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Queens Chronicle

38th ANNIVERSARY EDITION Shopping at Bohack’s and having milk delivered

HELEN DAY

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Posted: Thursday, November 10, 2016 10:30 am

When Queens resident Helen Day laments good things gone by, she can’t help but take notice of what remains.

Day can claim Queens residency for 60 of her 63 years, having first grown up in Maspeth in the 1950s and 1960s and later moving to Richmond Hill, where she lives with her husband, John.

“So between the two places, I’ve really seen a lot of change,” Day said.

“Growing up in that era, kids were more free to play outside, to run around, and to travel alone, too,” she said.

As early as seventh grade, Day walked a few blocks alone to the bus to St. Adalbert’s Roman Catholic School in Elmhurst (the name is now Saint Adalbert Catholic Academy).

“Whereas now, a lot of children are driven to school or walk in a group, even at that age,” she said.

“There were empty lots between houses,” where children would play, she recalled. “And I saw them being filled in with new brick homes in a very short period,” making parking more difficult as time went on.

The daughter of an English mother and a Polish father, Day remembers living among a large population of European immigrants, many Polish, and notes that St. Adalbert’s still says a Sunday Mass in Polish every week.

“When I was growing up there were a lot of ethnic groups, I would say, but not a lot of different racial groups,” she said.

“My mother was English and my father was Polish,” which to Day meant a diet of “very basic food.”

“We used to go to Bohack’s,” the supermarket where the library is now, Day recalled. “There were Bohack stores all around Queens.” The company went out of business in the ’70s.

Day frequented one of the many candy stores that punctuated each neighborhood back then. It was situated in a mid-block family home and sold ice cream, Italian ices and candy at two for a nickel or so.

“You could go in there with a little change and come out with a bag of candy,” she said.

Her family also regularly patronized Frank’s Deli & Sons, still open on 72nd Place in Maspeth.

“They’ve been quite a viable business for a long time, but that’s because he was more than just candy — milk, soda, gradually he got into supplying cold cuts and bread,” she said.

“We used to have the aluminum milk box outside the front door and my mother would have dairy products delivered, basically the milk. The milk in the glass bottle with the little paper tag on top, you’d pull it out and there’d be a little cardboard,” she said.

The empty glass bottles weren’t trashed or put out for recycling. They were directly recycled by the dairy, which would pick up the empties when delivering new milk, wash them and re-use them.

“I also remember getting bread delivery,” Day said. We had Dugan’s, Dugan’s bread delivery.”

Bells used to jingle beyond Christmas with the sounds of the ice cream men, namely, Mr. Softee, Good Humor and Bungalow Bar, a Richmond Hill original.

“You’d get your quarter out and you’d get a big ice cream cone for a quarter,” Day said.

The knife-sharpening truck would also ring its bells, and home cooks would run out to make sure they could properly prepare any meat they had bought for dinner.

“The other thing I miss: the butcher shop,” Day said. She remembers seeing at least one of those in each neighborhood, usually more. “We had Budzinksi’s, the Polish butcher shop, and on the corner, there was Conte’s Meat Market.”

In the days before prepackaged supermarket meats, there was sawdust on the floor and always a line of people who could view the chop of meat on a big butcher block table behind the counter.

Some of that life can still be had. “I can still drive into Greenpoint, Brooklyn and go to Brooklyn Avenue and pick up my fresh kielbasa,” Day said. And she has noticed a recent influx of Polish delis on Fresh Pond Road and a noticeably large population of Polish-speaking residents, still, in Maspeth and surrounding neighborhoods.

A remnant of the Queens teens’ dating scene remains in the form of the Jackson Heights Jahn’s ice cream parlor. The brand once had a chain of stores across Queens.

“Many people still have memories of going to Jahn’s for birthday parties or other events,” she said.

Day’s palate began broadening a bit in childhood as she met people from other European cultures, but the choices were limited.

“I remember having mayonnaise for the first time. We didn’t have mayonnaise. We had butter on our bread,” she said.“Since then, it’s just grown and blossomed and created even more diversity, which is to our betterment really. You have so much exposure to so many cultures, it’s just fabulous.”

Day particularly enjoys modern Queens’ truly global cuisines, trying the produce of other continents and eating fresh strawberries any time she wants.

“Years ago, the preservation of the food was not as good as it is today and the international shipping wasn’t there,” she noted. “I remember strawberries being a very seasonal and sought-after treat, whereas I could eat strawberries every single day now and get them fresh.”

But there’s also much that’s gone.

“What you miss is things like the small movie houses that used to be in every neighborhood where you used to see a single or double feature,” and other places where neighbors can socialize and create a local neighborhood feeling, she said.

“Our old RKO Keith’s [movie theater] has been converted into a Bingo hall, but at least it’s still there,” she said. “The Maspeth movie theater is gone,” she noted.

For shopping, Day remembers having Woolworth’s all over to buy small supplies.

“Some of the stores are taking up on that as far as supplying the needs for small things but it’s been a long time coming,” she said.

She also misses specific family-owned businesses that gave the area flavor, like Leberfeld’s, a department store that sold school uniforms, other clothing and household items.

“I remember taking the bus to Ridgewood with my mother and there were many more stores on Myrtle Avenue in Ridgewood than in Maspeth,” she said.

The Fair Home, seller of housewares, was one of Day’s longtime Ridgewood favorites. She can still patronize the store at its current Atlas Park mall location.

“They do good discounts. Very, very nice family-run business,” Day said. “That was nice to see that continuity.”

She’s glad Maspeth has maintained its original character as a home to small businesses.

“It’s still quite the same in that there are many independent shops along Grand Avenue where we use to shop,” including independently owned bakeries, pizza places and restaurants, she said. “Although they have changed many times over the decades, they haven’t been taken over by big box stores because there isn’t that kind of space there.”

Day, who used to work for Verizon and is on the board of Maple Grove Cemetery in Kew Gardens, is keenly interested in preservation and takes heart that others are on board.

“They are trying to preserve the facades of the old Child’s restaurant” in Astoria, she noted. And she’s been following efforts by some, including the office of City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), to designate a historic district in an area roughly bounded by 104th Street, Lefferts Boulevard, Jamaica Avenue and Park Lane South in Richmond Hill.

The area includes many Victorian homes built in the late 19th or early 20th centuries, some of which have been partially restored with the removal of aluminum siding and re-painting in historically accurate colors.

Day recently observed a period film being shot in Ridgewood.

“They put a film poster at the RKO Keith’s, an old-fashioned ticket booth,” that prompted memories. “I could maybe even think of my dad’s old car, I think his first car was an old Pontiac in the 1950s,” she said.

“And it’s like, wow, this is what it must have looked like way back in the day.”

“People always think of those things. So it’s nice to be aware of what is still here and try to preserve it,” Day said.

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