Levy Brothers

This is not about some of my prouder moments, when I look back at them. I am quite sure that there are a multitude of developmental explanations and/or some significant emotional problems coming to the surface but these thoughts are stories of growing up on the West Side.

Across the street from 222, on the west side of broadway just north of 83rd street sat Levy Brothers. An all purpose stationery, gadget and toy store this place was an important stopping point for children, adolescents and adults in the neighborhood. School supplies — check, paperback books — check, greeting cards — check, art supplies — check, spaldines and other sporting goods — check, so much more and a staff that never seemed to change — check..

I grew up in that store. There was always a reason for entering the well lit space with a reasonably sized aisle from the front and cramped spaces around to the right. Immediately inside the door to the left was a cash register and cashier in a small open booth like structure. A counter on the left held things like fancy lighters and nice pens. A countertop was next for sales where besides paying you could have items bagged or wrapped.

Beyond that counter were glass cases on the left and open shelves to the right but further back, most important when I worked there, up a couple of steps, were the toys and games; even bikes, basketballs and blow up Bozo punching bags.

I remember a Christmas season, I was 17 or so, and I worked in this area in the back. Staff said later it was one of the best holiday seasons they ever had. It was, in part me. Back then I bragged it was all me. Why? When parents came in to buy toy guns I redirected them to educational toys which were considerably more expensive. Why? I was never allowed toy guns – my father forbid them – and I had begun to develop a conscience.  I had a whole speech for these parents and clearly, I was convincing.

One of the other staples that Levy’s sold was roll caps. I couldn’t have the gun but caps were cool. Red rolls with little bumps of something that exploded, popped really, and smelled great when they were put in a toy gun, popped with a pencil or stomped on the sidewalk.

caps

In my early years maybe up to 12, Levy Brothers was also the place I shoplifted. Anything out in the open was fair game. Small stuff mostly. Of course among the things I lifted were small cap pistols.  Once, I lifted what they called a fruit knife. A long skinny knife with a six inch blade, I liked it. Carrying it would make me tough. I got caught of course but I was not stopped in the shop. When I got home I got some lecture. What I remember about it most was “What if you got into an argument and pulled out your knife and the other guy pulled his?  And he knew how to use it?” Thanks Dad.

Block Party and So Much More

Just to take a minute to do something important:  I want to thank my editor Alyse Marion for her time and effort expended reading each post and pointing out where it can be improved.  Being a parent of adults who are helpful and supportive, as all three of my children are, is icing on the cake. Thank you Rachel, Alyse and Seth.

 

Walking the Amsterdam Avenue Street fair recently, brought back memories of the West 83rd Street Block Association which produced a different kind of street fair and so many other wonderful things.

The kiosk we erected still stands, revitalized a bit, but still clearly the one we built, a marvelous achievement of  fund raising, team work and fun.

20170606_152221.jpg

 

I grew into the job of vice-president of the West 83rd Street Block Association but never ascended to the presidency. In those days I did not understand why I was passed over; there were no doubt many reasons. Today I think it was my age and my social standing. It really doesn’t matter.

We were an amazing amalgam. The majority, I believe, were Jews but we annually spent a winter evening which started with a warm up at Nancy’s (an advertising executive who lived in a beautiful Riverside Drive apartment) and ended with Christmas carols sung all along Riverside Drive. It was always amusing to hear “King of Israel” sung by this group with a volume increase on “Israel”.

We took up local issues at our meetings but much of the year was about planning the block party. I don’t recall people of color in the core group (which doesn’t mean they weren’t there) but the association welcomed everyone to our annual block party and other events.

Our annual block party was widely known and very well attended. We had everything. Crafts and games lined the block between Riverside and West End. One year I even tried to sell some of my photographs. I don’t remember having much success. I would like to think that helping to plan and carry out this event prepared me for my years as Director of Public Affairs and Community Education at the Kings Park Psychiatric Center where I planned and carried out many big events.

That western most block on 83rd Street led directly into Riverside Park. The entrance was a steep hill, playground to the left, the massive promenade around to the right. Under the promenade ran the railroad. The smell of trains when I stood over the grill that covered the tunnel was a delight to the senses of a young boy and teenager.

At the southern end of the promenade just past the entrance was a stone marking the location as the intended site of the United States memorial to the fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto. It was never built. In those days I do not believe that there was even a fence, as there is today. We played around it. Never on it. In fact, never paid it much attention. Today, I pay my respects whenever I am in the old neighborhood.

The Block Association was a wonderful way to celebrate the West Side community.  I truly loved the things we did.