End of an era
— After 33 years, Dave Greenman has retired from the iconic Greenman’s Deli in Mayfair.
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.
“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.
GO SOUTH, YOUNG MAN
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.
ThE DELICIOUS SIDE TRIP
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 email@example.com