Small-Time Crook

Admittedly, the Grand Union on LaGuardia and Bleecker was not in SoHo, but it was such a huge part of my childhood that I feel I must write about it.  Now called Morton Williams, the Grand Union supermarket, built to serve the tenants of NYU’s Silver Towers and Washington Square Village apartment buildings, was the closest place (except for the bodega on West Broadway and Prince) to buy groceries for most SoHo residents.  A free standing-building, it is quite a behemoth for New York City standards, though no competition with the suburban hypermarkets of today.

For years and years, I would go “big shopping” there with my mother and sister.  We would fill up the shopping cart, spending (gasp!) upwards of $50.00, and have everything delivered to our loft.  It must have been not the worst way to make a living, delivering for Grand Union, because we had the same few guys bringing groceries to our house for ages.

My mother says I was about seven years old when she started sending me to Grand Union with my sister on our own.  Seven!  Children’s Services would be called if you did that now.  She would send us there to get, among other things, ten tubes of Crest Regular toothpaste, ten packs of cookies, and a ten packs of cigarettes (a.k.a. a carton).  My father used the toothpaste to polish the lacquer furniture he made (ancient Japanese secret), he served the cookies to his workers at tea time, and he smoked the cigarettes.  What must have they been thinking at checkout when two very little Japanese girls showed up, on a regular basis, to buy this strange assortment of groceries?  I guess they figured we’d need all of that toothpaste after eating all those cookies and smoking all those cigarettes!

The first (and only) time I ever stole anything was at Grand Union.  A Tiger’s Milk Bar.  A strange thing for a kid to want, but whatever.  It happened almost by accident.  I picked one up and planned to ask my mother if she would buy it for me.  I wandered around the store for a while and got caught up looking at the Happy Days books, novelizations of the popular television series.  I realized that I needed to put down the Tiger’s Milk bar to turn the pages.  With nowhere else to put it, I stuck it in my pocket and then realized that I could just walk out with it, which is exactly what I did.  After I got it home, I felt so bad about having taken it that I never did it again.  Easy lesson learned, thanks to The Fonz.

I suppose Grand Union was your average supermarket in its day.  The National Enquirer up front and a deli counter in the back.  I still call it Grand Union, though you can’t get much there for fifty dollars these days.  They went upscale with the ‘hood, and now they carry imported pistachios and pre-washed salad in a box (both of which I admit I buy on occasion).  I hear that NYU plans to tear it down to build another apartment building.  If that happens, where, pray tell, will a seven-year-old be able to score a pack of smokes?

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6 Responses to “Small-Time Crook”

  1. Deirdre Dolan Says:

    hysterical! you should get to work on an oral history of soho to add to your own.
    and by the way i’ve heard that toothpaste works as a substitute for silver polish but haven’t yet to get the results.

  2. Suzanne Stratton-Pruitt Says:

    I believe that the employees of the Grand Union belonged to a union, and it must have benefited them because some of them worked at the store for years. I started shopping there when we moved to SoHo in 1968, when my first child was born. Years later, when he accompanied me to the Grand Union, the cashier shrieked “Madonna!” She had known him since infancy, and now he towered over her. Like you, I still shop there, but it’s not very friendly anymore.

  3. Jo Gangemi Says:

    I wish that the community would get up in arms over NYU’s takeover plan. They take, take, take and don’t give back. They break their promises to the community.

  4. SOHOMAN Says:

    LOL! I still call it the Grand Union too! That building will ALWAYS be the Grand Union to me.
    Im glad you followed up on my earlier suggestion about this place.
    So many memories abut it, i dont know where to begin.
    Well for starters, how about the real community feel of the place. Like take for instace, the bulletin board that used to be right by the exit and entrance, filled with for sale ads, local services, notices, etc.
    Or remember those tempermental automatic doors?!
    How about that long walk you had to take from the entrance past what was probably the longest line of cashiers in a Manhattan supermarket at that time, just to get into the first aisle and begin shopping?
    Speaking of the first aisle,..loved to get their buffalo wings at the deli counter.

    Long Live The Grand Union!

  5. Rebekah Alessi Says:

    I love your blog!

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