Monday, February 26, 2018

Tribute To Black History At The Iconic Forest Hills Stadium

By Michael Perlman

The 1968 Forest Hills Music Festival pamphlet featuring the concert lineup & Forest Hills Inn ads, Courtesy of Rego-Forest Preservation Council
As February comes to a close, it is important to reflect on Black History Month, understand its origins, and realize that several thousands of fans attended world-class concerts at Forest Hills Stadium to enjoy the sounds of African American artists who made history on its stage and have acquired an international presence. There were over 20 musical acts, which included Diana Ross & The Supremes, Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis, Jr, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Donna Summer, and The Jimi Hendrix Experience. 

Courtesy of The Chess Drum
The advocacy of Carter G. Woodson, an African American educator and historian, who is known as the “Father of Black History” created “Negro History Week” in 1926, when the iconic Stadium was only three years old. One week in February was designated to commemorate the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. However, it was not until 1970 that the initial celebration of Black History Month took place at Kent State University, and became national in 1976, when President Ford encouraged Americans to “honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor.” 

Ella Fitzgerald in 1963 Forest Hills Music Festival program
On August 5, 1961, fans of Ella Fitzgerald, an Addisleigh Park resident, afforded the opportunity for what was considered excellent seats ranging from $2.25 to $4.50. For the July 13, 1963 engagement, Rolls-Royce limousines accommodated press representatives to and from Manhattan. She performed with Dave Brubeck, and adding to the character of the concert experience was the widespread scent of “My Sin.” A July 18 “Jet” publication read, “in keeping with a new arrangement by the producers wherein each night, prior to the performance, the Forest Hills Stadium will be sprayed throughout with the perfume.” 

Ella Fitzgerald, November 1946, Photo by William Paul Gottlieb
Harry Belafonte singing in 1954, Courtesy of Library of Congress
Singer, composer, social activist, and actor Harry Belafonte, who was an East Elmhurst balladeer, appeared on August 25 to August 27, 1961, and had a return engagement on July 31 to August 2, 1964 with Miriam Makeba. On July 31, he exhibited perfect pitch and flawless tempo, and his repertoire included “Every Night When The Sun Goes Down,” “Glory Manger,” and “John Henry.” During the second half of the program, Miriam Makeba, with her graceful movements, performed tunes in English and South African. Under a harmonious expression, he performed “Jamaica Farewell” and she sang “The Click Song.” 

Miriam Makeba on March 7, 1969

Nina Simone in 1965
Nina Simone was warmly welcomed on August 3, 1963 and performed favorites such as “Little Liza Mae,” “Porgy,” and “May Man.” Following her was Ray Charles, who was greeted by a thunderous applause. Program numbers ranged from a hushed “The Thrill is Gone” to a swinging “Don’t Set Me Free.” He was accompanied by a 17-piece orchestra and occasionally by The Raelettes, his female vocal group. The 1963 Forest Hills Music Festival program called him “a living musical legend on ABC-Paramount Records.” 

Ray Charles & Nina Simone, August 3, 1963 concert ad
On August 27, 1966, Ray Charles set a box office record at the Forest Hills Music Festival and was joined by the 15-piece Ray Charles Orchestra and The Raelettes. Another noteworthy appearance was by Frederick Nelson III, a 6-year-old organist who performed a spirited “Wade in the Water” and “Watermelon Man.” 

Ray Charles in 1963 Forest Hills Music Festival program
“The world has known two authentic musical geniuses. One was Beethoven and the other is Ray Charles,” said Sammy Davis, Jr in a public statement around that time. Also, in a Life magazine seven-page feature, he was praised with the following statement: “Every singer in the business draws from Ray Charles, but no singer has it or dispenses it the way Ray Charles does.” He was nicknamed “The Genius of Soul” and considered one of the world’s most popular artists since his hit tune, “Georgia On My Mind.” Two decades later, he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, which stated, “Charles used his explosive musical talent to combine gospel and blues into the then non-existent genre of soul. To him, soul music was a way of life.” 

