Brooklyn On Line

Brooklyn On Line - Bedford Styuvesant - Memories

BED-STUY GUY REMEMBERS: Brenner's Candy Store

As soon as I was old enough to cross a street by myself, I became 
acquainted with Brenner's Candy Store, which stood at the corner of Nostrand 
Avenue & Sterling Place. In 1936 at age 7, I only had to cross Sterling, a 
street with relatively light vehicle traffic and no trolley lines, to reach 
Brenners from my home on St. Johns Place. My earliest memory of this journey 
is go there for my Father, who was not a well person. I went to Brenners for 
Bugler's Tobacco. Remember its W.W.I Doughboy Bugler on the blue paper 
package cover, and the Zig Zag, with the Frenchman and his long tri colored 
stocking cap on its packing, papers. My Father would always give me a dime. 
That was 5 cents for the tobacco, 3 cents for the cigarette papers and two 
cents for me to spend on my favorite penny candy from Brenner's glass candy 
display case.

Attending First Grade at PS 138 in 1936, I would come home for lunch. 
Going back for the afternoon classes, my Nanny would give my sister and 
myself a penny each for an after meal candy treat at Brenners. The penny 
candy glass display case had an allure for us out of all proportion to its 
relative size and plainness.

No matter the time of day, Mr. Brenner always seemed to be in the store. 
As the years went by, and since we spent so much time at Brenners, he got to 
know us by name. As I grew older, I felt an affection growing between us that 
transcended a retail store owner-juvenille customer relationship. It was 
	evident to me, even as a child, that he cared for us. He would ask about our 
families, our grades in school, our social and athletic activities. Later, 
for certain customers he would allow them to run up a small tab.

     We grew from children into teenagers and then young adults and Mr. 
Brenner was always there. A real constant and comfort in a time that changed 
rapidly from a deep 
1930s depression to W.W.II, the postwar boom years, the Korean War, when many 
of the BED-STUY GUYS were drafted or volunteered for the military and finally 
into the
Eisenhower Administration Era.

     Meet me (you) at Brenners. Only guys hung out in Brenners. Not that the 
neighborhood girls wouldn't come into Brenners to shop. But the would leave 
almost immediately after their purchase. They were not encouraged to stay by 
the guys.
Brenners became our hangout, our club room, our home away from home, our 
refuge, a place that we could be ourselves without adult (parental) 
supervision/direction. We would call from the pay phones. Home phones at that 
time were few and far between. We would play pinball, buy a few punches from 
his counter punchboard, always hoping to get a lucky winner. We would drink 
icy cold Frank (six flavors) full sugar Sodas or have a frozen Milky Way bar. 
We would look through the comic book racks, when older buy penny cigarettes, 
arranged with other guys for a stickball or punchball game or maybe pitch 
some pennies against the brickwall that provided the outer streetside 
(Sterling Place) wall for Brenners.

    The Brenners lived over the store. As his children grew older the would 
help in the store. His wife, who we all called affectionately Mother Brenner, 
was a soft touch for the kids. It was a special treat when a child with a 
penny or more happened to come into the store when Mother Brenner was on 
duty. She was known to be heavy handed and would always give us more in penny 
candy than our coins would purchase if Mr. Brenner or his kids were 
disbursing the candy. Mrs. Brenner was always Mother to us kids while he was 
always Mr. Brenner.

     I still remember with pleasure coming into Brenners' on a summer day 
from sun heated concrete sidewalks, with an its almost blinding glare, and 
into Brenners' shaded interior. The old wooden plank floor creaked as I 
turned to my left to get a bottle of ice cold Frank's Orange (one of six 
flavors this company produced) from the fire engine red soft drink container. 
Plunging your hand into its icy depths, to pull out your soda, was akin to 
putting your flesh into a fire. Automatically, you brought the lip of the 
bottle to the attached bottle cap opener and snapped it off. Naturally, you 
checked the cap reservoir and removed all within. Through our preteen years, 
bottle cap gaming was a big sport for the GUYS. Turning to the right, with 
the bottle in your left hand, you came upon Brenners' comic book, newspaper 
and magazines rack. Mr.
Brenner had a posted policy that these items were for purchase and for 
in-store reading, but it was not usually enforced. I remember my monthly 
excitement when the issue of Famous Funnies Comics hit his stand. I would 
look at the pen pal page and copy the names and addresses of girls, who 
advertised for male pen pals, that appealed to me. The pin ball machine was 
next in line to the magazine rack. The machine did not give monetary, against 
New York City law, prizes. However, if you reached a certain level, Mr. 
Brenner would provide merchandise prizes.

     There was very little room between the pin ball machine and the public 
telephone booths. If you were a heavy type you would have problems in both 
angling your body into an acceptable pin ball shooting position and in making 
a telephone calls. The two public telephone booth, 5 cents a local call then, 
were heavily used. As you slid into the seat of the booth, you could smell 
the sweat, stale air, smoke (no prohibition on smoking back then) and perhaps 
the perfume of a previous female caller. To close the accordion glass door 
one had to really jockey it a bit and then you were in the seat with the door 
closed and feeling akin to being like a sardine in an unopened tin. The store 
space after the telephone booths, reaching the extent of his store, was used 
for bottle and other storage purposes.

     From 1936 to 1954, Brenners' was my candy store. Of course we had the 
neighborhood Plumps, appropriately named, with its imitation marble counter 
and its imitation red leather rotating stools and its highly polished wooden 
rear booths for ice cream sodas, sandwiches, pastries, coffee, all favors of 
mixed cokes (my favorite were Cherry and Vanilla Cokes) and malts. Plumps had 
in its booth juke box selectors with six record plays for a quarter and it 
was the place that you would take your date too.

     Brenners' was the place to go if you wanted a frozen Milky Way, Good 
Humor or Popsicle. He had a small chest freezer next to the fire engine red 
soda box. You had to push your hand down, into the chest freezer, past the 
dry ice to ascertain what the freezer contained. Frozen Milky Ways were very 
popular and not often available.

     Seasons of our lives came and went and Brenners' two plate glass display 
windows, fronting on Nostrand Avenue, were decorated for the season. Brenner, 
always attentive to our needs, insured that he had ample stock on hand to 
meet our athletic, social, academic and media needs. Marbles in the spring, 
hockey pucks, for roller hockey, in the fall, Pink Spaldeens, through most of 
the year, for our stick ball games, skate keys, Yo Yo's, inner tube patch 
kits, sparklers for the 4th of July, hardback best sellers for three cents a 
day rental, cheap pens and pencils, limited school supplies, a few greeting 
cards- you name it and Brenner's probably had it. He opened at around 0530 in 
the morning and closed at midnight. Many times, I came home from a Saturday 
Night date and walking from the Eastern Parkway Subway around midnight, I 
could see the welcoming light of Brenners' beckoning me on an otherwise dark 
and shuttered Nostrand Avenue.

     The Korean War brought up the BED-STUY GUYS as we entered the military. 
I went overseas to Germany for almost four years and returned in April 1954 
with a German wife. Before going to an assignment in Montana, my wife and I 
stayed with my Mother at our tenement apartment at 865 St. Johns Place. I had 
already noticed how narrow, constricted and tired-looking our neighborhood 
appeared after my absence of almost four years. In reality I had become an 
adult, I had lived and traveled through most of Europe, and I now saw my 
neighborhood through these eyes. I went down to Brenners' , alone, and as I 
walked into the store, I noticed how small it was. It looked seedy like the 
rest of my neighborhood. Mr. Brenner had aged considerably since the last 
time I had seen him and he didn't remember me. Mr. Brenner, I said, "Don't 
you remember me?" He had gotten old, his wrinkled skin was the brown color of 
his creaking and equally aged floor. I looked at Mr. Brenner through the eyes 
of adult but with the inner person of a young boy--he saw me as an unfamiliar 
male adult. "Its George, George Nichols, Mr. Brenner," I said. Then I saw the 
wheels of memory spinning and BINGO he remembered me. We chatted for a few 
minutes about the old days and I brought him up to date about my life since I 
had last seen him. He told me that I had made a very, very smart move in 
marrying a German Woman as they (he was right) made the best wives. He did 
wax nostalgic about The Good Old Years and I could sense in his words that 
the changing racial mix of the neighborhood was not to his liking. It just 
wasn't the same to me. Everything looked rundown and dingy. I noticed he had 
a new barred door and there were iron bars covering his display windows. I 
left the store a bit depressed. My time with Brenner had passed. What I had 
with Brenner was then and there it stayed and I was living in the now. My 
memories of our relationship were both special to me and of a special time. 
Although, I returned to visit my Mother, going and coming from overseas 
assignments, I never again returned to visit Brenners.

I would love hearing from any reader of this article concerning the candy 
stores of our Brooklyn Youth.

George Nichols, age 71
21 July 2000
Arizona Traditions
Surprise, AZ 85374
FAX: 1-623-214-3270