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Saturday, August 23, 2014

Country Delite closes its doors

By Maya Rajamani
Posted
Marisol Díaz/The Riverdale Press
Co-Owner Steve Kleinman stands in what was once the milk processing room at Country Delite on Jan. 17, the day his store closed.

Teresa Maxwell, 88, was hired as a cashier the day Country Delite first opened in April 1970. Since then, she has witnessed the store’s evolution over the years from a milk processing plant that delivered throughout the Bronx and Manhattan to a grocery store with prices rivaling Costco. 

On Jan. 17, Ms. Maxwell was working at the store on the last day before it closed for good.

After over 40 years of operating the family-run business Country Delite owners Steve and Arlene Kleinman have called it quits. 

The couple said the business is a 365-days-a-year obligation that gave them little time for travel or leisure — this past year was the first time in four decades that the store was closed on Christmas and New Year’s Day. 

“My husband worked very hard all his life,” Ms. Kleinman said. “It’s time for him to have a vacation.” 

But the decision to close the store was a difficult one for the Kleinmans, who describe the business as a “family affair.” Many of their employees, like Ms. Maxwell, have worked there for decades. Until Friday, Country Delite employed 20 people. Mr. Kleinman said he is working with his employees to find each of them new jobs.  

“It’s been part of my life for 43 years,” said Ms. Maxwell, who cashiered, stocked shelves and helped with a bit of everything else at the store. 

Ms. Maxwell reminisced about customers’ children who often watched in awe through the walled glass panel separating the store from the processing plant, as machines pasteurized, homogenized and packaged raw milk. 

The Kleinmans purchased the milk from farms in upstate New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. 

The containers traveled along the floor on a track from the processing room to the refrigeration room, where they were packed into delivery trucks. Before the family closed the processing plant in 1990, Country Delite was one of the largest milk vendors in the city, serving hospitals, jails and over 400 schools in the Bronx and Manhattan.  

Children who drank Country Delite’s milk in their cafeterias often took field trips to the plant to see where their milk came from.  

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