Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Two Generations Recall Barton’s Bonbonniere in Rego Park

Barton's Bonbonniere during the Blizzard of 1969

Barton's Bonbonniere's Art Deco interior circa late 1960s
By Michael Perlman

Decades ago, Rego Park was known for its Art Deco and Mid-Century Modern mom and pop shops with attractive window displays. Among them was a branch of Barton’s Bonbonniere at 97-19 Queens Boulevard, which opened around 1958, offered a mom and pop ambiance, and was part of a chain that carved a market for quality kosher gourmet chocolates.

Stephen Klein, a Jewish chocolatier, immigrated from Austria in 1938, and founded the Barton’s Candy Corporation with the help of his brothers and partners, drawing from his family’s experience. In a 1952 issue of Commentary magazine, Klein said the goal was “to make each piece of candy attractive. You should keep wanting to eat more and not get tired.” 

Cy Glickman & his son Bobby circa 1964
Between 1962 and 1970, Cy Glickman was one of the owners of the Rego Park shop, which operated into the late 1980s. When Cy and his wife Gail moved from Forest Hills in 1962, they leased an apartment at Walden Terrace in Rego Park and purchased the store. Their son Bobby Glickman was born that same year, and worked at the shop when he was four years old, acquiring a first-hand experience in customer service, inventory, and operating the register. The salary was originally one dollar per hour. “It was a family affair with my dad’s mom, his sister, and my mom, as well as a few employees,” said Bobby.

However, Barton’s history in Rego Park dates as far back as 1950, when it was located a block west at 97-01 Queens Boulevard. Two other branches in operation were adjacent to the Forest Hills Theatre on Continental Avenue and on Queens Boulevard and Union Turnpike in Kew Gardens. Cy explained, “The chocolate was from Switzerland and was top grade. Barton’s had two factories on DeKalb Avenue in Brooklyn.”

Patrons were welcomed to Cy’s shop by a sleek Art Deco and Mid-Century Modern storefront with a steel neon sign, and a large candy cane door handle, which was a popular feature for Barton’s storefronts. Facade panels were designed to resemble candy. The aesthetics carried into the interior, offering creatively decorated displays, terrazzo floors, and colorful illustrated wall art. Bobby said, “This was a place to buy special treats for special occasions. The store was fancy, and dad improved it with shelving, mirrors, and polish.”

Bobby referred to his father as young and enthusiastic, opening the shop at 8 AM and closing at 10 PM. Cy reminisced, “The public went out each night to stroll, and in the early 1960s, evening business was brisk. For an evening social visit, customers would pick up a box of candy at $1.98 for a pound of chocolate, plus 6 cents sales tax.”

Patrons’ favorites included Almond Bark Bar in dark chocolate, milk chocolate, and white chocolate, as well as solid chocolate in small blocks, Almond Kisses, and mint chocolate buttons, to name a few. A popular slogan remains “The best kiss you ever had.” “I often shipped candy boxes upstate to neighborhood kids at camp, or even to soldiers in Korea, Japan, and Germany,” said Cy. In addition, Barton’s sold collectibles such as menorahs, goblets, decorative plates, and dolls.

Barton’s even produced their own ice cream, which was available in pints for 65 cents and as sandwiches for 15 cents. “The fanciest candy in the store was the marzipan from Switzerland, which was shaped like fruits and other foods, and sold at $3.98 per pound. It was strictly for the older folks,” said Cy.

“It wasn't a drugstore, but a place where the product was pure heaven, like selling Coca-Cola,” said Bobby, who recalled his favorite job as cleaning the abundant glass with Windex, and winding the outside awning to shade the chocolate in the afternoon, when sunshine was at its peak. Barton’s allowed Cy to meet everyone from patrons to shop owners and operators. He said, “We shared the task of snow removal and had coffee, when the neighborhood was bustling and peaceful.”

