An Only Slightly Fictionalized Memory
The Early Years (Neighborhood Businesses)
The businesses in our neighborhood were owned (or maybe just run) by Puerto Ricans – two corner stores (bodegas), the candy store, the funeral parlor, the Laundromat, the dry cleaners, the soda shop with the juke box, the ice cream trucks, the woman who sold cocitos (homemade coconut ices) from a hand truck, even my doctor … There were no stores owned by Black people. The closest thing to Black business persons I remember in my neighborhood were the watermelon man who sold watermelons, whole or by the slice, out of the trunk of his car and door-to-door salesmen. They were typically immigrants. They sold Fuller brushes and Stanley home products, mostly. There was an African man who sold Filter Queen vacuum cleaners door to door. He was in college. My parents bought a vacuum cleaner, and “adopted” the young student. He visited our house frequently to feast on mashed plantains and fish head chowder.
There were also immigrant Blacks who owned brownstones on the West side of Harlem where my dad’s relatives owned houses. They had humble jobs, like housekeepers, but were working and had money.