STATEN ISLAND, NY – Last week’s article about our neighborhood grocery store, Reliable, brought the gift of a great response from readers. It seems many others have fond memories of Dongan Hills, especially one at the corner of Richmond and Old Town Roads.
In the print version of the chronicle, Dutchess Avenue was mentioned. (As many have pointed out, it’s not Dutchess Street as stated.) Another reader said the old Reliable was actually nicknamed the Reliable Market. (He’s right.) And the grocers and butcher at 1244 Richmond Road weren’t the Piazzas, as one Dongan Hills resident recalls.
“It was the Roperti family who owned Reliable,” said lawyer and former resident of Avenue de Rome Vincent Gallo. “They lived in about three houses on Richmond Road around 1160 Richmond Road, the ‘apartments’ as we called them.”
Gallo went to nearby PS 48 with one of the Roperti children.
He added, “[It was] originally in the building on the corner of Old Town Road and Richmond Road (on the same side) until the city widened Old Town Road and bisected the building that housed Reliable. He’s still there, only half the size. That’s when they moved about two buildings south to their current location.
Reliable, then, was right across from Joe Jilt’s old gas station. I remember the gas lines in the late 70s on Old Town Road and my mother queuing on even days in our Nova. And for those of you who wrote to us with a vague memory of a monkey in Jilts: it was real, according to others.
Gallo was the one who confirmed Joe Jilts had a monkey in the gas station cage. Jilts was a beloved figure in Wagner College Athletics, known for wearing shorts year-round in all social settings.
Incidentally, according to an article by Cormac Gordon, “[Jilts] is the guy who dresses up as Santa Claus every Christmas and visits the children of people he met during his years at Wagner. Jilts has spent countless hours listening to thousands of conversations with a young quarterback or point guard who just lost his girlfriend; or start a job; or both.”
Gordon praised his pleasant personality and ability to listen. He wrote: ‘That kind of genuine concern, along with his easy laugh, is why Bobby Thomson stopped at Jilts petrol station on Richmond Road the day after ‘The Shot Heard’ Round the World’ to deposit tickets for the World Series. guy who took care of the Giants outfielder’s car.
But about food in the neighborhood, Vincent Gallo suggested a follow-up article on Prestle’s. (Other readers who also mentioned this place spelled it as “pretzels.”)
He wrote: ‘I remember as a child we used to go to Prestel’s, we would sit at the counter, a friend of mine would always order two cokes at five cents, because he insisted on having more than [when] he ordered a Coke fountain for 10 cents. And without fail, Jake (old man Prestel) argued with him, insisting there was no difference! Best part here was this 75 year old man arguing with a 10 year old!!
Lisa from Grant City grew up in the Dongan Hills area and fondly remembers life hiking on Overlook and Vista Avenues, both seemingly slanted at 45 degrees.
She noted, “I remember Reliable in the mid-60s. As a kid, I was often sent down that steep hill to buy Italian luganega sausages from the butcher out back. And I would occasionally stop at the Preztel candy store around the corner on the next block.
Thank you, dear Dongan Hills friends, for the memories and for filling in the blanks!
Pamela Silvestri is editor-in-chief of Advance Food. She can be reached at [email protected].