Tuesday, April 21, 2020
The last night, for now, at Ben's Deli
Text and photos by Stacie Joy
"Stacie, I promise you, we'll be back," Ben says this past Sunday evening, while gesturing with his cigarette. "We have a long lease. We've been here for 45 years. We will come back. When all this is over."
He tries to finish his smoke before heading back in the deli on Avenue B between Second Street and Third Street to grab some hummus for the road, but forgets that he's wearing a face mask and has to maneuver things around in order for the cigarette to find its target.
Ben's youngest son, Gamal, is packing up some cereal and snacks for Ben's grandkids back home. Meanwhile, store employee Glenn is carting perishables into Ben's "office," his Astro van parked across the street. A few people come in to say goodbye and grab some last-minute supplies. The mood is somber.
There's still some milk and yogurt left on the shelves, which Ben offers to me as I take some final images. I know there is social distancing in place, and I am also wearing a mask, so I don't know if he can see I am moved by the shuttering of the store. I wish I could touch his arm, communicate in some way how sorry I am that this is happening.
"I worry about you and the neighborhood," he says. "There's crime now, much worse that it was before. People have no work, no jobs, and soon, no money for rent. Then what will happen? Not good. Take care, be careful."
His son steps around the figure sleeping on the sidewalk in front of the store in order to pull the gate down. Ben shakes his head, climbs in his van and takes off for home.
Previously on EV Grieve:
On Avenue B, Ben's Deli is closing for now; first time in 45 years