There has been a grocery store on Forest Avenue off Playland Parkway for as long as I can remember. Growing up, it was Butler Brothers.
By Mark Keegan
There has been a grocery store on Forest Avenue off Playland Parkway for as long as I can remember. Growing up, it was Butler Brothers. More recently, it’s been Playland Market. Butler Brothers was one of a small chain of three stores owned by the Butler family formerly of Rye.
Butler’s would deliver groceries in a box to our doorstep after my mother phoned an order in. Mom was particularly keen on the meats, as they had a butcher on staff.
Like many families in the neighborhood we had a house account. I was often in trouble when the bill came each month for charging ‘non- essential’ items. Suzy Q’s and RC Cola were staples of my diet back then and I have the fillings to prove it.
While in ninth grade, in 1980, I decided to get a job and naturally found myself at Butler Brothers. I worked the night shift from five o’clock until closing. Neil, the night manager, was a great first boss. He was somehow able to teach an earnest but clueless young clerk how to work the register, make sandwiches, stock shelves, and do all of the other tasks that needed doing.
The setup at Butler Brothers was similar to Playland Market’s today. There were aisles of groceries like today; sandwiches were made where the coffee is now. The rear corner of the store was for the butcher and there was a large walk-in freezer for the meats. I swept and mopped those same floors every night hundreds of times. I’m still a wiz with the mop, although my wife would never know it.
Being a bit of a free spirit back then, I mostly traveled barefoot. I used to keep a pair of sneakers at the market so that when I showed up for work I had something to put on my feet.
I made pretty good money. Working about 20 hours a week, I was paid $3.10 an hour. That’s a lot of money in your pocket when you’re 15. You would think I would have taken better care of those hard-earned dollars, but I didn’t. I spent every dime, and quickly.
My friends and I used to hang out directly across the street from Butler Brothers on top of that industrial looking short structure that houses a lot of plumbing and valves and such (don’t ask me how I know that). Neil and I would lock up the store, then I would just step across the street (barefoot again) and meet up with 20 or friends. Most nights faded away in Rye Town Park as we each peeled off to our neighborhood homes.
As a sophomore, girls and hanging out became more important to me. That’s when I learned what “pink slip” meant. I came in one day to check the following week’s schedule and saw that I was not on it. Although I was a little surprised, I also learned the risk of putting your paycheck in the hands of others, which began an entrepreneur drive in me that is still going strong today.
Butler Brothers used to have a full-sized stand up phone booth out in front of the store. In the mother of all coincidences, that phone booth was destroyed in a raging fire the very night I was passed over on the schedule. I was riding by on my bike late at night with a girlfriend and we saw the blaze and accompanying armada of fire and police vehicles. It was some show. We watched for hours from our familiar perch across the street.
Apparently, an older group whom I was not associated with had gotten into a disagreement with a group from Harrison, rivals then as now. Their plan was to meet at Butler Brothers to work this out, but the Rye group was a no-show that night. Lacking a Twitter feed, and wanting the Rye group to know that they showed up, the Harrison group torched the phone booth.
The unfortunate proximity of the scheduling decision and phone booth fire made me persona non grata at Butler Brothers for a while. My buddy Neil eventually retired to Florida. He used to send postcards up to the store.
I’m happy to see that a grocery store still exists in that spot. I find Playland Market offers the same friendly service it did back when I was a kid. They have an amazing array of products in that small space and always seem to have what you need. I’ve dashed in last minute and found graham crackers for s’mores, ice, even antifreeze.
What they lack is a phone booth. I guess kids today just don’t need one.