Third Ward Nosherei Landmark and Pinockle Hang-Out: 1920s-1930s

by Nat Bodian


In the late 1920s and early 1930s, the so-called 'smart money' boys of the old Third Ward Jewish ghetto would socialize evenings at a candy store on Spruce Street, near the corner of Barclay Street, where they would play cards--usually pinochle and gin rummy--and engage in informal chitchat.

Their gathering place was Levitt's Candy Store at 141 Spruce Street, just next door to Yussel Tolchinsky's Dairy and Deli, on the corner of Spruce and Barclay at No. 139.


Tolchinsky's was a neighborhood institution. It was famous for its home-made sour pickles, sour tomatoes, and sauerkraut, all sold fro huge wood barrels on the sawdust covered floor.

In this largely Jewish neighborhood, Tolchinsky's was also the place to go for such ethnic favorites as schmaltz and pickled herring, Nova Scotia lox, smoked white fish and sturgeon, baked and kippered salmon, and well as a full line of deli meats.

As a pre-teen in that era, I lived just one street over from Spruce and visited Tolchinsky's periodically to buy their home-made sauerkraut.

The attraction for me was that, if you asked for it, the sales person who ladeled the sauerkraut out of the barrel, would give you a free cup of sauerkraut juice to drink. I found it delicious...and everyone drank from the same tin cup which, if I recall correctly, hung at the side of the barrel.

Neighborhood People and Traffic

Quite a few of the Levitt Candy Store card players also spent time idling outside the store at No. 141 Spruce. It was a sort of adult hang-out.

This part of Spruce Street was heavily trafficked by people on foot from adjacent neighborhoods who came to shop the Prince Street area, which was closely reminiscent of New York's' Lower East Side. It wa aflood with pushcarts bearing food and varied merchandise. Also lots of mom 'n pop stores, live fish and poultry markets, and kosher butchers.

Week-End Visitors

On week-ends, it would not be surprising, in this neighborhood, where only a few owned cars, to see luxury limousines and late-model cars stop in front of Tolchinsky's.

The occupants of these cars seemed to fall into three categories: First, there were the associates of Third Ward crime boss Longy Zwillman, coming in their Pierce Arrows to pick up their week-end food. Second were the newly-rich Weequahic crowd in their Buicks and Packards, returning to buy their favorite Jewish delicacies not yet available in the Weequahic section. The third were the successful Jewish immigrant businessmen from the outlying suburbs and adjacent counties who were unable to find Jewish delicacies of their earlier years in their mostly Christian home communities.

Most of the Zwillman mobsters who arrived in their luxury cars were well known to the frequenters outside of Levitt's Candy Store. But the mobsters didn't bother anyone who hung out near that corner of Spruce Street, and the candy store hang-arounds gazed at them with a bit of awe.

In Retrospect

For most, nearly everything of that era -- Tolchinsky's ... the Levitt Candy Store and the Levitt Brothers who owned it ... the Prince Street Shopping neighborhood ... the Jews who settled in that area ...the Barclay Street block on which Tolchinsky's and Levitt's stood ... the facing Barclay Street block on which a midwife delivered me on a cold February morning in 1921 -- even the old Third Ward itself -- gone, eliminated. And nearly all of its former inhabitants, with few exceptions, are no longer alive.

But for those of us, blessed with the gift of long life, it recalls an era of an earlier Newark when this neighborhood was the center of Jewish life in New Jersey...all erased with the passage of time, and unknown for the most part to its present dwellers.



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