I’d give anything to taste the flavor of a cherry-chocolate soda.
Not the ones from a bottle. A soda fountain drink! Nothing compares to the delicious mixture of “real” chocolate and cherry syrups combined with that-seltzer-like substance that produced a drink that could have originated only in Paradise.
And, it just wasn’t the soda! It was the anticipation as you played with the nickel or dime in your hand, an 8-year-old who snuck away from the front of the house and made his way down the block and around the corner to the pharmacy that stood at 28th and Master streets in Brewerytown, North Philadelphia.
Kaplan’s Pharmacy, with its metal padded stools you could twist and twirl to your heart’s content after placing an order for your favorite beverage. I could barely climb onto the chair without help, but once perched on it, I’d pretend I was much older, say 10 or 11, in hopes that Mrs. Kaplan would not ask too many questions about my mom or my older brothers. She knew the family. That’s the way it was in the old neighborhood. The proprietors would see you together so often, they became your extended family, offering genuine care and consideration when they could.
Mrs. Kaplan was one of several Jewish store-keepers in my limited world at that age. Wasn’t allowed to cross a major street and had to confine myself to the one square block bordered by 28th and 27th on the east-west directions and Master and Jefferson streets on the north-south.
In addition to Kaplan’s, there were two “candy” stores — Barr’s and Fischer’s. We also had a traditional “mom and pop” store on our tiny block of Marston Street. It was Kramer’s, which served up sandwich meats and rolls, as well as milk and eggs when we ran out of food purchased from the supermarket. We’d spend a lot of time at Kramer’s because neither my father or mother drove a car, and the supermarket was at 26th and Girard Avenue, about four blocks away.
Two blocks from home on Thompson Street is where Klein’s Pharmacy and Sy’s Steak Shop offered their goods. (Sy’s, by the way, was one of the homes of the original Philly cheese steaks.) Jewish families ran each of the businesses mentioned.
Today, Asians own many of the same properties, serving the old neighborhood of mostly African-Americans and immigrants trying to grab onto the American dream to become upwardly mobile.
Greeks and people from India shared that dream, and found pathways in the restaurant and modern convenience stores. There is a lot of truth in the old joke of two Greeks meeting in a town for the first time. One of them will always open a restaurant! I’d say there is a higher plurality of folks from India operating and working in 7-11 and other convenience stores than most other minority groups. Same with Greeks at restaurants.
That’s one of the reasons I like my all-time favorite drink. I’m drawn to these kind of “unusual” things. The same with the people and places I visit. They offer familiarity and give a sense of order. Eating pizza out of a Greek joint; listening to the Indian fellow’s accent at the WaWa convenience store; seeing “Chinese” stores run by Asians of all backgrounds provide a variety of foods in the inner cities.
I guess that’s what makes growing up in a city extra special. You develop a hankering for all kinds of unique, individual and different tastes. Prepares you for accepting more out of life than you could have imagined by yourself.
Like a cherry-chocolate soda made by that wonderfully nice Jewish lady, Mrs. Kaplan.