|The “best friend of the neighborhood” closes his door|
|Written by Mike Fitelson|
|Wednesday, January 04, 2012|
On New Year’s Eve, Derek Swierk, 4, stopped by to say goodbye to Daniel Ahn, who is closing his market after nearly 30 years on W. 187th Street.
PHOTO: Mike Fitelson
The “best friend of the neighborhood” closes his door
Story by Mike Fitelson
As he has done just about every night for 29 years, Daniel Ahn worked late on Sat., Dec. 31st at Ahn’s Fruit and Vegetable, the market his father opened on West 187th Street at Pinehurst Avenue in 1982.
While Northern Manhattan was preparing to celebrate the passing of one year into the next, Ahn, his wife Sue, son Paul, and workers Nasio and Luis were solemnly marking a different milestone in the stock room with cans of beer and cocktails poured in plastic cups – the final days of the market.
Over the weeks some customers may have noticed that there were fewer goods and products on the shelves. But for most locals the closing of the neighborhood institution came as a sudden shock.
Throughout the weekend a steady stream of customers stopped in, a surprising number with tears in their eyes, just to say goodbye.
The messages they delivered were telling: “You’re the best.” “It’s been wonderful to have you here.” “I’ll miss you.” “You’ve been the best friend to the neighborhood.”
“I didn’t know this many people thought of me,” Ahn said, while light rock played over the store’s stereo, as always tuned to 106.7 FM. “People are very nice. I love the neighborhood.”
The market, wedged between a Chinese food shop and convenience store, provided local residents with easy access to staple products. It was also a friendly place for a visit, with an orange cat for a mascot that delighted children.
Leoni Swierk – old-timers will remember her by her maiden name Ramirez – stopped by Saturday night as a prelude to her New Year’s Eve festivities. She’s known Ahn since the store opened when she was 10.
“He was a friendly face, it’s sad to see him go,” said Swierk. “He had the best produce in the neighborhood.”
To maintain his reputation for quality fruits and vegetables Ahn would get up at 4 a.m. to buy produce at the Hunt’s Point wholesale market.
What also endeared the market to generations of locals was its customer service. Sure Ahn would remember customers’ names, but more importantly he’d remember the names of their children. And sneak them free bags of cookies from time to time.
Learning the pronunciation of American names was not easy to master for the Korean-born Ahn. He also learned Spanish over the years.
But the kindness of the Ahns so endeared them to customers that they routinely received holiday cards from families that had years ago moved out of state.
“I’m grateful for the neighborhood; I have a happy feeling,” said Ahn, who lives across the street from the store with his wife.
Ahn said that his lease would be up in March and he knew it would come with a rent increase. Having seen a slowdown in business – it’s dropped off significantly since June – the Ahns decided several months ago that it was time to move on.
They’ve been hunting for a new location to open a market, but Ahn concedes that it won’t be in the neighborhood because the rents are too high.
Once the market doors are closed Ahn will do something he hasn’t done in nearly 30 years – take a vacation, even if it just means staying at home and watching his beloved soccer.