End of an era

— After 33 years, Dave Green­man has re­tired from the icon­ic Green­man’s Deli in May­fair.

Dave Green­man, own­er of Green­man’s Deli, is re­tir­ing and mov­ing to Flor­ida The busi­ness has been sold after 65 years, Janu­ary 24, 2013, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)

Gail Green­man knew her hus­band, Dave, had a pop­u­lar and well-known busi­ness in Lower May­fair, but she didn’t know just how close his con­nec­tion with cus­tom­ers was un­til their hon­ey­moon 27 years ago.

ldquo;This guy points and says, ‘Dave Green­man. Green­man’s Deli,’ ” she re­called. “We were in the middle of Alaska on a cruise ship.”

Al and Claire Green­man — Dave’s par­ents — opened Green­man’s Del­icatessen in 1949 on the south­east corner of Rob­bins and Brous av­en­ues.

The fam­ily, which also in­cluded old­est son Nor­man, lived up­stairs from the store.

The Green­mans re­tired in 1980, and Dave took over the busi­ness. Al Green­man has passed away, though Claire is alive and well at age 90.

Dave Green­man, who worked in the busi­ness while grow­ing up, had a suc­cess­ful run of 33 years. The Green­man fam­ily op­er­ated the store for 64 years.

However, last Thursday marked their fi­nal day as pro­pri­et­ors. On Fri­day, the store was closed as Dave Green­man went to the set­tle­ment table with the new own­ers, an Asi­an-Amer­ic­an fam­ily re­lo­cat­ing from South Phil­adelphia.

The store re­opened on Sat­urday with the same name, and Dave is on site this week help­ing with the trans­ition.


But, at the young age of 59, he’s re­tir­ing and mov­ing to South Flor­ida. He’ll be out of the gro­cery store busi­ness for good. He leaves with fond memor­ies.

“I was born and raised right here,” he said. “I grew up here and played in the neigh­bor­hood. It was a great neigh­bor­hood grow­ing up.”

Dave and Gail Green­man will be back at the set­tle­ment table on Feb. 15 for the sale of their home in Churchville, Bucks County. Then, they’ll im­me­di­ately hop in­to cars and head south. Their 24-year-old daugh­ter, Ali, will be join­ing them. Their 22-year-old son, Gary, a col­lege stu­dent, also ex­pects to settle in the South. Oth­er fam­ily and friends already live in the Sun­shine State.

The Green­mans en­cour­age all of their cus­tom­ers to con­tin­ue to pat­ron­ize the store. It’ll still be fam­ily run, only by an­oth­er fam­ily. Sev­er­al of the em­ploy­ees are ex­pec­ted to re­main. The Nor­man Rock­well prints will stay on the wall.

“Everything will be the same,” prom­ised Jen Chen, one of the new own­ers.

The new own­ers have been on site for about a month, learn­ing the busi­ness. They’ll live up­stairs.

“It’s a mom-and-pop busi­ness. We wanted to sell it to someone who would take over and have a fam­ily-type at­mo­sphere,” Gail Green­man said. “They’re very, very nice people. They’re very kind people. They’re keep­ing the help.”

Dave Green­man had a mod­est start to his ca­reer as a busi­ness­man. He was still a kid when his par­ents put him to work.

“I was in charge of sweep­ing the pave­ment,” he said.


Green­man’s has been a pop­u­lar choice for neigh­bor­hood folks, people head­ing to the sports sta­di­ums and mo­tor­ists driv­ing down Rob­bins Av­en­ue to­ward the Ta­cony-Palmyra Bridge. Even people who’ve moved out of the neigh­bor­hood come back for the sand­wiches.

The front en­trance hasn’t changed much. The clock above the front door has been there for many years, and so have the signs, in­clud­ing two that pro­claim, “This is Green­man’s.”

Pop­u­lar menu items in­clude ho­agies, which come in Ju­ni­or and Mon­ster sizes. Milk­shakes are also a fa­vor­ite.

“We still have hand-dipped ice cream,” Dave said.

