West 231st Street and Godwin Terrace received a new name on Sept. 28 — at least ceremonially — when a new sign declaring the corner “Loeser’s Deli Place” was unveiled.
Loeser’s Kosher Deli, owned and operated by Fredy Loeser, has been a fixture of the Kingsbridge street for 60 years. Fredy’s daughter, Pam Loeser-Halpern, has been campaigning for the name change for the last of those.
“It was amazing, it really was,” Halpern said. “It’s been a long ride. I’ve had so many kind people I’ve met along the way. Every time it didn’t look like it was going to pan out, I always had someone come over to me and say to me, ‘You know what? Just keep pushing. It’s going to happen. Fredy deserves it.’”
It was a local merchant’s meeting a decade ago where Halpern began her efforts to memorialize the deli in celebration of its half-century of existence. The suggestion she received from other merchants at the time? “Just keep it open.”
That wasn’t enough for Halpern, and she eventually settled on an engraved brick on the edge of a nearby tree well commemorating the milestone anniversary.
Over time, though, the brick got dirty. And without a protective barrier around it, people were walking on it, Halpern said, wearing it away.
So with the deli’s 60th anniversary looming, Halpern decided she wanted to go big. She started a petition on the site Change.org, and was shocked at the outpouring of support from the community where her father’s deli has been a cornerstone.
“My dad was Dear Abby to them,” Halpern said of customers and just about anybody who would happen by just off Broadway. “Any time there was something bothering them, they’d sit and talk to dad about it over a pickle.”
Even outside of Kingsbridge, Fredy was enmeshed in his community, bringing water and food as close as he could to Ground Zero in the days following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
While the city is known for ceremonially naming streets after people who have passed away, bestowing such an honor to a business was not very common — and an idea Community Board 8 bounced around for a few months. In the end, CB8 didn’t give its blessing, but that didn’t stop Councilman Andrew Cohen, who could act on his own to introduce the idea to his colleagues, winning their approval earlier this year.
“People are very concerned about the vitality and strength of our commercial corridors,” Cohen said. “There are vacancies, it’s a tough retail environment we face. It’s gratitude for the people who come every day, open their gates, and provide services to the community.”
The deli’s longevity is important, even outside the Loeser family, Halpern said.
“It’s a very special, very different situation,” she said. “It’s a family-run mom and pop that’s lasted, that’s withheld time. Time is a difficult thing to withstand.”
Fredy’s four children and 12 grandchildren gathered with Cohen, Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, and a small crowd of friends and customers to witness the sign unveiling, and to hear a proclamation from Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz Jr., who declared that day “Loeser’s Deli Day.”
Afterward, they chowed down on $1 hot dogs with pastrami, and chatted inside the deli filled with old photos and newspaper clippings about anniversaries past.
Fredy and his father opened the deli using his bar mitzvah money in 1959.
“They went to the grocery to get everything necessary to open this store,” said Fredy’s brother, Mel. “The two of them worked through the night so they could open it. And to their surprise, it was a hit. An immediate hit. Sold everything out in less than a day. And that’s how it started.”
Even after their father left, Fredy stayed, Mel said. “He had many opportunities to leave. Many. And he never did. He stayed with the community and decided that this was his place.”
Each of Fredy’s children and many of his grandchildren have pitched in at the deli over the years. Halpern’s son, Jesse, runs the eatery’s social media pages, and the 11 other grandchildren all help out where they can.
Even Halpern and her sister, Lisa Loeser Weiss, still stop in to work from time to time.
“We’re a family-run and operated situation,” Halpern said. “We all pitch in. This is a huge honor for dad.”
Those are contributions that have made a father — and grandfather — proud.
“My whole family worked for it,” Fredy said. “It’s a family business. They want to take it over.”
There is hope that the deli will be here for many years to come. But even if it isn’t, Halpern is happy to see its legacy will be felt with the street renaming.
“We’re really glad that it came to fruition,” Halpern said “Knowing that someday when my youngest daughter gets married and has children, even if the deli isn’t there, they can go see the sign. It’s everything to me.”