By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
The door jingles open. "I'm looking for an air-raid siren," says a man who belongs to a classical-music outfit. "Hand-crank or electric."
"I haven't had one of those in years," Scott tells him.
"Know anybody who might have one?"
"No. I don't go in the other stores, so I don't know what they got. "
The man thanks Scott and the door jingles shut.
The old clown drifts into a breezy memory from the late '90s, when he confused visiting members of ZZ Top with street people -- until "one of 'em pulled out a roll of bills to choke a hog," Scott says. "They started buying everything in the store.
The door jingles open. A muscular Hispanic guy makes a beeline for something in the storefront window. "Coca-Cola!" Scott calls to him. "That's one of the first bottles, by the way. See the straight sides? You have to be awful careful, now. That's authentic. I've got some repos back here -- they're not as old."
The guy doesn't respond. His back is turned; he's rummaging for something else.
"You collect toy pistols?" Scott asks. "You collect real guns, or toys? Lemme see that. Hand it to me."
The guy holds up two fingers, mouths something. He's deaf.
"Two? On the tray?" Scott asks. "Oh, God, I can't. I'll go two seventy-five, but I can't go lower. Paid too much for it."
Jingle. A white-haired man in a ballcap and fishing vest steps through the doorway. The room feels as crowded as a clown car. "I'm looking for old Christmas lights." "You can't find 'em anymore," Scott says. "I got a few little bulbs -- the screw type, but not the German hand-mold. They've been gobbled up. I have a lot of 'em at home." The white-haired man thanks Scott, and the door jingles shut.
"You looking for beer trays?" Scott asks, returning to the deaf guy, who frowns and points to a shelf near the ceiling. "Cans? The cone tops -- or the round ones? I had thirty of 'em, and that's what's left. I looked 'em up in the book. They're very rare cone tops." Scott gets out of his lawn chair, strains with a Nifty Nabber extension pole, snags a cone top. Then another. Then a third. Then a fourth. He's breathing hard. The deaf guy names his price, Scott shakes his head. They both seem insulted. The door jingles shut.
"That tray's worth three seventy-five -- he offered me to suck it in for two," Scott says, disgusted. "Bullshit artist. He's been in here before. Turns me cold when they're that rude. The guy that makes you get your pole and unhook four, five, six things is not gonna buy a damn thing. He is wasting your time. Price, price, price, price, price. Nickel-and-dime you to death. I get that every day."
Living exclusively off of antiques and Social Security since Blinky's Fun Club was canceled in '98, Scott still owes on his front window, which was vandalized twice last year in as many days. More shattering yet were the divorce papers from Gwen, his wife of 62 years. "It gave me a bleeding ulcer," Scott says. "Put me in the hospital for nine days. I let the store run down. I didn't give a damn. My wife stripped me of all my life's savings, ran up 27 credit cards."
Scott stares across Broadway. The 7-Eleven used to be a chicken place, though not a very good one. The street has been resurfaced so many times that the curbs no longer block water when it rains, and his store gets splashed all day long, he says.
"They say the economy is getting better, but I haven't seen it yet," he says. "There's eight antique stores gone broke north of here, and six down south. Seems every time I drive home, there's another vacancy." -- John La Briola
12:16 p.m.: Club 404, 404 Broadway
What has kept the tan door under the red awning wide open all these years? It's probably not today's special, a condo-sized slab of buffalo meatloaf that's still snorting and kicking under its winter coat of brown glue. It's not the scary-looking Mexican combo, a gruesome multi-car pileup right there on your plate. It can't be the Big T-Bone. You could catch Roger Clemens for eight innings with the Big T-Bone. The secret attraction? It's probably not the waitress who slings down your drinks with a yellow-eyed glare even as she's calling you Hon. And believe me, please believe me: What keeps the door open is definitely not what the management of this grand old windowless institution calls crab cakes with linguine and Alfredo sauce.
No, the thing that brings the faithful back to Jerry Feld's Club 404 week after week, decade after decade, the one immutable, inimitable thing that keeps everybody hooked, is most likely Jerry Feld himself. There's Jerry Feld the Timeless, immortalized in white mustache and big-frame spectacles on the face of the wall clock. There's Jerry the Icon, huge grin emblazoned on the front of every menu. Jerry Feld, Culinary Innovator, the inspiration behind a frightening construction of beans, cheese and tortillas called the "World Famous Jerrito."