The store has suc­ceeded in selling the ba­sics — bread, milk, eggs, chips, soda, candy, Tastykakes, wa­ter ice, lunch meat, cheese, salads and sand­wiches. It also of­fers ca­ter­ing, party trays and Pennsylvania Lot­tery tick­ets.

Dave ap­pre­ci­ates the sup­port of cus­tom­ers over the years. The most loy­al are Stella, Joan and Elise, who go to the Scis­sor Happy hair salon across the street every Thursday, then come to Green­man’s for lunch meat and snacks.

“They go back to the days when my fath­er star­ted,” Dave said.

One of the store’s high­lights came about five years ago, when a cus­tom­er won $250,000 on a scratch-off lot­tery tick­et.

Green­man’s donated to loc­al schools, churches, youth sports groups, block parties, the Po­lice Ath­let­ic League and Sun­shine Found­a­tion. Of­ficers from the 15th Po­lice Dis­trict al­ways re­ceived deep dis­counts, and even in this day and age, pat­rons were al­lowed to run tabs.

Young­er fam­ily mem­bers came in­to the fold over the years.

“They’d stand on buck­ets and make sand­wiches as kids,” Gail said.

“I was think­ing I was help­ing by mak­ing sand­wiches, but I was prob­ably just in the way,” Ali said.


Nor­man Green­man, like his young­er broth­er, mar­ried a wo­man named Gail. They went to Acap­ulco, Mex­ico, on their hon­ey­moon 33 years ago, and Gail re­mem­bers get­ting off the el­ev­at­or one day.

“Some guy points in and says, ‘Green­man’s Deli,’ ” she said.

Nor­man and Gail opened a Green­man’s on Grant Av­en­ue in Bustleton in 1987, and sold it in 2005. It has since closed.

Nor­man’s wife de­scribes the Rob­bins and Brous loc­a­tion as an “icon” and an “in­sti­tu­tion.” She went back to col­lege later in life and wrote a pa­per on the deli. The pro­fess­or gave her an “A.”

She re­mem­bers back in 2003, when Lin­coln Fin­an­cial Field opened and the Eagles tried to ban fans from bring­ing ho­agies in­to the sta­di­um. Green­man’s joined fans and the me­dia in a re­volt, and the policy was re­versed a week later.

She is happy for Dave and his fam­ily but mel­an­choly that the Green­man’s she knew is no more.

“It’s sad,” she said.

Dave is re­tir­ing, in part, be­cause of the grind. He re­mained busy on his last day as own­er. The store opens every day at 8 a.m. and closes at 9 p.m., ex­cept for a 7 p.m. clos­ing on Sundays.

“It’s a sev­en-day, sev­en-night busi­ness,” his wife said. “Un­less it was a wed­ding or fu­ner­al, he didn’t take off.”

Since news star­ted spread­ing a few weeks ago that the Green­mans would be selling the busi­ness, cus­tom­ers have come in to give them hugs, kisses and well-wishes and pos­ted nice mes­sages on the store’s Face­book page.

The Green­mans ex­pect to love liv­ing in sunny Flor­ida, but Dave can see him­self get­ting bored.

“What am I go­ing to do, sit home? I’d like to find part-time work, forty hours a week,” he joked, adding that he’s used to much longer hours.

The Green­mans will move to Palm Beach County, spe­cific­ally the areas near Delray Beach or Boyn­ton Beach, roughly 50 miles from Miami.

Gail will miss Philly’s soft pret­zels and the change of sea­sons, but said she’ll quickly grow to love the slower pace and warm weath­er.

Ali will look for a job. She’ll miss the Phil­lies but already knows that the Miami Mar­lins have trouble selling tick­ets, so she looks for­ward to hav­ing great seats for when the Phils are in town for a series.

Dave has no hob­bies — “My hobby has been work my whole life” — but can see him­self fish­ing or golf­ing. He’ll cher­ish the memor­ies of fol­low­ing in his par­ents’ foot­steps to be­come a suc­cess­ful busi­ness­man and is look­ing for­ward to re­tir­ing be­fore age 60 and spend­ing time with his fam­ily.

“It will be the second act of our lives,” he said. ••

Re­port­er Tom War­ing can be reached at 215-354-3034 or twar­ing@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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