Trade ad for Ray Charles single 'Yesterday' in Billboard, November 4, 1967

Johnny Mathis, 1967 Forest Hills Music Festival program, Courtesy of Rego-Forest Preservation Council
Johnny Mathis’ August 4, 1962 concert featured hits including “Misty,” “Wild Is The Wind,” and “Come To Me.” His August 10, 1963 show marked his only New York appearance and his commitment to donate half of his earnings to Reverend Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Highlights were “Wonderful, Wonderful” and “Marla.” 

Johnny Mathis, October 2, 1960, MCA-Music Corporation of America
On August 21, 1965, Mathis performed a medley of his classics consisting of “Chances Are,” “Twelfth of Never,” “More,” and “When Sunny Gets Blue.” Several numbers were complemented by a chorus of eighteen talented children known as the “Young Americans” who also engaged the audience with a warm-up of songs and much laughter, and a focal point was the moving rendition of “Shenandoah.” A 30-piece orchestra was the ideal fit for Mathis and the Young Americans. Mathis also performed in 1961, on August 4, 1962, August 15, 1964, and on July 8, 1967. 

The Exciters, December 1964, Billboard
Also performing at the Stadium was pop music group The Exciters who sang their hit “Tell Him” on August 28, 1964. Carl Holmes & the Commanders took the stage on August 28, 1965, and one of their hits was “Mashed Potatoes.” 

Carl Holmes & The Commanders
The Temptations, August 1966, NY Amsterdam News
N.Y. Amsterdam News ran the Forest Hills Giveaway contest in 1966. It stated, “Your letter must be postmarked by August 15 if you expect to be in the judging for free tickets to see The Supremes, The Temptations, and Stevie Wonder the evening of August 20 at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium. Don’t despair, however, if your letter doesn’t get in on time. You have until August 22 to enter the contest to win free tickets to see Ray Charles give a concert at Forest Hills on August 27.” For a 200 words or less entry, a fan had to write “Why I would like to see The Supremes in concert” or “Why I would like to see Ray Charles in concert.” A free ticket was offered to a total of 25 winners for each concert, thanks to Forest Hills Music Festival producer Leonard Ruskin. He said, “We feel that in this way many people who might not otherwise be able to attend the concerts will be able to.” 

In 1966, Stevie Wonder was only 15, blind, played the harmonica, piano, and drums, and sang with earthy vocals and blues sentiment. The Supremes, comprised of Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, and Florence Ballard, were recognized as a highly polished and sophisticated singing group. Although known for their rock ‘n’ roll style, their repertoire largely consisted of ballads. Originating from the south, The Temptations are a quintet that was boasted for graceful choreography and great voices. 

Sammy Davis, Jr ad, July 1966, NY Amsterdam News

Sammy Davis, Jr in 1966 on The Perry Como Show
The era offered unique ads, such as one from the summer of 1966 announcing the July 8th and 9th concerts, which read: “You don’t have to fly to San Juan; You don’t have to drive to Kiamesha Lake; ‘cause you can see Sammy Davis (Jr.) with Count Basie and His Orchestra and Jay & The Americans right here at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium.” Sammy Davis Jr, who also appeared on August 11, 1962, was a singer, actor, comedian, and dancer, and is noted for his impressions of other celebrities. On July 17 to July 19, 1965, Count Basie opened with Frank Sinatra. On July 25, 1964, Count Basie performed numbers such as “April in Paris,” “Swinging Shepherd Blues,” and “I Can’t Stop Loving You.” Basie is remembered as a jazz pianist, composer, bandleader, and organist, and was the recipient of 9 Grammys. He was the foremost musician of the Big Band “Swing” era.

Bandleader Count Basie on piano
On July 8, 1966, William B. Williams, “the voice of WNEW Radio,” introduced crooner Sammy Davis, Jr. as the “world’s greatest entertainer.” He rhythmically snapped his fingers and sang “This Will Be My Shining Hour,” which came true. During his second number, “Change Partners,” he carried a mic as he walked to the lawn distinguishing the stage and the audience. Then he shifted to a humorous monologue, Anthony Newley, Rodgers and Hart, and R&B tunes, and left the audience wanting more. He later starred in “Super Night at Forest Hills,” a 1977 televised musical comedy, where he is joined by Arthur Ashe in a play, Alan King and Buddy Hackett portraying old-time tennis pros reuniting, as well as Andy Williams who commemorated tennis through songs. 

The Four Tops, 1968 Forest Hills Music Festival program, Courtesy of Rego-Forest Preservation Council
The Four Tops & Marvin Gaye ad, 1968 Forest Hills Music Festival program, Courtesy of Rego-Forest Preservation Council
The Four Tops, a male vocal quartet from Detroit that performed on July 29, 1967, were memorable for their hand-clapping, foot-stomping, and thigh-slapping, as evident in their lyrics in “Shake Me. Wake Me” and “Reach Out and I’ll Be There.” Other tunes were “Baby I Need Your Loving,” “In The Still of The Night,” and “I Can’t Help Myself.” A great energy swept the stadium with one of the groups that helped popularize the sound of Motown of the 1960s. The Four Tops also appeared with Marvin Gaye and King Curtis and His Kingpins on August 24, 1968. 

Marvin Gaye, 1968 Forest Hills Music Festival program, Courtesy of Rego-Forest Preservation Council
Bee Gees & King Curtis Atco Records ad, 1968 Forest Hills Music Festival program, Courtesy of Rego-Forest Preservation Council
The Jimi Hendrix Experience, November 5, 1968
The Jimi Hendrix Experience opened for the Monkees on July 14 to July 16, 1967, which was unique since their style was distinctive between acid rock and a pop band, respectively. On July 16th, Hendrix threw down his guitar and exited from Monkeemania, and tour promoter Dick Clark was left speechless. During one of his performances, he envisioned concertgoers to sing along with “Foxy Lady,” but instead they screamed “Foxy Davy,” being obsessed with Davy Jones of the Monkees. Hendrix left the tour amicably, and it was not a total loss, since his hit “Purple Haze” climbed the U.S. singles chart. 

Jimi Hendrix at Forest Hills Stadium, 1967, Courtesy of Forest Hills Stadium
Nancy Wilson ad, 1968 Forest Hills Music Festival program, Courtesy of Rego-Forest Preservation Council
1968 Forest Hills Music Festival program, Courtesy of Rego-Forest Preservation Council
1968 Forest Hills Music Festival program, Courtesy of Rego-Forest Preservation Council
Pop singer Nancy Wilson and the 5th Dimension opened the 9th season of the Forest Hills Music Festival on June 22, 1968. The quintet was recognized for their repertoire ranging from soul to pop, where their blend of rich harmonies grants a five dimensional sound. The group also performed nearly 20 hits on August 16, 1969 including “California Sun,” “Up, Up and Away,” and “Hair.” A highlight of the evening was the finale arrangement of “Aquarius” / “Let The Sunshine In,” where the musicians engaged in groovy dancing and ventured off the stage and sang to the fans.

The 5th Dimension ad, 1968 Forest Hills Music Festival program, Courtesy of Rego-Forest Preservation Council
Shorty Long at the piano
 1968 Forest Hills Music Festival program, Courtesy of Rego-Forest Preservation Council
1968 Forest Hills Music Festival program, Courtesy of Rego-Forest Preservation Council
Matchbook cover for 1968 Forest Hills Music Festival featuring Diana Ross & The Supremes, Courtesy of Rego-Forest Preservation Council
Diana Ross and the Supremes appeared with Stevie Wonder and Shorty Long on August 3, 1968. Diana Ross was the hostess and gave the stage to Shorty Long, performer of “Here Comes The Judge” and “Never Going To Give You Up,” two hits which were enthusiastically received. Stevie Wonder followed with a routine noted for his groovy pace, and began with “Precious Sweetheart,” followed by hits such as “Place In The Sun,” “Uptight,” and an instrumental rendition of “Alfie” on the harmonica. The stadium echoed from foot-stomping and thunderous clapping. “Big Stevie,” who was considered a young veteran of the stage, also self-accompanied numbers on electric piano and drums. Then came “pride of Motown” Diana Ross and the Supremes, who performed a medley consisting of “Stop in The Name of Love,” “Come See About Me,” and “Love Is Here.” That was followed by a humorous performance of “Queen of the House.” 

