Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Manny Hoffmann’s Close Encounter of the Unusual Kind

Growing up on Chadwick Street, we had two grocery stores up the block at the corner of Shunk St. One of them was Jim Campbell’s on the SW corner, the other Manny’s on the NW corner. Manny operated the store for decades with his wife Sylvia before finally retiring. Toni’s Market now stands at that site, she and husband John are good grocers in the old-time sense of the word.

Just about all of the local groceries employ young guys to do things such as stock shelves, make deliveries, and help clean up at the end of the day. Manny did that too, and had Kevin’s nephew David working there for some time. You may remember David from the episode with Guy Sommobeech and the electrified fence debacle. In retrospect, maybe he was the kind of guy you just best left alone.

A few of us can remember a time when he got upset with Manny and wanted to work out his frustration on the grocer. Manny had this large fiberglass awning that wrapped around the perimeter of the storefront, held up by metal braces ever few feet. David had this plan to crash the awning down on Manny as he opened the store at the beginning of the morning. He wanted to loosen the bolts holding the braces in place, tie a rope to the awning, hide, and pull it all down when Mr. Hoffman entered the store.

Maybe it’s good that he was often a man with intention but without a plan. Some of us asked him, “How are you going to pull that off?” Looking at the structure, there was no way to get up to the braces short of renting out a high-reach truck with a bucket or growing wings. David gave it some thought, and it just wasn’t going to work. No way would he get to those braces. Manny would survive to retirement age, and David would move on to points unknown,

There’s a difference between thinking of doing something and actually doing it. Today, kids act too quickly. Arguments are often settled with a gun rather than meeting on a street corner after school or razzing your soon-to-be former boss. Kids need to stop and think today. Is it worth that person’s life (or yours when they send you up to Curran Fromhold or Graterford with a life sentence?). Young folks are dying today over simple, stupid things. Unfortunately, more knuckleheads will soon learn that they have the rest of their lives to think about how stupid it was to pull a trigger because they were bumped into, insulted, or wore the wrong colors.

...Jim Campbell's Market. Jim gave away a pint bottle of Manashevitz to his customers every Christmas. Our parents may not have realized, as most years the bottles never made it home.

...A time when the state didn't need to enforce tobacco laws. If you weren't old enough, you didn't get the cigarettes. No one had to tell the grocers to check cards.

...Tom's Butcher Shop at Smedley & Oregon - Back in the day when a butcher could survive simply by selling meat and nothing but meat.

...Tony's at 17th & Oregon - Tony operated the market for decades with his wife Jill until she passed away and he retired soon afterward. Their nephew James was a constant fixture there, sharing the operation of the store. Last word was that another nail salon would open there, but that seems to have fallen through. Yeah, just what we need in South Philly, another nail salon.
I remember a kid in there once who kept asking for "enema cakes", leaving Tony a bit bewildered. It turns out the kid didn't know how to say "Entenmann's" and Tony couldn't figure it out. I'm not sure what irritated Tony more, the kid asking for that, or my snickering at the kid's request.

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