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‘The Old Reliable Corner of Woodhaven’: Our Neighborhood, The Way it Was

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Courtesy of Woodhaven Cultural and Historical Society

Hundreds of years ago, Jamaica Avenue was a path used by Native Americans and traders; it takes its name from the Yamecah tribe. As settlements began to grow in Queens and Brooklyn, Jamaica Avenue developed into an attractive place for setting up businesses.

Today, many of the buildings on Jamaica Avenue in Woodhaven are over 100 years old and each of them has many stories to tell. For example, the corner of 91st Street and Jamaica Avenue in Woodhaven today houses a McDonald’s. But did you know that this location was known as The Old Reliable Corner and the reason for that stretches back over 100 years?

In 1912, a man named Louis Schaffran opened a dry goods store at 4057 Jamaica Ave., at the corner of Columbia Avenue (now 91st Street). He named his business “Schaffran’s Reliable Store” and it was described as “commodious and neatly arranged, the stock is composed of the newest and most seasonable goods.”

At Schaffran’s, you could get a “men’s fine four-in-hand tie,” which regularly sold for 35 cents, at only 22 cents. And “ladies fine lawn and madras waists” were down to 89 cents (regularly $1.49).

But Schaffran’s was short-lived and by 1915 he was replaced by Julius Friedman, who had built a name for himself with a small dry goods store on Suydam Avenue (now 85th Street).

Friedman made an immediate splash with a bright red electric sign out front. “J. Friedman’s Only Store,” the sign read, and at this corner, Friedman’s prospered. He advertised “High Grade Merchandise at Greatly Reduced Prices” and guaranteed savings “from 25 to 50 cents.”

Although Louis Schaffran first used the word reliable in the name of his business, Friedman began using the phrase “the Old Reliable Corner” to describe the location of his business.

At that time, the street naming and address numbering conventions were undergoing changes. Columbia Avenue would be renamed 91st Street and the building’s address would change from 4057 to 9101. So advertising that you were at “the Old Reliable Corner” wasn’t just an homage to the prior tenant, it was a clever way to let locals (who were familiar with Schaffran’s) know where you were located.

Residents of Woodhaven still do the same thing today — for example, describing locations as “over by where Jason’s Toy Store used to be.”

Eventually, Friedman’s took his business down the avenue to 78th Street and the Old Reliable Corner had a new tenant, Daniel Reeves, advertised as “The Better Chain Store Grocers.” Supermarkets were a relatively new concept and the Daniel Reeves chain was successful, with nearly 300 locations in New York City.

Dan Reeves lasted at that corner until the mid-’30s and the chain itself would be sold off in the 1940s. The owner’s son went on to own the Los Angeles Rams and the chain of Dan Reeves supermarkets took on a new name, Safeway.

As for the Old Reliable Corner, for the next 15 years, it became home to Woolworth’s.  Most residents of Woodhaven remember Woolworth’s about 15 buildings east of the corner, but it didn’t relocate there until the mid-1940s.

For the next 30 years, the Old Reliable Corner was home to Schenkein’s, a store that specialized in floor coverings like carpets, linoleum and tiles. Eventually Schenkein’s downsized and moved into a smaller location down the block.

In Schenkein’s place came M&L Shopper’s Corner, a discount store that J. Friedman’s would have been proud of. Specializing in discount clothing, Shopper’s Corner regularly changed its stock to match the season and everything was priced to sell. And eventually, after Shopper’s Corner turned off their lights, McDonald’s came to town, its walls along 91st Street painted a bright red; as bright and as red as the sign for J. Friedman’s Only Store.

After a recent remodeling, which found McDonald’s being painted black, there is one interesting item that you can find near the roof along Jamaica Avenue. Just above the flagpole, you can see an old metal bracket, the one that used to support that famed J. Friedman sign over 100 years ago.

Whether you were interested in clothing or groceries or carpets or french fries, the Old Reliable Corner of Woodhaven has been providing it for over 100 years. Now that’s reliable!

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If you have any remembrances or old photographs of “Our Neighborhood: The Way It Was” that you would like to share with our readers, please write to the Old Timer, c/o Ridgewood Times, 38-15 Bell Blvd., Bayside, NY 11361, or send an email to editorial@ridgewoodtimes.com. Any print photographs mailed to us will be carefully returned to you upon request.

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