Saturday, February 6, 2021

Sweet Memories of Eddie’s Sweet Shop as Witt’s Confectionery & Ice Cream

 By Michael Perlman

Eddie's Sweet Shop, January 2021, Photo by Michael Perlman

Forest Hills is known for tennis, music, and of course ice cream! Eddie’s Sweet Shop at 105-29 Metropolitan Avenue holds the record for the most intact and what is likely the longest continuously operating ice cream parlor citywide.

In July 1979, artist Randy Jones sketched “The Great Ice Cream Safari” comic strip for The New York Times, which featured an elephant touring ice cream parlors, an endangered species. Eddie’s Sweet Shop was saved for last, where a patron on a swivel stool said, “This antique parlor would make a fine trophy in the Smithsonian!”

That vision continues today as patrons encounter vintage signs with Coca-Cola insignias and thematically decorated windows with stained-glass reading “Candy” and “Ice Cream.” Around 20 homemade flavors are prepared on the premises along with fresh whipped cream. Original flavors include rum raisin, butter pecan, and tutti frutti.

Patrons can sit on the same cast-iron swivel stools their great-grandparents sat on and enjoy a sundae or a float at the mahogany and marble counter facing stenciled built-ins and one of the first electric Frigidaire freezers. The authentic ambiance also features a honeycomb pattern mosaic floor, a tin ceiling with rose stamped molding, leaded glass windows with a sunburst and tulip motif, and tapestry appointed woodwork topped off by a wall clock by the pioneer Seth Thomas Clock Company.

In 1925, a 2-story brick building with a corner entranceway was filed and Seelig & Finkelstein drafted blueprints. One of the earliest owners was reportedly Mr. Krohn, followed by Schaefer. Around the mid-1940s, the shop was renamed Witt’s Ice Cream & Confectionery after owner William Witt, a German immigrant. When Witt retired, he sold the shop to the Citrano family in 1968, and it became a success ever since. Giuseppe and his son Vito Citrano and wife Angelina are cherished Forest Hills personalities. Three generations worked alongside one another until Vito’s grandpa, also Vito, passed away in 1995.

Three generations of the Citrano family in the footsteps of the Witts, 2014 photo by Michael Perlman 

Much of the shop’s history prior to 1968 is undocumented, but is being rediscovered thanks to the memories of patrons. Owner William Witt and his wife Elsie, who were often addressed as Mr. and Mrs. Witt, as well as their daughter with the same name, would also be proud.

Michael Dillon lived around the corner on Nansen Street since 1953, and after playing ball in the street with his friends, Witt’s was the go-to place. He said, “In the mid-60s while working at Associated Food Stores on Metropolitan Avenue, I was fortunate to deliver sugar and get a glimpse of all the wonderful ice cream making machines. The Witts were always such kind and lovely people, who always reminded me of the ideal grandma and grandpa.”

“My father, Joseph proposed to my mother, Clara at Witt’s. It was a fine treat for our parents to take my sisters and I on a walk there in the summer, and we always sat in ‘Mom and Dad’s booth,’ which was the first towards the back,” said Joe Burchill, who lived on Greenway Terrace followed by Burns Street. He reminisced, “I tried my first ice cream soda and my first sundae there. All of their ice cream was so creamy and the taste was very real. My absolute favorite was coffee.” He was also tempted by the candy display across from the soda fountain. “There were so many, it was hard to choose, but root beer barrels were a favorite.” He also remembered unique Panasonic radio ads photographed there. “They were promoting their unusually shaped and brightly colored line. There was a spherical radio and the ‘Toot-a-Loop’ that you could put on your wrist and untwist, so it could stand up on its own.”

John Mattis lived on Loubet Street and now resides near Tampa. He said, “I remember watching Mr. Witt pack the containers, really pushing the ice cream into them as hard as he could. Later on, when I would get ice cream from other places and watched them pack it gingerly, I realized how much the Witts always did the right thing for their family of customers. I also remember the cold feel of the marble countertops, the glorious banana splits, and the girls swim teams that would pack the booths and loudly and joyously talk among themselves. I was always sneaking a peak on a girl I liked!”

Witt's ad, December 1958, Community House Chatter publication 

Northern California resident Nick Covell feels fortunate to have lived in Forest Hills three times. “I delivered the Long Island Press there in 1956. When I collected for the 40 cents a week bill, Bill Witt used to give me a 35-cent malted for a tip, a big deal for a 13-year-old kid.”

Another account of graciousness was shared by Paul Hettler, who was raised on Kessel Street. “My dad and I would walk there every Saturday in the mid-fifties, and he would buy me a vanilla ice cream soda which cost about a quarter. A few years later, when I was old enough to walk alone, I would get the ice cream soda and give Mr. Witt a quarter. This went on for several weeks, when finally, he quietly told me they haven’t been a quarter for several years.”

Nancy Jeanne O’Connor, a Bronxville and Danbury resident, was raised on Manse Street between 69th and 70th Avenue. She said, “Many a night between 1951 and 1962, my parents walked up to Witt’s for dessert. Mom’s favorite was butter pecan and dad’s was chocolate, sometimes with orange sherbet. Our Lady of Mercy had processions of the little girls usually on Holy Thursday and the Feast of Corpus Christi, and many of us went to Witt’s afterward with our friends and parents. We went many Sundays with the ‘Klaum girls.’ We ordered hot fudge sundaes, but when funds were low, a 15-cent cherry coke. Now my siblings and I have the pleasure of introducing the next generation to Eddie’s, and it was always a special treat for them.”

Phyllis Pellitteri Cush especially remembers marshmallow sundaes and quality time at Witt’s after swim meets at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs. “My friends and I used to storm into Witt’s at one time and take over the whole shop. Sometimes there weren’t enough seats for us. I cannot forget the icicles in our hair!”

Andrea Stone also recalled swim meets, which were followed by banana splits and chocolate egg creams. Witt’s was also a tradition after 6th to 8th grade dances at The Community House. She said, “I told a friend in Colorado that Witt’s is now Eddie's Sweet Shop, and he said that he can't wait to try it the next time he goes to NYC. I love that it still looks the same!”

Reflecting on how the beloved ice cream parlor withstood the test of time, the Citrano family had much to share. “We feel so happy to see that Eddie’s Sweet Shop served generations of customers through the years we have been here, as well as new ones. Our family estimates that over 30 films, commercials, and ads have been produced at our shop during the years we own it.” Vito added, “My father showed me not to be afraid to work hard. When it’s time to make hot fudge, I will keep stirring until it’s right, no matter how late it is or tired I am.” Angelina is also grateful. “We had many proposals at Eddie’s, and the first wedding ceremony in front of our doors a few months ago. We were honored!”

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