© Copyright 1988, 1996
by Brian Alpert;
All rights reserved.

The Store
My Dad's Life's Work (or, "You Too Can Reiterate For Fifty Years, For Fun And Profit!")


here are times when I think about the "Old Store"; the Super Garden Deli when it was the Super Garden Market, on the corner of Fairfax Drive and Stuart St. in a blue-collar neighborhood about ten years past its post-war prime. Ballston is now a trendy, volatile area, undergoing the renaissance bestowed upon it by the construction of the Washington D.C. Metro. But in 1965 things were hot and slow; the name "Ballston" found only in Court House records. Eight years old, I vividly remember standing on the corner, peering through the thick glass and heavy wire screen of the green wooden doors, through the stickers advertising KOOL cigarettes, imagining the plastic toy models in stock on the shelves inside, listening to my newly remarried Mother explain: "This is it. This is 'The Store.' "

That is how it has always been referred to, an icon in our family language. This microscopic institution has, for the past 47 years fed, clothed and housed the Thalers, the Alperts, and now the Russells; propelling these families into Middle Class Luxury. No more complex term is necessary. It was, it is today, "The Store."

In 1965 Super Garden Market had baskets of produce out front, a single cash register behind a wooden hand painted counter (painted the same dark green as the rest of the store), a dingy, well trod linoleum floor, frost-laden cooling cases purchased second hand from similar, less successful enterprises. There was general merchandise stacked high up to the ceiling, and a meat department run by a likable, mostly dependable butcher, who carved USDA Prime ribs from the flanks of raw beef that hung in the walk-in. There was—as advertised by my new Stepfather—a real toy department, with models and glue.

Twice a week The Store delivered food to the elderly who could pay, and the rich who could pay more. These certain families would run up large tabs, to my stepfather's great consternation. He complained as vehemently as I ever saw, knowing, acknowledging that he would eventually get his, and continue to "reiterate" their bills as he saw fit.

Super Garden Market would have long since passed quietly from ranks of Arlington's small businesses, but for the tenacity and shrewdness of my Stepfather, Aaron Thaler. He was proud of The Store and would promote it to anyone who would listen. It was, His Life's Work. I participated in His Life's Work. In fact, I imposed myself on it. Aaron was always nice enough to let us know that if we wanted to work summers in the store, we could. It was a family business.

In 1970 I needed a minibike. In that pre-skateboard era, life without a minibike was hardly living at all. My parents offered to split the cost with me, if I worked to raise the rest. (Today, I see this as an unbelievably generous offer.) I announced, with pomp and grandeur, that I would do the work, earn the necessary $110 dollars, and acquire my prize the old-fashioned way. Sort of.

I have a few memories from that summer. They stand out because for the most part, working at The Store as pure hot, dirty drudgery. But there are images that survive. Behind the combined meat department/deli, through a dark, narrow hall lined with clean and dirty aprons, and boxes of broken merchandise (to be returned for credit) was the stockroom-a maze-like brown room, items on shelves and corridors of boxes, always over 100 degrees, bags of brown bags piled high; sitting on the bags having lunch (the best part of the day - I had the run of the deli, and ate more Esskay® half-smokes than any kid in one summer in history), not believing the day was only half through, actually crawling back behind the mountain of bags, between them and the large compressor, dozing with its' pump and hiss, savoring the last ten minutes of lunch (the best part of the day). Using the stockroom door to the outside back parking lot, heading out with bags of trash to the dumpster emblazoned, unbelievably, "C.A. Crack." Stocking shelves, piling cans of soup way too high, assuming they would maintain eternal balance, stocking Coke and Pepsi in returnable bottles, and Yoohoo Chocolate Drink, my hands freezing solid while the rest of me sweated. Pouring deep purple ink into the pads of the pricers (the old-fashioned ones that went *kerchunk*, leaving a blurred price/smudge on the cans); making up styrofoam cups of ice, pricing them in the psychedelic fashion of the day, and failing to get why this just wouldn't do. I remember getting caught and scolded by Aaron for sitting down, resting my aching, asphalt-flat feet. It was my first exposure to this concept - that when on the job, one must never sit down, even on a break, or even for a sturdy, explainable reason.

Like all summers, that summer ended, but not until I had graduated to the cash register and learned the fine art of packing groceries. In spite of my eccentric (and no doubt exasperating) ways, I was an accepted fixture,and perhaps could even be depended on to do what I was supposed to. I got my minibike, and even began to suspect that however unpleasant, this work stuff did have some benefits.

My beloved Rupp minibike featured a 3.5 horsepower engine
and shock absorbers all around.


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