Bobby said, “I liked the unlimited handfuls of chocolate that you could grab from behind the counter. The chocolates tasted and smelled like nothing you can imagine. My dad was a sweetheart to all, and that is why everyone in the family wanted to work for him. Walking around the neighborhood where everyone knew and liked your dad was a warmhearted feeling for a kid. It was a good time.”

Changes in demographics and personal preferences later transpired. Cy explained, “Barton’s broke the franchising contract by marketing their candy at Alexander’s, and changing styles spelled the end of high-end chocolates in a new immigrant community.”

After the Glickman family sold Barton’s, it changed ownership before turning into a food shop, followed by Blimpie and most recently Ariel’s Cafe. While Barton’s no longer operates independent shops, their products are sold countrywide and even on Amazon. 

Barton's collectible tin cans, Photo by Michael Perlman

Barton’s whimsical and colorful tin cans feature geometrical patterns, hearts, birds, and flowers, and are now regarded as collectibles. Among them is perhaps the most memorable design which features a cartoon-like illustration that captures street life, which Bobby retained in his collection among Barton’s Judaica and vintage photos of the Rego Park shop and the neighborhood. Cy left the store with a giant roll of wrapping paper, which wrapped gifts for decades. Today, he enjoys his retirement in Florida by spending quality time with Gail and playing pickleball.

A similar version of this feature was published in Michael Perlman's Forest Hills Times column:

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Legendary Rock Photographer Neal Preston Returns To Forest Hills After Releasing New Book

Neal Preston & Cameron Crowe at book launch at Rizzoli, Photo by Michael Perlman
Neal Preston poses outside Forest Hills High School, Photo by Michael Perlman

By Michael Perlman

 Led Zeppelin, Queen, Billy Joel, Michael Jackson, and The Who at Forest Hills Stadium… That is a minute fraction of subjects that Neal Preston, a Forest Hills native considered the “greatest rock photographer alive today,” has captured throughout his over four-decade career. Last week, he flew in from Los Angeles for his talk and signing of his new book, “Neal Preston: Exhilarated and Exhausted” at Manhattan’s Rizzoli Bookstore.  

During his 3 days in town, Preston also led this columnist on a tour of his old stomping grounds. In a spin, he became the subject of photos in front of sites that were close to his childhood and teen years, where some were steppingstones en route to his career. In his 1970 Forest Hills High School yearbook, “Forester,” he writes under his headshot “Professional Photography.” He moved out west the following year, and the rest was history. 

At Rizzoli was his best friend, Oscar winner Cameron Crowe, who he met long ago at a rock concert, and would later write his foreword. Crowe interviewed him about his memories, talents, and was an ideal fit for an up close and personal experience.   

“Flipping through the book last night was like listening to a lot of great music,” said Crowe. He then asked, “In a world where all of these bands are now splintering and some people say rock is the new jazz, I’d like to know while great music is still out there,  why is it that some of these photos have lasted longer than the actual bands?” While Preston said “there was no easy answer,” he responded, “If any photographer thinks that you shot a picture at 8:00 and at 8:02 you look at it and think that’s iconic, I guarantee that you’re wrong, since you need the benefit of hindsight to know that it’s iconic.” He also acknowledged “timing” and “all kinds of people who let me do what I do the way I do it.”

“I wanted the book to be about how it is when you have a job like I have,” Preston said. A few days earlier, someone asked him, “Is it as crazy on a Zeppelin tour as we all heard?” and he responded, “If you’re using ‘crazy’ as a metaphor for sex and drugs, I will tell you it’s crazier on a REO Speedwagon tour,” which generated a chuckle from attendees.

Writing a book can usher in surprises. He said, “I thought writing the book would be the hard part and the picture selection would be the easiest, but had a complete 100 percent turnaround.” Nevertheless, he ensured his readers that his book relates to his “snarky sense of humor, but it’s all honest.” “It’s a trip through my brain,” Preston said. He also revealed that he has enjoyed photographing some musicians more, such as Pete Townshend and John Lennon, his idols.

