A Tribute To Fairway Market

By Donald S. Browne, of Seymour St; Franklin (58), Harding Class of 1962  

    As I look back on my sixty years on this earth, I can think of no other early childhood event that so impacted on my later adult life than my first successful after school part-time job at Fairway Market, 56 Fairfield Avenue, Bridgeport. It was necessary that I work part-time after morning classroom sessions at Warren Harding High School (WHHS) in order to pay for my freshman year at college. 

    My early two attempts at "part-time" work were abominable failures; I worked for three weeks at Read's Department Store, downtown Bridgeport, in the "Curtains & Draperies Department" on the second floor. The boss was "Mr. Caradona", and the sales staff consisted on "little-old-ladies" who must have been in their late forties/early fifties in September 1960. Younger than...than I am today! Black horizontal stripes were painted on the west-facing windows of the stockrooms. Looking up from Broad Street below, they looked like venetian blinds! "Mr. Caradona" said I was lazy and I was shown the door. My second attempt was at Howland's Department Store, downtown Bridgeport, in August 1961. I was a "general stockboy", on the fifth floor...the un-airconditioned floor of Howland's...where the stock warehouse was located. I lasted all of one week. Imagine working at the two biggest stores in Bridgeport (the third biggest store was Leavitt's in 1960-1961) and losing both "employee discounts" (20 percent on anything in the stores) during my junior WHHS year! 

    My third (and final) chance to earn my first year of college expenses came in September 1961, the beginning of my senior year. I was lucky to find a part-time job in the grocery department of Fairway Market. At this point in time, "Fairway Beef & Provision Company" owned three "Fairway Markets"; one in Fairfield on Black Rock Turnpike, one in Stratford on South Avenue near Stratford Avenue, and one in Bridgeport at 56 Fairfield Avenue, corner of Middle Street, next to Rudy Frank's Record Shop. "Fairway Beef" also owned the Fairway Restaurant on upper East Main Street near the Noble Avenue intersection. 

    The store in Bridgeport was divided into five departments; "Meat" (boss was Frank Luciano), "Produce" (boss was Johnny Olenick), "Deli" (front of the store), "Bakery" (rear of the store), and "Grocery" (boss was Vin Basso) in the northeast section of the store directly behind the rear of Rudy Frank's. The General Manager was a tall, distinguished gentleman who was in his mid-fifties in 1961. He was only known as "Mr. Sullivan"; he always wore a long smock and was nearly bald. One of the "owners" was frequently present in the store. He was a short elderly gentleman in his mid-sixties who always wore a suit, and was never identified by name. The store bookkeeper was a high school-aged girl named Paula Bogdanovich. The store "porter" (a combination of janitor and handyman) was a high school drop-out named "O'Neil Johnson". He was the only Negro employee in the entire store. Poor "O'Neil" had a continuous "harried-look" about himself. His "duty station" was the store basement, and the only time he appeared on the "business floor" was to mop an aisle or cleanup a spill. The GM, "Mr. Sullivan", was constantly shouting down the basement stairwell, "O'Neil! ...... O'Neil!", which generally meant that a cleanup was required. The best-looking girls (late teens/early twenties) all worked in "Bakery". The actual bakery occupied almost the entire second floor, except for a row of offices which faced Fairfield Avenue. 

    Working in "Grocery" was the most versatile job in the entire store; every Tuesday afternoon, a semi-tractor/trailer arrived from the distributor "Springfield (MA) Sugar".The entire Tuesday afternoon was spent bringing in the grocery boxes by hand-truck and stacking them in the aisles. The rest of the week (Wed-Sat) was spent price-stamping each item and placing them on the shelves. Occasionally, I would operate the cash register or be a "bag-boy". I got to carry my own "price-stamper" in my back-pocket. The ink ruined more than one pair of pants; no...they did not come with "holsters" in the sixties. Remember the store's "dealer-brand", Sweet Life? 

    Once a week, I would visit the second floor to pickup the hand-drawn signs from the store's artist. These signs contained the "Week's Specials", which I would hang in the store's windows... being careful not to step on the produce which was stocked in the windows. Bridgeport was a small town then...the store's artist had attended WHHS with my Aunt Freda in the early thirties...and knew I was her nephew! Also, once each week I would "put-up" the store employees purchases from lists that they provided. This allowed the employees to continue to "work" while I did their shopping for them. The bill would be deducted from their wages. I would place their purchases in grocery bags and carefully label each bag. This is where I could become creative: "Paula Bog", "Frank Lucky", "Johnny O" were common labels. 

    Fairway Market was a "Union Shop"; The Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workers of America". I earned the "minimum wage", $1.15 per hour. For the ten months that I worked at Fairway Market "part-time" for 32 hours/week during my senior year, and the two months that I worked at Fairway Market "full-time" for 60 hours/week during my senior summer, I was able to save the $2,200 required for my first year tuition, book expenses/lab fees, room & board, meals and miscellaneous (transportation) expenses for my introduction to college life. 

Thank you Fairway Market.

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