I asked Jeff Lewis if he could help. “What kind do you need, left or right-hand?” he asked. I said that I didn’t know. He disappeared and came back a few minutes later and handed me two old boxes. “Bring back the one you don’t use,” he said.
The price? Four bucks.
They say that stores like this do not exist anymore, but there’s a store in Valley Stream that will bring back a lot of memories and favorable comparisons to Lewis of Woodhaven. Morris Variety, 227 Rockaway Avenue, is just a few moments away from Green Acres shopping mall, a few blocks off Sunrise Highway.
There is a familiarity about Morris Variety that residents of Woodhaven will feel the moment they walk through the front doors. The high old-fashioned tin ceiling, complete with fans, is about 80 years old. (The location housed a Woolworth many decades ago.)
The aisles are packed with all kinds of items, basically everything you need. There is zero wasted space, with curtains and blinds and shopping carts hung on the walls.
Its resemblance to Lewis is startling. Over the weekend, when I posted a few pictures of Morris Variety on a Woodhaven Facebook page, nearly everyone thought they were looking at old pictures of Lewis.
There’s a very good reason for the resemblance: the owner of Morris Variety is Jack Cazes, who started working for Lewis of Woodhaven back in 1973 and modeled his current store after Lewis when he opened nearly 17 years ago.
“It's the only thing we knew how to do,” he says, crediting Larry Lewis with teaching him everything he knew and treating him like a son.
He tells a story about his very first week of work at the 90th Street Lewis. “A customer came in and needed a button that she had bought there previously,” he recalled. “Now, a button rack has thousands of buttons and we looked for a little while but couldn't find it. I said to her ‘Well I'm sure it's going to get filled in again’ and Larry heard me and came over running.
“He said to me, ‘Don’t ever do that again. You go to the other store and you look!’” Cazes said. “I said, ‘Mr. Lewis, it’s just a 25 cent pack of buttons.’ He didn’t care. That was the level of service that he insisted on and that’s the level of service I've provided ever since.”
Robin Cabral agrees that Morris Variety is shaped from the same mold as Lewis of Woodhaven. She started at Lewis in 1981, worked there until 1997 and has been at Morris Variety since the beginning. “We set it up the same way,” she says of the similarity between the stores.
Cazes is proud of the comparison, and notes that he’s always happy when residents of Woodhaven stop in.
“Everything I sell here you can buy anywhere,” he said. “The thing is, I have it all together in one place. That's where we're better than other stores. If you come to me for a window fan in the middle of winter you'll get it, just like at Lewis. And if you need a heater during the summer, we'll have it.”
Sure enough, in the short time we were there, my mom was able to pick up a few items that she hadn’t been able to get for a long time.
“I’d given up on ever finding this,” she said to me, holding up a small pack of air mail envelopes. “You can’t get these anymore. This is like shopping in the old days.”
Lewis of Woodhaven’s motto, printed on their business card, was “We Sell Everything.” That spirit is alive and well at Morris Variety.