Remembering the 1980s in Woodhaven

By Ed Wendell

Rollback Days in 1980s Woodhaven with Phil’s Cheese and Cold Cuts, Jason’s Toys and Cards and Joseph’s across the street. The Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society will present a look back at Woodhaven in the 1980s this Monday, April 17th at 7 p.m. at Neir’s Tavern (87-48 78th Street).

I was born in the 60s and grew up and went to school in the 70s. But it’s the Woodhaven of the 1980s that has my heart.

It was the 80s that shaped the rest of my life growing up here in Woodhaven. I graduated high school, had my first job, went to college, met a girl, the Mets won the World Series, I married that girl, I finished college and started a career – all within the 1980s.

As a result, the 1980s is my favorite period of time to look back on and it’s why I’m really looking forward to giving a slideshow presentation on behalf of the Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society this Monday, April 17th at 7 p.m. at Neir’s Tavern (87-48 78th Street).

The slideshow is chock full of pictures of Woodhaven from the 1980s and that always produces a different reaction from people compared to, for instance, pictures from the 1930s and 40s.

With the pictures from that older era, very few of our members were around at that time in Woodhaven’s history. So while seeing the really old pictures are really nice, it’s more of a “Wow, so that’s what Woodhaven was like, my how’s it’s changed” kind of reaction.

But nearly everyone who attends our presentations lived here in Woodhaven during the 1980s. As a result, many of the pictures from that decade provoke “Wow, I remember that” and “Oh my God, I’d forgotten that” reactions.

And in some cases, especially crowd scenes at the Street Fairs, people will see some familiar faces and perhaps even their own, much younger, face. It truly is a walk down Woodhaven’s Memory Lane.

My first part-time job was at Phil’s Cheese and Cold Cuts, next to Jason’s Toys between 90th and 91st Street on Jamaica Avenue. I was just 13 when I started, making 2 dollars an hour off the books. I sliced cold cuts, took inventory, worked the cash register, and learned how to make salads.

But mostly, I remember us having a grand time, laughing and joking all day long, with my co-workers and with the hundreds of customers that were regulars in Phil’s. I can close my eyes and picture everything and hear everyone’s voices inside my head.

Eljay Drugs will be a familiar sight for anyone who lived in Woodhaven during the 1980s. Eljay was located in the space formerly occupied for decades by the Leader Observer. The paper’s name can be seen at the top of the building in this picture; it can still be viewed today at the top of 80-30 Jamaica Avenue.

But I wasn’t prepared for the memory overload I received when I saw a picture of Phil’s from the early 1980s. It was taken during Rollback Days and from the looks of the crowded avenue, it was a Saturday, which was a super busy day on the avenue at the time.

And looking closely at that picture, looking closely at Phil’s storefront, I can be pretty sure that I’m in there somewhere, behind the deli counter, wearing an apron and a deli cap, taking someone’s order.

After looking at that picture I started remembering things I hadn’t thought about for years: the wide variety of nuts that Phil had on display in the front window; using Windex and newspaper to clean the glass in the deli case, and wow did it shine!

And those pictures brought back memories of people I hadn’t thought about in years. There was Thelma, an older lady with a sharp tongue who bought 2 packs of Benson and Hedges every day and threw them back at me when they went up to 65 cents a pack. Mr. Backwards, a guy who got his nickname because of the way he’d order – sacaroni malad (instead of macaroni salad), for example. And Yellow Man, who once told me confidentially that he was writing a book about the CIA.

The impact that these pictures have on our memories is remarkable and I look forward to hearing everyone’s memories burst forth next Monday night at Neir’s Tavern.

On a side note, the Woodhaven Business Improvement District is coordinating a Community Cleanup this Saturday, April 15th from 10 to 11:30 a.m. The cleanup starts at 10 a.m. at Dunkin Donuts (92-17 Jamaica Avenue) and all brooms, shovels, etc. will be provided by the Department of Sanitation.

The Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association and Community Board 9 are partners in this cleanup, which should end around 11:30 a.m. at Forest Parkway.
After the cleanup, the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association will be hosting their monthly Town Hall meeting starting at 12 noon at Emanuel United Church of Christ, 91st Avenue and Woodhaven Boulevard. Hope to see everyone at one of these upcoming events!

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