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The Oldest Mom and Pop Shops on the Upper West Side

By Emily Frost | April 25, 2013 2:52pm | Updated on May 1, 2013 7:25am

UPPER WEST SIDE — Upper West Siders say mom and pop stores are dear to their hearts, and the proof is in their strong support for a new zoning proposal aimed at preserving smaller businesses by limiting the size of new storefronts along Amsterdam and Columbus avenues.

However local, family-owned businesses, such as the 40-year-old Goodrich Pharmacy, have suffered during the economic downturn and due to competition with chains. 

As of this past December, the neighborhood is now home to 249 chains, according to a report by the Center for an Urban Future, a count that has risen by nine stores since 2011. 

Despite this increase in chain stores, the Upper West Side is still home to some of the oldest mom and pop shops in the city, who chock up their success to loyal customers.

"We survived thanks to the neighborhood," said Bruce Stark, owner of Beacon Paint and Hardware, which his family has owned for 42 years and which has been in the neighborhood for 113 years. 

We've selected some of the oldest locally owned Upper West Side businesses that are thriving.

Harry's Shoes, 2299 Broadway 

Just as the massive discount shoe retailer DSW was opening across the street, Harry's Shoes, an Upper West Side staple for 38 years, went ahead with its expansion, more than doubling the size of the store from 2,800- to 6,500-square-feet this past September. 

"We're not changing who we are, but expanding who we are to reach a younger market," said owner Robert Goldberg, 49, the third generation to run Harry's.

The shoe store, which also has a children's store nearby in the neighborhood, first opened in the Bronx in 1931 and moved to the Upper West Side in 1975. 

Goldberg said that part of the store's continued success would rely on its ability to adapt and to make room for new styles. 

“After all," he said, "today’s 65-year-old does not want to look like yesterday’s 65-year-old."

Goldberg believes the entrance of chains such as Geox and DSW nearby has helped draw shoe shoppers to the area and differentiate what Harry's is offering. 

"We are a full service environment and DSW is self-help," he said, adding that his formula works, "especially in Manhattan because you’re dealing with people who like service."

Goldberg said that at any one time he could have 20 employees on the floor helping customers, creating a unique shopping atmosphere.

Beacon Paint & Hardware, 371 Amsterdam Avenue

Beacon Paint has been a part of the Upper West Side for 113 years, said Bruce Stark, 55, who now manages the store for his father Mel, who retired in 2005.

The Stark family took over from the Sage family, two brothers who lived on 79th Street, in 1971. The first store opened on the Upper West Side in 1900. 

Stark remembers how different the neighborhood was when he worked there as a child on weekends and evenings.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the store was only a paint and wallpaper operation. And in the '90s the Starks realized that the hardware business was more lucrative and dependable.

"There's always a concern in a Home Depot comes across the street. I believe we would survive but it would hurt," said Stark.

In the meantime, the increasing affluence of his neighbors and their home ownership has been a boon to the store.

"They need to do their own repairs," he said.

"The one on one [service] makes a difference [in customer loyalty]" he said.

The Town Shop, 2273 Broadway

Danny Koch is the fourth generation to manage the Town Shop, the famous bra and lingerie shop that's been on Broadway since 1936 and in New York City since 1888. 

Koch has been managing the store for 24 years, but his father, Peter, is still a presence at the store. 

The women's store didn't always specialize in bras. The family began selling more gloves and accessories in the 1920s, Koch said, and by the late 20s, they were known for their lingerie, robes, nightgowns and girdles.

Koch said he has an "unbelievably loyal clientele" that spans across generations with the same mothers who shopped there for nursing bras coming in again to help fit their daughters for training bras.

"It's not uncommon to have three generations shopping in the store," he said. "I still get a little touched by it."

There are repeat customers, but there are plenty who are coming to the store for the first time. 

"There's still a large number of women wearing the wrong size bra... on any given day, at least six to twelve customers wear the bra we put them in out and throw away their old one," Koch said.

With a sustained and growing customer base, the Koch family decided it was time to "spread our wings" and move across the street to a larger space this summer, moving from a 1,600-square-foot store to a 4,000-square-foot store. 

"After 77 years, people are so frazzled by [the move]," Koch said. 

And the opening of Victoria's Secret just up the street has only helped, he said. 

"[Victoria's Secret] tells people to go here. We have a much bigger selection," said Koch, adding that bra sizes went up to K cup.

Zabar's, 2245 Broadway   

Zabar's grocery and housewares store has been on the Broadway block between 80th and 81st streets since 1934, said Saul Zabar, who took over from his father in 1950. 

The business has expanded so that it includes a housewares section above the grocery store and spans almost an entire block, changes Zabar said happened about 20 years ago. And despite the arrivals of Fairway and Citarella and Fresh Direct, people keep coming back to Zabar's, he said.

“I think we have products that they feel that they can’t get elsewhere," said Zabar, highlighting their extensive cheese collection and fish counter. "There’s only a few stores that really specialize in smoked fish, like Murray’s and Barney Greengrass. There’s only a few of us left."  

Zabar also noted the special coffee that they roast themselves is a major draw for customers, with about 8,000 pounds of coffee sold each week.

"We give you a real pound for $7.95, and you’re paying $9 to $10 a pound for this stuff that’s on the shelves [at other stores] and if you look closely you’re not getting a pound," he said.

Zabar said the store has about 200 employees and characterized the legendary grocery as "old fashioned" and "service oriented." But the store has modernized as well. 

"We must have at least 300 different cooked or prepared food that you can take home," said Zabar, who added that a staff of 35 cooks were devoted to the prepared food. 

Good Enough to Eat, 483 Amsterdam Avenue

Carrie Levin, 54, said she opened Good Enough to Eat on August 13, 1981, at a time when "the neighborhood was horrible" and "no one wanted to be there."

Levin doesn't take her longevity for granted.

"To be around [as a restaurant] this long — it's rare," Levin said. "Ninety-two percent of restaurants close in the first year." 

Good Enough to Eat's menu offered something different when it first debuted, all created and cooked by Levin. At a time when the hip thing was fancy French food, she offered American food.

"American food is so amazing and no one did it. We did whatever was in season," said Levin, a practice the restaurant still uses, sourcing fresh ingredients every day. 

Like other older mom and pop shops, Levin's customers span across several generations, she said.

"Thanksgiving is our biggest holiday," she said. "It's like a food frenzy. There are often three generations who've been coming here."

But brunch has also been good to Levin. Her brunches "were popular from Day 1," she recalls. 

The secret is using really good recipes that were perfected over time, like pancakes that aren't overbeaten, strawberry butter and angel biscuits. 

When something's good, Levin said, "don't change it."