This 336-page hard cover book largely consists of personal stories and single and double page captioned photos from concerts and behind-the-scenes.  He writes, “Shooting live music is something few photographers do really well. I just discovered one day I was good at this because it felt natural to me. You can’t teach it, you can’t learn it, you just do it.” He explained his recipe as “One part photography, one part love of music, one part a love of theatre and theatrical lighting, one part hero worship, one part timing and 95 parts instinct.”

It also features stills relating to music videos such as Rod Stewart preparing for and filming “If We Fall In Love Tonight” and R.E.M. filming “E-Bow The Letter” in 1996. The Jackson Five in 1974 and Bruce Springsteen in 1994 are among the photos where Preston references recording studios as a “strange fascination” and musicians in that setting as “rare jewels.” Readers can even view his Kodak negatives of Bob Dylan with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ rehearsals in 1986.

As for his goals, he said, “At some point next year, we will be releasing a special edition of ‘Exhilarated and Exhausted’ that will be limited to - at most - 100 copies. No other photographer has ever released anything like what I’m planning to do. And no, it’s not going to contain a print in it. That’s been done too many times.” Beyond that, he envisions more shooting, exhibitions, and projects with Cameron. “I’d like to write a lot more,” he added.

Michael Perlman with a signed copy of Neal Preston's new book outside the Midway Theatre
In front of the Midway Theatre, he called his visit to his hometown “surreal.” He remembered a candy store (now CVS) adjacent to Sterling National Bank. “When I was a teen, I worked there putting the Sunday New York Times together. I would take all of the money that I made, go to the T-Bone, and get a cheeseburger.”

Forest Hills Photo Center was once located on the west side of Continental Avenue. “That was a real camera store. I used to stand in front of the window and stare at the cameras; none of which I could afford.” When he was 14, he recalled, “The German couple that owned it got so sick of me, they thought we might as well hire him.” Around age 12, his brother-in-law gave him his first camera, an Ansco Speedex 4.5, but later on, he was finally able to afford his first pro camera, a Leica M3.

Addie Vallins was a soda and burger shop on the opposite side. “They had the best milkshakes in the world,” he said. Pointing to the former Continental Theatre on Austin Street, he reminisced, “That was where ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ opened, and I must have seen it 17 times in the summer of 1964. I hid under the seats until the next showing.” At 71-20 Austin Street was Revelation, the first hip clothing store. “Me and my buddies would hang out and buy our bell bottom jeans.”

Where Neal Preston met Gary Kurfirst at 71-11 Austin Street
Among the most important spots was at 71-11 Austin Street. “We thought that it was the ticket office for the local concert series, the Singer Bowl, and we took prints up to try to get free tickets. “ He met Gary Kurfirst, a music promoter, sitting on the second story fire escape, and it proved to be a step forward for his career.  At 108-42 Queens Boulevard was Forest Hills Music Shop. “This is where I would look through every British Invasion record, which came out on Tuesdays.”

Neal Preston in front of his childhood home at The Fairfax, Photos by Michael Perlman

During the tour, he also posed in front of his second story window of The Fairfax at 110-15 71st Road. On the corner, a mailbox also made him reminisce. “I used to sit on this mailbox with my little Panasonic transistor radio and listen to ‘The Good Guys’ on WMCA. I remember hearing ‘We Could Work It Out’ by The Beatles.”

Last stop was Forest Hills High School, where he reminisced being a member of Play Pro, a theatrical club. “We had keys to every room backstage. It was great! By the time I was a junior and senior, I was already working in the business.”
He also recalled helping The Knickerbockers, a rock band carrying road cases into the school, prior to a concert that evening. “It could have been the first show I was ever at.”

“This is all my neighborhood. It is as Neal as you can get,” he emotionally concluded. 

A similar version of this feature was published in Michael Perlman's Forest Hills Times column: