From The New York Shitty Inbox: Deli Mart Al R.I.P.
Early Tuesday morning Al, one of the owners of the Deli Mart on Bedford and North 7th Street, passed away. Al was a friend as well as a good neighbor and local business owner. Al was “good people”; always there with a smile, a kind word and a way that you knew he cared about you. The Deli Mart had never closed a day in the nearly ten years Al and his brother bought it. This is until this past Tuesday. It stayed closed for 3 days and a small memorial was created for a good man who is missed.
As neighbors and patrons morn, I know his family is grieving in ways that are unique to losing a brother, a father, a husband and a son. Al was all those things and more.
His passing was sudden and all too soon. Sure Al was a little round, enjoyed smoking and greasy food but he was taken from his family and our neighborhood too soon.
Many people have joked about my closeness to the guys at the Deli Mart. Over the years, they signed for packages, helped me pass loans back and forth between my brother and others, held keys for visiting friends and so many other tasks that can be hard to coordinate in one’s busy life. I know it all sounds pretty one side but it wasn’t. Whenever I had a chance to return his kindness I did like when I got Beyonce to sign a photo of herself and had her addressed it to “Deli Mart Al.” He couldn’t believe it was real. It was and then a few years later she visited the Deli Mart to shot a video in front of the store. Al was thrilled for his brush of celebrity.
Al was a good neighbor. He always had a treat for the dogs in the neighborhood even though a few years ago a neighborhood dog attacked Halloween, his deli cat. He didn’t hold grudges. As Halloween healed, dogs were still welcomed. The owner of the dog that attacked Halloween as well as the dog were still allowed in the Deli Mart.
Thankfully, Halloween healed and went on to be featured in a New York Times article about deli cats*. However she no longer had the drive to be a deli cat and went on became a house cat.
Al missed having Halloween in the store and started talking about adopting another. I agreed that the Deli Mart needed a deli cat. We made a plan to visit a local shelter. Once there, Al really struggled with which cat to adopt. He wanted one to do the job but also wanted to provide a good home. He thought about the ones who had been on the street too long or were a little too round for a cat or just wasn’t doing well in a shelter. He finally settled on Tony — the Deli Mart’s current deli cat. It was great for me to be able to give something back to my neighbor.
However I could never balance out what he gave me and what I could give him. He always had the upper hand like when I lost my job last Spring, Al instituted a new policy where I could still get my morning coffee and papers but he wouldn’t charge me. It was such a kind gesture that he wouldn’t rescind even though I wasn’t having money troubles.
I know I wasn’t the only who got to see Al’s kindness and generosity over the years.
This morning talking to a friend who reminded me how once Al knew you, he would say hello whether he was behind the counter, on the corner or spotted you on the security screen in his office. Al made the Deli Mart the Williamsburg version of “Cheers” where everyone knew your name.
Al gave chips or candy to kids who’s parents didn’t have the money, rounded down your tab or gave you a free coffee when he knew money was tight. Al couldn’t understand why people would ever shoplift from the Deli Mart because he would have helped anyone who needed it and asked.
Al had a big heart. I am gonna miss him. I am gonna miss having to declare that the Deli Mart’s iced coffee was the best on Bedford Avenue before he would prepare my order. I can’t lie, it was always very good. And maybe I will keep saying it as a tribute to Al.
I’ll be honest: I have only spoken to Al once or twice in passing (as a Greenpoint resident I do not patronize Williamsburg bodegas on a regular basis). However, if the emails I have received (such as this one) are any indication he was a much-loved member of the community. If you have a chance, dear readers, swing by the Deli Mart at 185 Bedford Avenue and tender your condolences. They will be very much appreciated.
*Which I had a hand in. No one meets Oreo without proper protocol.