Diana Ross concert ticket, Courtesy of Rego-Forest Preservation Council

1968 Forest Hills Music Festival program, Courtesy of Rego-Forest Preservation Council

Richie Havens in 1974, Courtesy of William Morris Agency
From $3.50 to $6.00, fans could see Richie Havens on July 19, 1969. He consolidated soul, folk, and rhythm & blues. He was no match for rock singer Janis Joplin who placed a Southern Comfort bottle on the piano and told police to get off the stage or she will not sing, and then they backed off. Joplin would blast her songs, but Havens was known for his easygoing tempo.

Dionne Warwick from her August 29, 1969 television special
Dionne Warwick appeared with Sam & Dave, a soul and R&B duo on July 12, 1969. “Soul Man” and “Hold On, I’m Comin’” were among their most popular tunes. At that time, her most popular numbers were Burt Bacharach tunes such as “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again.” She is considered among the 40 largest hit makers of the rock era based on Billboard’s Hot 100 Pop Singles Charts.

Sam & Dave in Billboard, October 26, 1968
 Concertgoers witnessed a surprise package on stage on July 23, 1977, and when it was torn open, Diana Ross emerged. Her ballads consisted of “Send in the Clowns” and “The Lady is a Tramp.” Then she said she would turn the stadium into a discotheque and hits included “Love Hangover.” The N.Y. Amsterdam News read, “She asked a young man in the audience who was wearing a ‘Diana is Dorothy in the Wiz’ sweatshirt to dance with her, and he, overwhelmed and willing, did just that.” “I love you, Diana” became the rule by fans throughout the evening. 

Donna Summer & Brooklyn Dreams July 28, 1979 ticket, Courtesy of Rego-Forest Preservation Council
A fan could purchase a $20 ticket for a portal box seat for “A Summer Night’s Dream Show” on July 27 and July 28, 1979 featuring “Queen of Disco” Donna Summer and special guest Brooklyn Dreams. These sold-out concerts brought her hits into the spotlight including “I Feel Love,” “Last Dance,” “Hot Stuff,” “Love To Love You Baby,” and “Bad Girls.” That month she topped the Hot 100 singles chart, Billboard 200 albums chart, and the Soul singles chart. She is the recipient of five Grammy Awards. 

Donna Summer in the recording studio, September 1977, Casablanca Records

The whimsical 1968 Forest Hills Music Festival program, Courtesy of Rego-Forest Preservation Council

Friday, January 19, 2018

At Risk: Local Landmarks & Small Businesses in Forest Hills, Rego Park, Kew Gardens

***  To volunteer to help rescue our community's unofficial & official landmarks, as well as small businesses & green spaces, contact and state your interests, background, & neighborhood. Step up & help shape what makes our communities meaningful & historic. ***

FACING DEMOLITION: The historic & award-winning Art Moderne/International style Forest Hills Jewish Center, Photo by Michael Perlman
Forest Hills, Rego Park, and Kew Gardens residents and business owners continue to feel disgruntled and perplexed over the rapid increase in planned demolitions and development, which could signify the loss of landmark-worthy sites and some longtime small businesses. In many cases, banal condos and office towers are slated to rise, while infrastructure has not been upgraded, and overcrowded schools, limited parking, and the loss of green space and historic character are becoming widespread concerns. On social media and at meetings, many rumors and facts have been circulating, and now it is time to have a look at a few most pressing scenarios.

