My Favorite Store on Skillman Avenue
by Bob Stonehill
In my early years, my mother used to patronize the local Skillman Ave Stores, primarily between 46th and 47th Street. She would instruct me to purchase from the Embassy Bakery, "sliced, seeded, sour rye bread." We bought from the German Deli but not, as I recall, from Modica’s. All were located on the south side of the avenue. The other stores we shopped at were Caplow's Pharmacy with its marble counter top, the Pizza Parlor, Borshanky's Fruit & Vegetables, Weiss' Hardware and Golden's Superette, which was expanded to a double store width from the previous owners’ limited footprint. These stores were on the north side.
My favorite store was the candy store on the south east corner of 46th Street and Skillman Avenue. Originally, it was owned by an older gent named Benowitz. Later on, Simon Strum's father Bill purchased the store and was joined by Phil Kleinman. In this store, I was introduced to baseball cards, Double Bubble Gum, ice cream cones and delicious egg creams. My favorite candy bars to this day are Three Musketeers, Hershey Almonds and Fifth Avenue bars, though my restricted diet forbids such delicacies. After my father introduced me to a shared 25 cent chocolate malted, my ultimate joy was nursing the malted all to myself, and chomping on penny pretzel sticks which later rose to 3 for 5 cents.
On Saturday night I waited, either with or without my father, for the delivery of the Sunday New York Times, the early edition. While waiting for the truck to arrive, I would partake of some goodies. From the open rear of the truck, the deliverer would heave out the newspaper bundles, and sometimes I'd help drag a bundle into the store. With a cutter wrapped around a center finger, the help would slice into the cord which held the pack secure. With amazing speed, they would grab a section of the paper until they had secured all the sections available to hand to each customer who had lined up. I believe that one last section would be delivered the next day to the store and would be held for pick-up. Over the years we would always refer to the store by its original name, Benowitz’. Years later, when the store was again sold, I felt like I had lost a dear friend.
Somehow I stay connected to former owner Phil Kleinman. When he became an usher at the new Madison Square Garden, I would wait at the side entrance on 33rd Street marked "Employees Only." Meeting Phil was not only convenient to my office on 33rd Street near Fifth Avenue, but I was able to purchase tickets at a discount when he upgraded me. He would open the door from the inside and lead me through the passageways. I was a ticket holder, but the seat he placed me in was an upgrade to a higher priced seat. If the seat owner showed up, he would wave me out and place me in another vacant seat. By the end of the first period, I knew that my seat was permanent for the evening. I remember meeting him in Jackson Heights near the subway entrance near the Earle Theater so I was probably married and still seeking a deal. Meeting up with Phil allowed me to continue my connection to Sunnyside Gardens for years after I had left the neighborhood.
Looking back at the early days as a hockey enthusiast, I give the credit to my older brother Lee. He was already a New York Ranger fan when he introduced me to hockey about 1950. We attended the game between the New York Rovers and The Atlantic City Sea Gulls in 1951/1952 season, sitting in the side balcony 45 cent seats from which only the first row had a view of the ice (the other rows had to stand to see the ice). One of my most cherished mementos is the multi-paged program of a minor league amateur hockey program.