anonymous said...

Wow Ronnie! Another great memory! Yes, I do remember Joe Mirada's. I remember saying it just like that...Joe Mirada's. NOT Joe Mirada's Pet Store...just Joe Mirada's LOL. Maybe that was because it wasn't your typical pet store, not that there was a typical pet store back then...well before the corporate, modern pet shops we have today.

It was just Joe Mirada's or Mirada's. It was a fairly messy place from what I recall...dimly lit too. It was as you describe it; sort of beyond what we were used to and outside the "core" of our world of familiar and everyday-used blocks. I actually "worked" there for a while...sweeping up and trying to keep the place clean...(Impossible).

I had a special need, so I wormed my way in to get Joe to allow me to earn my keep. You see, I had a special pet. His name was "General Grant" and he was a Caiman....kind of a South American alligator. Earning my "keep" meant that I could literally keep all of the dead fish that I cleaned out of the disgusting tanks at the pet store. I'd bring 'em home and feed 'em to the General.

I remember my hands and jacket and pants pockets stinking beyond belief and if I recall correctly, it was the eventual reason I had to give up my job at Mirada' mom made me quit because of the stink I kept bringing back to our house on East 2nd Street. WOW! What a blast from the past! Thanks Ronnie!

Charlie Gili
PS: The General ended up like everything else...buried in a coffee can in our front or backyard. He was fun while he lasted, especially when I'd lay him across my HO railroad tracks, bump him with my Santa Fe engine and watch him rip the train off the tracks! Wish I had a video camera back then! Eat your heart out Ray Harryhausen!

Josh said...

Yeah, I remember that place. My ex-wife and girlfriend at the time Monica Longmore (from Ave. C & East 3rd) and I bought finches there once. Shortly after bringing them home, the birds started to kill each other!
We asked Joe Mirada what was going on and his response to Monica was, "Well that's nature honey!"

Anonymous said...

This story made me remember another very simlilar pet store. At first I thought your story was about this place, it sounded exactly the same. But this one was on the north-east corner of Cortelyou Rd. and McDonald Ave.; it was part of the apartment house there. This was the late sixties when I was a kid of around 8 years old. I don't remember the name of it, or how long it had been there, and it closed up probably around 1970(?). Anyway, I still remember how awful it smelled in there - stale fishtank water combined with small animal poo and old hamster bedding. And it had a bunch of fishtanks with green plants floating in them. It was so humid in there also, like I imagine how Cambodia would be in the summer. I bought my first pet there - one of those small green turtles, 2 inches or so round. Complete with habitat - a 10 inch round clear plastic "island" you filled with water, including plastic palm tree! too funny! I don't remember it living that long or ever seeing it eat the turtle food I shook onto his island from a small cardborad cylinder container. I remember hearing years ago that those turtles had since been banned to sell because of diseases. Well, I never caught "turtle disease". When I was 10, I got a fishtank and took weekly Sunday bus rides alone (imagine!) to a number of independent pet shops; boy that was great! There was a place on Church Ave and E.10, Jack's Fishbowl on Coney Is Ave & Ave M, Tropical Fish Supermarket, other places on Coney Is Ave & Ave X, Ave Z & E. 18 St, etc, etc, etc. good times.. -Joe A.