As early as next fall, Forest Hills Jewish Center (FHJC), which had its cornerstone laid in 1947 at 106-06 Queens Boulevard, will likely be slated for demolition. Forest Hills resident Christine O’Connor, who has a close friend on the board, said, “They say that FHJC is not closing, but the truth is that it will be demolished and rebuilt within a glass condo box and stores by developer F&T Group. A parishioner of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs said that the church is also low on funds, making that in jeopardy too. Seeing bulldozers at these beautiful historic places of worship is a sin.” 

Forest Hills Jewish Center's Holy Ark & Candelabras by Arthur Szyk, the greatest 20th century Judaic work of art, Photo by Michael Perlman 
FHJC’s fa├žade features stones from Jerusalem and a desecrated temple from the Holocaust, stained glass windows depicting the Burning Bush, and crab-orchard rock reminiscent of Jerusalem’s Western (Wailing) Wall. Among the other significant features are the Holy Ark designed by Arthur Szyk, which resembles an ornate Torah breastplate and is considered to be one of the greatest works of 20th century Judaic art.

Member Mark Weinblatt explained what FHJC Building Committee Chair told him. “Carl Koerner described to us members what the exact plans are, and to my understanding it will be executed in the fall. They will completely demolish FHJC and relocate to trailers on Austin Street near Gerard Towers for at least 2 years. The new building will be two floors, and the rest will be commercial.” His daughter, Gabrielle Weinblatt, also a member, said, “It saddens me to see that there are plans to demolish many of these places that make our neighborhood the wonderful community that it is.”

Queensborough publication documents Forest Hills Jewish Center's Award, Courtesy of the Queens Chamber of Commerce & their architectural committee 
Referencing FHJC’s Honorable Mention for its excellence in design from the Queens Chamber of Commerce, Forest Hills resident Iris Gretano said, “It is historical and award-winning. This is a monument to commemorate all the struggles that the Jewish people went through and how they persevered. Its demolition would be a monumental loss to history and to our people.” 

Mom & pop shops at risk, 107-02 to 107-16 Queens Blvd, Photo by Michael Perlman
A block away, an 8-story glass office building by RJ Capital Holdings is slated to rise opposite MacDonald Park on site of several longtime mom and pop shops at 107-02 through 107-16 Queens Boulevard. A demolition permit was filed in November 2016. On one window, a sign reads, “After 27 years and with much sadness, Liz Cleaners will be officially closed on January 21.” 

In many scenarios, businesses are owned by hard-working immigrants embracing the “American Dream.” Jeff Cha said, “My family acquired this dry cleaners in the early 1990s, and now will not relocate but retire. I have a lease until 2021, but a demolition clause negated that.” He also pinpointed the loss of character beyond his business. “Forest Hills has been the staple of what a family-owned neighborhood should be like, with store owners and customers having relationships, but with the rapid development of buildings, chain stores, and the absence of family-owned businesses where the rent isn't sustainable, it is losing that appeal.”

Yuriy Fay, owner of Yuriy’s Shoe Repair for 21 years said, “I feel bad because I spent half of my life here, but it is not easy to start again somewhere else.” Echoing those sentiments is Joie Tin, manager of Party World, which has been in operation for 16 years, said, “We don’t plan on reopening, but if we were able to sign another lease, we would have.”

Caffe Biu Bella which began a block south on Austin Street in the 1990s as Piu Bello, already shuttered. Owner Adriana Morote said, “We started working at Piu Bello in our early twenties. Later we encountered all kinds of challenges, but battled it as a family. Customers have become our adoptive family. We love Forest Hills and we’re not leaving.” Her sister, owner Karina Morote added, “Customers loved to sit by the open doors in front of MacDonald Park, which felt like being on an island.”

Landscaped areas alongside buildings and street trees on curbs have often been compromised by new developments. Among the concerned residents is Steve Melnick, who requested the curb trees on that block in 2008. He said, “It is imperative, and city law, that they are protected during any construction at that site.”

