By John Jay Schwartz
The foundations of my life started at a very early age. For me, it was living from age 3-12 years at my Dad’s (Of Blessed Memory) neighborhood grocery store, “Manny’s Market” at 1301 North 27th Street at S Street in Church Hill.
Although we were surrounded by other small businesses owners on the corners in that area, my family was maybe the only one of the few that lived at the family business.
Being Jewish and white, all my neighbors, Dad’s customers and my best friends were Black. I frankly never noticed a difference and live by that today.
We just never had a label for our friendships other than friends and neighbors. Some of those friends over 6 decades ago are still today my friends for life.
My best friend was my 4-legged friend “Rinny” my first dog.
Though I do not ever remember asking my parents or getting an answer, I suspect as a curious little guy I did ask, “why do my neighbors (black) friends not go to the same school, as me”?
I went to Helen Dickerson Elementary on 21st Street just north of Fairmount Avenue.
Consider this, I would walk home from my elementary school to my home at “Manny’s Market,” a 10-block stroll. Can you imagine, I was 6-11 years old walking home alone! Amazing memories walking by porch sitters waving and customers saying, “there goes Manny’s son.” With those eyes on me my safety was never in doubt!
Playing strike out against the wall of my house and stick ball on S Street, was a fun time as many young and old would join us. It was really a neighborhood event and my mom would bring out refreshments.
Our big backyard was the area playground for those who remember outdoor games. Everyone was invited so it became a gathering place for all ages.
Visits to the fire station and the training fire tower at 28th & S Street was always a treat. Some of my neighbors grew up to be Richmond’s finest fire people today.
The funeral home at 27th and R Streets was a very interesting learning experience for a boy my age. I would deliver food supplies in my wagon for families and services. I learned a lot from the family that owned the Funeral Home.
Music was Constant
Music was the most constant in this neighborhood, all day and many nights. My next-door neighbors’ son was in a group that recorded songs and appeared on TV; how cool was that. I learned “soul music” before it had that name. WANT-AM was my favorite radio station.
I also would take my dog for a Sunday walk to the field across from the church at 25th and S Street. With no air conditioning, the windows were wide open. I gained a lifetime appreciation for gospel music.
I even asked my Rabbi about music and prayer. He was funny, saying we all learn to pray with music in our heads. I never forgot those sounds of my youth. My praying today is filled with all sorts of music from those early memories.
My Dad closed the store when he realized he could not support the demands of our growing family. The larger grocery stores were beginning to do more to attract our best neighborhood customers.
He left to start another career at Thalhimer’s Department Store. He worked there until he died.
My only regret is I do not know where all those great neighbors and friends are today! A reunion on the 27th & S “corner” would be outstanding!
When my friend Steve Markel told me about his 25th Street Market plan, he asked if I had any “Manny’s Market” memorabilia. I did not but it inspired me to try to recreate it artistically. I called on renowned Richmond artist and friend Eliza Askin to help recreate the image and likeness of “Manny’s Market.”
With my sister Susan’s help our memories resulted in the drawing that today is at the 25th Street Market in the community room.
We then moved to the West of the Boulevard area. This Museum area opened my learning and education about many more things as we were very close to Benedictine and St. Gertrude’s where many of my new friends and neighbors attended.
I attended Richmond public schools – Mary Munford Elementary, Albert H. Hill Jr. High School and Thomas Jefferson High School.
I did not stay away from Church Hill too long. I returned 2 years later for my first job at Siegel’s Super Markets at 23rd and Jefferson Avenue. I worked there part-time all the way through my college years at Virginia Commonwealth University.
My VCU world as the “1st RAM Voice” and VCU “1st Ultimate RAM” is a story for another day.
Again, my life’s people education continued. Two lifetime friends, Vernon and Ron, come from those years. We all worked together because we all needed to help at home in so many ways. We are still friends today.
In today’s world, those lifetime memories and experiences and friendships have helped shape who I am.
I cannot thank all those who gave me time and paid attention to my growing up with wonderful memories. We are all part of the bigger world today.
I am blessed with so many friends who all help to improve the world for us all.
That is my “Story”, and I am sticking to it! What is yours?
John Jay Schwartz