STATEN ISLAND, NY — Thanks to readers’ correspondence, our weekly live food broadcast The Dish took place at La Bottiglia at 293 Port Richmond Avenue. Talk of the section near Post Avenue and Castleton Avenue, a few blocks north of enduring Denino’s Pizzeria and Ralph’s Ices, sparked a wave of nostalgia from long-time Staten Islanders.
St. Peter’s Boys HS alum Jack LiGreci recalls hanging out in front of Steckman’s, where he could buy a burger or soda. But the draw for him was the social scene in front of the store with fellow schoolmates and students from nearby Port Richmond HS. That was in the mid-1950s.
SHOPPING THE AVENUE
Other memories of the shopping district from a casual poll of those who reached out — buying a suit for communion in the late 1950s (only to be sullied on the special day by a muddy trip-and-fall at home) and scoring a treasured fancy dress from a shop in the 1960s. I can recall buying shoes from Tirone’s in the 1970s and — flip forward to the 2000s to the present — becoming a regular patron on the drag for its Mexican markets and restaurants.
As far as Tirone’s is concerned, the store closed in 2010 and folded its inventory into uniform store Flynn & O’Hara of Mariners Harbor. The three Tirone brothers ran the family business for 61 years.
Joseph, Salvatore and Louis, all in their 80s at the time, told the Advance reporter, “We decided after 60 years of serving Staten Island with our shoes, it was time to retire. It was just a decision and we all agreed.”
The Advance also noted that through the ’40s until the time the Forest Avenue Shoppers Town and Staten Island Mall was built — at the start of the decline of the area in the late ’60s and early ’70s — there were 12 shoe stores in the area. The paper of record also detailed it was “then a bustling, thriving commercial strip which included stores such as JC Penney’s, Lobel’s, Garber Brothers, and Archie Jacobson to name a few.”
The memories of Port Richmond Avenue 50 years ago are beautiful ones to Joe Tirone, son of the late Joseph and real estate broker/owner of Compass Real Estate, Staten Island.
He said, “My grandfather fought to keep the area vibrant and he felt that the stigmatization of the of the avenue [as crime-ridden] was totally unfair in the ’80s. He felt that it really was a safe place to shop. He worked there every single day and felt that it really was a safe place to shop. What he thought was more dangerous were the malls back then — reports of stolen cars and pocket books.”
Joe likens the area to a scene right out of “It’s A Wonderful Life,” especially at Christmas time. The architecture of stores has changed over the years to eliminate the display windows as shopkeepers use the square footage for more retail space. Also, metal gates now go down over the window — although years ago there were none.
Tirone illustrated how cohesive were the entrepreneurs. He said, “No exaggeration whatsoever — the store owners all knew each other. They had a very close merchant’s association. Everyone knew each other everyone had each other’s back. There was competition among each other—and there was respect.”
The scene was like a modern-day Amazon with variety from which to choose — just from actual physical goods.
“I would save all my shopping for Christmas Eve. So I would start in the morning and at night and go through all the different stores. It was so much fun to look at the storefronts and the lights,” said Tirone. He would be strolling so late in the evening that inventory would be slim pickings.
He said, “The one I wanted was the one in the store window and they used to have these long poles with a clip at the end. They would grab it out of the window and I would feel victorious because I got like the last one! Everybody was in a good mood. All the storefronts lit up — nothing like it in the world.”
Tirone concluded that he believes Port Richmond has a bright future. It’s location by the water and solid infrastructure boast great promise. My grandfather with his thick Italian accent said many times as he grew older, ‘Port Richmond will never die.’”
Pamela Silvestri is Advance Food Editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.