Key Food to close on April 1st, Photo by Michael Perlman
Nearby, Key Food at 105-02 Queens Boulevard is also being redeveloped, after the owner joined forces with Slate Property Group a filed a demolition permit in June, in exchange for an 11-story rental with retail that is anticipated for 2020. The loss of the supermarket will leave a void. Iris Gretano explained, “There are already many high-rises in the surrounding area. Key Food is a large, convenient market. There are many young parents with children and elderly people that need that store, but it will soon be difficult if they have to walk far. More housing means more overcrowding, and also in schools, which is not conducive to learning.” 

Shalimar Diner in Rego Park, Courtesy of Forgotten NY
In Rego Park, the future of Shalimar Diner at 63-68 Austin Street is in question. Opened in the early 1970s, this family-owned business, which appeared in Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street,” is rumored to be redeveloped. A local patron, Joseph Leone said, “Chris Karayiannis never owned the land, but leases the diner. Two employees said that the lease expires in November 2018. The longtime property owner sold the property to a real estate developer for the construction of a 25-story apartment building. If it closes, there won’t be a replacement for it in the community.” He associated its potential fate to a change in demographics and dietary preferences. “Ninety percent of customers were originally American Jews.” 

On the south side of Queens Boulevard between 65th Road and 66th Avenue, five retail buildings containing small businesses including the popular Sato restaurant and Masbia Soup Kitchen were demolished over the past year, and plans include the development of two residential high-rises and one office building.

Shops over Kew Gardens LIRR bridge, Photo by Michael Perlman
Residents are also concerned about the possible demolition of a Tudor-style row of mom and pop shops on Lefferts Boulevard in Kew Gardens, which the MTA has agreed to conduct an engineering feasibility study last fall, due to the community’s advocacy. Eric Schreiber said, “The proposed condos over the ‘LIRR bridge’ is a huge concern for me and literally over 5,000 other petition signers. Demolition would displace all of the small businesses on the bridge that the mostly older residents have come to rely on for food and services, and a condo would greatly increase the need for additional parking in an already overburdened area.”

“Real estate interests run NYC by contributing to our electeds' campaigns, so they will inevitably be on their side when it comes to tearing down places we love and need,” said Forest Hills resident Evan Ginzburg. He asked, “How about somebody fighting for more arts in Forest Hills that creates character, instead of more wildly overpriced offices and apartments?”

Forest Hills resident Carlos Pesantes, who estimates paying a few thousand dollars monthly in taxes, asked “I am not Mr. Monopoly, so why do these rich developers get a tax break?” “We need tax money to go to our communities for better roads, sewage lines, traffic lights with counters, speed bumps, sanitation, plowing, and better community centers, community gardens, parks, and numerous other infrastructure that make all of our lives better.”

He continued, “My grandmother would say, “Lo que no da, quita y lo que no quita, da,” which translates as ‘That which does not give, takes away, and that which does not take away, adds.’ I see it as you add to a community when you move to it and contribute. Greed takes away and love gives.”

A similar version appears in Michael Perlman's Forest Hills Times column:

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Two Generations Recall Barton’s Bonbonniere in Rego Park

Barton's Bonbonniere during the Blizzard of 1969

Barton's Bonbonniere's Art Deco interior circa late 1960s
By Michael Perlman

Decades ago, Rego Park was known for its Art Deco and Mid-Century Modern mom and pop shops with attractive window displays. Among them was a branch of Barton’s Bonbonniere at 97-19 Queens Boulevard, which opened around 1958, offered a mom and pop ambiance, and was part of a chain that carved a market for quality kosher gourmet chocolates.

Stephen Klein, a Jewish chocolatier, immigrated from Austria in 1938, and founded the Barton’s Candy Corporation with the help of his brothers and partners, drawing from his family’s experience. In a 1952 issue of Commentary magazine, Klein said the goal was “to make each piece of candy attractive. You should keep wanting to eat more and not get tired.” 

Cy Glickman & his son Bobby circa 1964
Between 1962 and 1970, Cy Glickman was one of the owners of the Rego Park shop, which operated into the late 1980s. When Cy and his wife Gail moved from Forest Hills in 1962, they leased an apartment at Walden Terrace in Rego Park and purchased the store. Their son Bobby Glickman was born that same year, and worked at the shop when he was four years old, acquiring a first-hand experience in customer service, inventory, and operating the register. The salary was originally one dollar per hour. “It was a family affair with my dad’s mom, his sister, and my mom, as well as a few employees,” said Bobby.

