Grant's was next door to Woolworth's 5 & 10. I remember shopping there with my mother. She'd buy yards and yards of material to send back to "the old country" because they were still having tough times in the late 40's and early 50's. She'd also pack staples like sugar, coffee, rice, candy, etc.
There was a Travel Agency on our corner, DeKalb & Central, which converged with Myrtle there. The store was pie-shaped, the entrance door being on the smallest point. We used to play Kings, on the DeKalb Ave. wall because there were 5 sidewalk blocks: Left to right, there was King, then Queen, Jack, 10 & 9. Do you remember the game? We used a Spaulding. The winner in the King block served by hitting the ball on the ground to whichever other block s/he wished. Whoever lost the round by missing the serve or messing up his/her return would take the last box (9). Each player would move up if King through 10 missed a shot. The King always served.
BTW I used to play Skelly's all the time. It wasn't just for boys. I loved the game and I was good at it. The chalked boxes from 1 to 9 were always laid out next door to our house, in front of the factory to the right of the loading platform. We used to weight down the bottle caps with orange peel. I can draw the "board" in my mind. Skelly's, of course, was the no man's land that surrounded Box #9. If you landed in one of the four areas (on the lines was fine), you returned to Box #1 and had to start all over again. If you reached #9, you had to retrace your steps back to #1. Whoever reached #1 first won. Naturally, all other players would try to shoot your bottle cap into Skelly's or off the court altogether. I burned a lot of holes in my "dungarees" thanks to Skelly's.
Do you remember a post - WWII game we played called "Three Feet to Germany"? Of course, stoop ball was one of my favorite games. Carlo Cigna, I remember one year, won the "Boys' Championship Stoop Ball Player Contest" and I won the Girls'.
Back to stores, the Linoleum Store on Central Avenue between Hart & Suydam Streets was where my mother sent me each month to pay the tax on the rent my parents didn't pay because they were janitors for our building (7 apartments) and the rear building (2 apartments). I swept the halls many times. My father would follow with a mop. Every week. The rent was $30; the tax was $1 and change. We also played in the coal bin that was used to feed the big iron coal stove in the cellar during the winter. Unfortunately, during the coldest parts of the winter, the heat didn't reach the "front room" (i.e. the room that faced the street) so my parents would close it off. It was their bedroom so everyone moved up. Since I slept in the second room off the kitchen (which was also the dining room and living room), I'd sleep on the kitchen floor near our stove on top of a Navy blanket my mother bought at an Army/Navy surplus store. It was cozy. During the hottest nights of the year, I'd sleep on a sheet on the fire escape.
When I tell my children stories like these, they think I'm complaining because I had a tough life. I keep telling them they are so wrong. It was fun! No one I knew had more than we did. I thought everybody lived like that. When we looked out our kitchen windows in the summertime, we'd see the spools spinning in the factory next door. We were on the second floor; the factory owners and we kept our windows open. That was air conditioning. From the fire escape, as kids, we'd wave at people riding the elevated subway lines, they were so close.. Many waved back. Life was simpler then. People were friendlier then. As much as I enjoy the telephone, TV and computers, ironically, they have prevented a lot of face-to-face contact with others. And let's not forget the automobile. You mention that few people owned automobiles in the 40's and 50's. My father bought his first car in 1955, a new 1954 Chevrolet. Guess it was a clearance sale. Cars enabled people to move far away and commute to work.
I remember talking as a kid with the other kids about moving away from the old neighborhood. Everybody, especially the adults, dreamt of it. Nobody did because we couldn't afford it. My parents bought a house across the street from our apartment. That was in 1950, I think, but we didn't move in until 1954. Who can give up a deal like free rent? (All that work meant nothing. That's what we were supposed to do, work.) Finally, in 1956, they bought a house in Cypress Hills. Friends of theirs (paesani) lived in the area. I can think of three or four families that lived there that we knew. More followed after us. Anyway, at 15, the guys in the new neighborhood accepted me--no problem-but the girls shut me out. Competition, I guess. Anyway, it was back to the old neighborhood until I graduated from high school in 1958 and went to work full-time. All this by way of saying that prosperity accounted for the turnover of the old neighborhood. Then, the new working class moved in.
Missing, I think, from the description of Bushwick is something that loomed large in my mind while I was a kid: the 83rd Precinct. I'd go down the street on the corner of DeKalb & Wilson and watch the new shift leave the building in formation at 4 p.m. and watch them be dismissed. It was very regimented and colorful. As the policemen dispersed, I'd say "Good afternoon, Officer" to any that went by. Look, when you don't have toys, you find ways to amuse yourself.
The fish store was on Central Avenue. I'd go there with my mother on many Fridays. Do you remember an Aiello's Bakery on Central Avenue and either Starr or Troutman St.? It belonged to our next door neighbors. When Mrs. Aiello died, Mr. Aiello sold the bakery and moved with his son and daughter. That was before 1955. The daughter gave me her vast collection of Frank Sinatra records and scrap books. I don't know what I ever did with them.
Also in our building, 1362 DeKalb, on the first floor, was the LaRosa family. We were very close. Mrs. LaRosa would babysit me occasionally during the day and it was always fun being with that family. There were at least 4 or 5 kids and they were all older than I. They owned a bakery on Wilson Avenue in St. Bridget's parish and worked very hard. The bread was delicious When the sons were old enough to drive, they began to deliver bread to all the grocery stores. Ours, on Wilson between DeKalb and Stockholm, received delivery at 4 p.m. or so. When I was 7 and older, my mother would send me there to get 2 loaves of Italian bread. I'd eat half a loaf on the way home. My mother was ecstatic because I was so skinny, she was afraid I'd starve to death. Anyway, business took off very quickly and, before I knew it, the LaRosas were gone. Prosperity again. LaRosa bread became a household name. Do you remember it?
About the Knish man. I remember he came to our street with his pushcart late in the afternoon. The knishes cost 10 cents each. My mother never refused me, again, she feared my starvation. They were without a doubt the best knishes ever made! They were round. The man never smiled. He reminded me of Paul Muni in a movie I saw about a chain gang. So sad. But what pleasure he brought!
Thanks, Joe, for awakening all those latent memories. It was an unforgettable childhood. Our kids will never know what they missed. It was a real community in the best sense of the word. As I've often said, there was no such thing as a secret on our street. With the windows open and the lack of space, everyone knew everything about each other and we still got along anyway, like an extended family.