"Swanson's Cafe" and "Drink Coca-Cola" appear on opposite sides of the same building in Mount Vernon, just north of the Wakefield section of the Bronx. The Swanson's sign is visible when you're headed south, toward the city, so it's likely that this long-gone cafe was located in the Bronx, or perhaps in nearby Yonkers. Though this particular Coca-Cola sign is visible only when you're headed north, toward Westchester County, the slogan is at home just about anywhere.
Founded in 1861 as a Boston candy company, Schrafft's was transformed in the 1900s into a chain of casual yet genteel restaurants, many of them in the greater New York City area. According to Jeri Quinzio in Savoring Gotham, Schrafft's "specialized in such homey dishes as egg salad sandwiches with the crusts cut off, cheese bread, and chicken à la king, along with indulgences like butterscotch sundaes. Most shops included a candy counter and a soda fountain as well as table service. Some boasted a bar."
This location, which may have opened with the building in 1925 and had closed by the late 1970s, sported a men's grill. A clubby preserve found in many midcentury restaurants and hotels, the men's grill maintained a strict door policy at some establishments. At others, including Schrafft's, a woman could cross the threshold provided that she was escorted by a man.
Read how E.B. White, channeling Hemingway, imagined lunch for two at another Schrafft's, in 1950. ("This is my last and best and true and only meal, thought Mr. Pirnie as he descended at noon and swung east on the beat-up sidewalk of Forty-fifth Street. ...")
Schrafft's Surviving signage, 1 Smith St. (Fulton-Livingston Sts.), Downtown Brooklyn
From across the way, this sign is totally hidden by the awning of Hello Deli; it's visible only from up close. Perhaps this older showbiz-themed business premiered sometime in the 1960s. Exactly when, and just how long a run it had before the lights went dark, is unclear.
Hay and feed would have been intended for working animals and livestock, a century or more ago; flour, for their owners; and grain perhaps for both man and beast. The current business at this location also sells grain for human consumption, though only in the form of potent potables.
That business — yes, the liquor store — moved to its current mid-block location several years ago. Its old digs, now the site of a deli, still display faded signage (shown below) for a grocer that also may be of century-old vintage. The word at the bottom, partly obscured by the awning, might be "feed"; at the top, partially cut away by a punched-through window, could be the word "hostler" — a stableman.
Flour, hay, grain & feed Surviving signage, 303 West 128th St. (Frederick Douglass Blvd.-St. Nicholas Ave.), Manhattan
The Pepsi privilege sign is a holdover from an older business. How old? The hand-lettered name Towne Deli (that is, "Towne" with an "e") concludes with a period — a bygone flourish that must have been in fashion within the memory of the owner, or perhaps the sign painter. The newer, more naively hand-lettered sign (for "Town" without the "e") also has a flourish of its own: The two small Chinese characters at the far right, "cheng he," mean "honest."
Town Gift & Grocery 607 Frank E. Rodgers Blvd. North (Scott-Mobus Pl.-Davis St.), Harrison, New Jersey
The German surname "Herbig's" is a tentative reading of this well-weathered painted sign. Beginning in the mid-1800s many German immigrants began making their new homes in Hudson County, New Jersey. Indeed, in Union Hill, a town later absorbed into Union City, German became the language for keeping the minutes of town meetings.
The market's former stock in trade is a little easier to make out (especially once you click on the photo for a closer look). Framing the shop's name are the words "meat," "fish," "vegetables," and "groceries." The word in the center is illegible to me, however, as is most of the last line. All that I can make out is the first word, "oyster."
Herbig's Market Surviving signage, 1812 New York Ave. (18th-19th Sts.), Union City, New Jersey
Disregard, for the time being, the name "deli," which nowadays has been adopted by proprietors of many persuasions. These two South Asian storefronts are unusual because of awnings that illustrate, if indirectly, a category of desired customers.
Doaba Deli and Little Gujrat Deli face each other across one of the northernmost blocks of southward-bound Columbus Ave., not far from a West Harlem commercial garage. Many taxis pass this way. The images of yellow cabs are implicit assurances of fast and familiar food; so is Doaba Deli's checkered trim, though that detail may lost on current cabbies. It's more likely that they'd take note of the business name, which employs a less common spelling of "dhaba."
Of course, to attract taxi drivers, the most convincing yellow cabs are actual cabs — here reflected in the window of Doaba Deli and stationed in front of Little Gujrat. Parked (and double-parked) taxis attract a certain class of pedestrian customers, too.
Taxi-driver pit stops Doaba Deli 945 Columbus Ave. (106th-107th Sts.), Manhattan 212-222-2636 Little Gujrat Deli 946 Columbus Ave. (106th-107th Sts.), Manhattan 212-866-2937