However, Barton’s history in Rego Park dates as far back as 1950, when it was located a block west at 97-01 Queens Boulevard. Two other branches in operation were adjacent to the Forest Hills Theatre on Continental Avenue and on Queens Boulevard and Union Turnpike in Kew Gardens. Cy explained, “The chocolate was from Switzerland and was top grade. Barton’s had two factories on DeKalb Avenue in Brooklyn.”

Patrons were welcomed to Cy’s shop by a sleek Art Deco and Mid-Century Modern storefront with a steel neon sign, and a large candy cane door handle, which was a popular feature for Barton’s storefronts. Facade panels were designed to resemble candy. The aesthetics carried into the interior, offering creatively decorated displays, terrazzo floors, and colorful illustrated wall art. Bobby said, “This was a place to buy special treats for special occasions. The store was fancy, and dad improved it with shelving, mirrors, and polish.”

Bobby referred to his father as young and enthusiastic, opening the shop at 8 AM and closing at 10 PM. Cy reminisced, “The public went out each night to stroll, and in the early 1960s, evening business was brisk. For an evening social visit, customers would pick up a box of candy at $1.98 for a pound of chocolate, plus 6 cents sales tax.”

Patrons’ favorites included Almond Bark Bar in dark chocolate, milk chocolate, and white chocolate, as well as solid chocolate in small blocks, Almond Kisses, and mint chocolate buttons, to name a few. A popular slogan remains “The best kiss you ever had.” “I often shipped candy boxes upstate to neighborhood kids at camp, or even to soldiers in Korea, Japan, and Germany,” said Cy. In addition, Barton’s sold collectibles such as menorahs, goblets, decorative plates, and dolls.

Barton’s even produced their own ice cream, which was available in pints for 65 cents and as sandwiches for 15 cents. “The fanciest candy in the store was the marzipan from Switzerland, which was shaped like fruits and other foods, and sold at $3.98 per pound. It was strictly for the older folks,” said Cy.

“It wasn't a drugstore, but a place where the product was pure heaven, like selling Coca-Cola,” said Bobby, who recalled his favorite job as cleaning the abundant glass with Windex, and winding the outside awning to shade the chocolate in the afternoon, when sunshine was at its peak. Barton’s allowed Cy to meet everyone from patrons to shop owners and operators. He said, “We shared the task of snow removal and had coffee, when the neighborhood was bustling and peaceful.”

Bobby said, “I liked the unlimited handfuls of chocolate that you could grab from behind the counter. The chocolates tasted and smelled like nothing you can imagine. My dad was a sweetheart to all, and that is why everyone in the family wanted to work for him. Walking around the neighborhood where everyone knew and liked your dad was a warmhearted feeling for a kid. It was a good time.”

Changes in demographics and personal preferences later transpired. Cy explained, “Barton’s broke the franchising contract by marketing their candy at Alexander’s, and changing styles spelled the end of high-end chocolates in a new immigrant community.”

After the Glickman family sold Barton’s, it changed ownership before turning into a food shop, followed by Blimpie and most recently Ariel’s Cafe. While Barton’s no longer operates independent shops, their products are sold countrywide and even on Amazon. 

Barton's collectible tin cans, Photo by Michael Perlman

Barton’s whimsical and colorful tin cans feature geometrical patterns, hearts, birds, and flowers, and are now regarded as collectibles. Among them is perhaps the most memorable design which features a cartoon-like illustration that captures street life, which Bobby retained in his collection among Barton’s Judaica and vintage photos of the Rego Park shop and the neighborhood. Cy left the store with a giant roll of wrapping paper, which wrapped gifts for decades. Today, he enjoys his retirement in Florida by spending quality time with Gail and playing pickleball.

A similar version of this feature was published in Michael Perlman's Forest Hills Times column: