Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Pop's store

This started out as a description of my Father’s store in Coney Island. It will change I think, as I go along.

The store, the Paradise ice cream parlour, was in Coney Island, on Surf Ave. 1604 next to the RKO Tilyou,
across from Steeplechase Park, between west 16th and 17th street.

We lived around the corner on Mermaid Ave., whoever named the avenues in Coney Island was a genius, Surf Ave, Mermaid Ave, and finally Neptune Ave.

The store burned down in the 50’s, I remember Pop told me that he saved my prize Schwinn Phantom bike, and not to worry about it.

Pop was a classic candy maker. As a young immigrant he was apprenticed to some relative in Massachusetts, who taught him the craft.

He made his own ice cream and chocolates that we sold by weight.

It was also a luncheonette; we came straight from school to the store, it was home for us. Mom and Pop never left the store alone from 9 am until midnight or later. We did have an hour or two at six o’clock in the evening when we all had dinner together at home.

The store was open 7 days a week 365 days a year; my parents never took a vacation together. The Paradise was the center of our lives. My sisters who were older than me worked there after school and weekends as waitresses, I was too young, but I did wear an apron and acted like I worked there.

Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving we had Santas, rabbits, Easter eggs, and turkeys made from chocolate, obviously the appropriate ones for each holiday. Mom decorated them with jellybeans for eyes and decorative frosting, and then wrapped them in yellow cellophane. It was a family event.

We would watch Pop make them and take them out of the molds while hoping one would break so my friends and I could have some chocolate.

If none broke Pop would break one saying it was “no good” so we could eat it, he never acknowledged that it was a perfect one he broke for us.

The store had double doors, display windows on either side in front; there they would show the different candies and seasonal displays.

When you got inside, there was a marble counter on the left with 10 or 12 stools. That is where you got sodas, ice cream sundaes even coffee and pie or some sandwiches. There were usually two old Greeks sitting at the end of the counter having coffee, the typical Greek thing anywhere in the world.

On the right was the cash register and long display cases with the different candies, some in boxes as well as loose ones…at the cash register, near the exit where you paid your bill; you could also buy cigarettes and cigars.
I think we sold cigars since Pop was a cigar smoker: I started to smoke by stealing cigars from the display case, White Owls as a matter of fact.

After the counter we had the booths, 6 on either side as well as 5 on either side in the center, an island of 10 booths, 22 booths in all.

We even had a phone booth in the back and the rest rooms.

Just before the booths began, we had an amazing juke-box, Pop thought it would help business, all it seemed to do was make the waitresses dance around.

I remember, “Shrimp boats are a comin”, by Guy Mitchell, shows you my musical tastes.

Beyond all that we had the kitchen, there was a wood burning fire to melt the chocolate in a bain-marie set up.

This was where all the great chocolates were made on long marble counters, were he poured the melted chocolate to cool.

It was an amazing room, it smelled great, and it was dark and moody, just like chocolate.

The chocolate came in twenty-pound slabs from Nestle in Switzerland.

My connection with Nestle remained for 40 more years. They were a client of McCann’s and I did ads for them in eight countries. I wonder what Pop would have made of that. I guess I am a sort of candy maker as well, at least a candy ad maker.

I still am reminded of Pop’s great candies when I have a piece of dark chocolate.

The overall feeling of the store was classic, small tile floors, probably had the Greek key design border, pressed tin ceilings, hanging fans, booths made of dark wood, marble counters, decorative display cases, beveled mirrors…very art nouveau, and even a couple of tiffany type lamps.

Some relatives, even older than me if that is possible, have confirmed this description.

Now here comes the problem…I remember the store pretty well, I also thought I remembered Pop’s sign, a big hanging neon sign.

Evidently when I found this photo of the street, it seems my memory was a little off; the movie house sign was mistaken in my mind for my fathers sign. Pop’s was a little more discreet, still pretty big…but not the monster I drew.

I guess we remember things better or sometimes even worse than what they really are.


  1. What a great little vignette. I remember a lot of the description of the store but not as detailed as you. but then again, you practically lived there 24/7. I remember the tile floors and the metal pressed ceilings. I remember the counter and the wonderful ice cream sodas and the malted milkshakes in the big metal containers that they were mixed in by attaching them to the mixer. That was a great store.

    I think you remember the sign bigger than what it was because we were little guys and everything looked bigger.

    Greg, this is wonderful and such a sweet picture of a time gone by. What a beautiful place to grow up in for a little kid.

    BRAVO!! You could not have told it better. What a place. Thanks Greg and never grow up and let the sign be as big as you remember.

  2. Amazing isn't it that after all these years how much is remembered; the images that so impressed us as children adapt to our desire to recall the life that meant so much to us then, how we were, who we were and what family values meant to us. Dedication, working together as a family, respect and yes, being on time,(You have always been on time, right on the dot, Greg) and a super MOM who juggled all that and cooked up a storm at home.. So much energy! Imagine how much is also lost to memory. I still love the sign and whose to say that in that parallel world of myth and memory that we exist in that the sign is not the true one.
    A tender recollection Greg, I can see your dad rolling up his sleeve, as he prepares to cool off the chocolate. Well,how did you resist all that chocolate? My face would have been smeared in the stuff...Yumm!!

  3. And a talented young artist sat at a table drawing gorgeous horses. And we'd use our bikes to ride to Manhattan Beach and beyond on a bike path along the Belt Parkway over the first few bridges leading to Jamaica Bay. I visited a local store recently and found a new Schwinn on display - same shape with a big comfortable saddle. Mine was a post-war Azur and very uncomfortable; a French racer with parts that failed once a month and needed some jury-rigging to keep it going. It was however, a lesson in french geography. The parts were labeled by maker and factory location. I remember for some reason a seat by Gautier in Grenoble.
    The recent hurricane (Irene) prompted memories of the storm that hit Coney Island in the 40's and the surf waves broke well inland - on Mermaid Avenue as viewed from my apartment window. I learned recently, that Woody Guthrie lived on Mermaid Ave and wrote a lyric entitled 90 Mile Wind.
    Regards and more to come.

  4. Thanks Peter, memories are very interesting, what we do and don't remember is as important as what actually happened.

  5. Hi Greg, Remember me we used to hang out together in PS80 and Mark Twain, your description brings back many fond memories. Would love to correspond with you and catch up on our lives. Paul Lembo,