History and Memories of Bohack’s Grocery Stores

Bohack's Grocery Stores

Photo: Dumbodude / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

Our history and memories of the Bohack Grocery stores echos many familiar thoughts and stories we shared in our recent A&P article. One of the most interesting aspects we encountered after publishing the A&P article was how many comments we received from people asking,”what about Bohacks?” The Bohack Grocery stores were ingrained in the lives of New Yorkers of the 20th century. As a former grocery store worker who experienced watching the same people shop every day, I learned the sense of community that grocery stores like A&P and Bohack’s had on neighborhoods. There was not a day that went by in the three years that I worked in a grocery store that someone did not mention Bohack’s. There was no other store that people liked to talk about more than Bohack’s. The question was why? What was it about Bohack’s that people loved and could not forget?

Bohack’s grocery stores were located in all the New York City boroughs and on Long Island. At first I thought that maybe Long Islander’s penchant for reminiscing abut Bohack’s were due to their fond memories of their city upbringing. However, there were many Bohacks located on Long Island so it wasn’t just about missing city life, it was simply about the passing of time and places that no longer exist. Additionally, and even more importantly It wasn’t just about the building or the store, it was about the people who worked there. Everyone who grew up in the 1900s in New York knew someone who worked at Bohack’s. Maybe it was your father, mother, grandfather, grandmother or sister or brother, aunt, uncle, cousin of maybe just your neighbor. These supermarkets employed so many people. And if you didn’t know someone personally who worked at Bohack’s, you got to know the people who worked there.

If you father or mother worked at a Bohack’s in the neighborhood, you could always stop by to see them. There were not many jobs that people worked in when a friend or family member could stop by so nonchalantly to say hello and engage in conversation. Many people who shopped at Bohack’s on a daily basis did it for social reasons just as much as they did it for grocery shopping. Grocery clerks got to know people very well. Store managers understood that one of the keys to the success of the store was the sense of community that Bohack’s supplied to the neighborhoods. This was a family owned chain of stores and the sense of community lay at the heart of the Bohack’s shopping experience.

In doing our research on the origins of Bohacks we found pictures of a book published in 1929 by H.C. Bohack entitled “The Stores of Friendly Service.”  In the book there are many pictures of the production line that supplied Bohacks with products. However what caught our eye the most was the commitment to the customer that was written by the founder H.C. Bohack “Our desire and aim is to furnish the very best of merchandise at all times and we will gladly receive any complaints and replace any purchase which is in any way unsatisfactory. We want to give you quality, quantity, service and satisfaction at all times.” H.C. Bohack  This committeemen was evident in all, the stories we have heard over the years in how Bohack’s served their communities.

Bohack’s also had their own special products that people loved. People have raved about Bohack’s own brand of cheesecake. There was also Bohack’s fruitcake, and a whole line of food products sold under the brand Bohack’s Best brand from apple sauces to white bread. Of course just like A&P had their own Eight O Clock Coffee, Bohack had their own brand of coffee sold in tin cans complete with the directions on how to brew the best cup of coffee printed right on the back of the can. One of the items that many people like to reminisce about was Bohack’s own Bohack Beer in a can. I am sure there are probably some still unopened somewhere, although opening up one of those old cans may not be the best idea. 79 cents a six pack!

Bohacks

Bohack Beer – Etsy sale Item Public DomainThe 

Bohack Grocery Store History

The history of Bohack’s goes back to the year 1887. The very first Bohack grocery store was opened on Fulton St. in Brooklyn, New York. The store was opened by H.C. Bolton whose name would appear on the store fronts of all the original stores. H.C. Bochack was born Henry Christian Bohack in Hanover, Germany. He immigrated to the United States in 1882. He stands as one of the greatest immigrant success stories in the history of the United States. Within five years of entering the country he had purchased his own grocery store. Over the next fifty years H.C Bohack would open grocery stores all across New York City and Long Island. However, he was not content with just opening grocery stores. H.C Bohack also opened up gas stations and restaurants as well. In many aspects, all of those businesses integrated within each other as H.C. Bohack’s food production warehouses were able to supply his restaurants with products at his own prices while his gas stations could literally fuel the delivery trucks. Simply brilliant.

The Great Depression put an end to H.C. Bohack’s restaurants and gas stations like it did for so many businesses that went under during the worst economic time period in United States History. However, Henry Christian Bohack’s grocery stores survived the Great Depression. Sadly, Henry Christian Bohack did not. H.C. Bohack died of a heart attack at 66 years of age in 1931. After his passing Bohack’s continued to be run under the direction of his wife Emma and their nephews, Paul G.A. Bohack Sr., Robert H.C. Bohack Sr. and, Paul G.A. Bohack, Jr. There were also a group of employees who were very close to H.C Bohack who played a role in running the business. At the time of his death, Bohack’s seven hundred and forty grocery stores were estimated to be worth forty million dollars.

In 1965, The Bohack family had enough. The family took the company public. Charles Bluedorn who was an incredibly powerful man as the chairman of the American conglomerate Gulf and Western Industries, Inc. became the majority stock holder of Bohack’s. Founded in 1934 as the Michigan Bumper Company, Gulf and Western Industries, Inc would become a powerful American company purchasing Paramount Pictures and Television, Simon and Shuster, Stax Records, Sega Enterprises  Madison Square Garden and many other huge companies. The co-ownership of Paramount and Bohacks is what landed the grocery store to be featured in a scene in the Paramount film The Odd Couple that starred Jack Lemon and Walter Matthau. The legendary film was later tuned into a television series that starred Jack Klugman and Tony Randal in the TV show. The store featured in the film was located on 87th St and 2nd Ave in Manhattan.

Charles Bluedorn’s penchant for acquiring businesses led Bohack’s to also expand and acquire other supermarket chains such as Packers and Daitch Shopwell. Bohack’s expansion and acquisitions would prove to be fatal for the company as the recession of the 1970s would cause the company to go through multiple bankruptcies until they closed their stores for good in 1977.

Grocery Stores like Bohack’s played an important role in the lives of New Yorkers for many years. These were neighborhood stores that were part of the community like the local candy store, pizza place or luncheonette. Corporations have long replaced these local experiences. There not much of a personal connection within a Starbucks or Wendys or a large Stop & Shop. The corporations may have taken away many of those local experiences like the legendary Bohack’s grocery stores but they have not been able to take away our memories of them. We still own those.

Bohack Supermarket

Photo: Public Domain via https://lccn.loc.gov/2017706779
Margolies, John, photographer. Bohack Market, Queens, New York, Queens, New York [graphic]. 1976.
1 photograph : color transparency ; 35 mm (slide format).
LC-MA05- 4683

Bohack History

Photo: Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy, The New York Public Library. “Row houses & storefronts; H. C. Bohack grocer, A. Zevis? carpenter: 313-317 Marcy Av-Rutledge St., Brooklyn” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed June 17, 2020. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/b4afdefd-4d0c-146a-e040-e00a180610a2

Sources:

Marzlock, R. (2018, June 14). The immigrant behind the once-huge Bohack chain. Retrieved June 17, 2020, from https://www.qchron.com/qboro/i_have_often_walked/the-immigrant-behind-the-once-huge-bohack-chain/article_62d11c6d-532c-51c8-b99b-ab5119c4dbe2.html

Jill. (1970, January 01). Bohacks. Retrieved June 17, 2020, from http://mingum.blogspot.com/2010/01/bohacks.html

https://www.facebook.com/groups/bohacksupermarkets/

 

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