24 June 2008

Never Closed and Better, Too

There's much to provoke the curiosity in the strangeness that is M.T. Food Inc. of Third Avenue in Manhattan. Firstly, there's the crudely bold sign, with its huge M. and T., signifying we know not what. Then there's the idea that what is essentially a small deli needs to put a ponderous "Inc." at the end of its name. And don't overlook the clock which boasts "Never Closed." This may explain why the clock face had no hands (if the store doesn't close, who cares what time it is?), but it doesn't explain why the "12" on the clock has been replaced by an "S" (for "Sunrise" and "Sunset"?).

But this is all next to nothing when one ventures inside and see the walls are lined with framed pictures of famous people. This in itself is nothing special; many New York stores have such pictures, usually signed, with some accompanying sentiment of good wishes. These photos are not signed. And each one is adorned with the same gold plaque, reading "Better." Andy Warhol, Louis Armstrong, Elvis Presley, Steve McQueen, Peter O'Toole, JFK—dozens of pictures of the greatest achievers in every field of endeavor. All "Better."

Better? Better than what? I asked the workers gathered at the cash resister. "They're better. You're best," said one man. Huh? He explained that the previous owner of M.T. hung them up and the customer-flattering joke is these great personalities were "better," but whoever was looking at them—and buying goods at M.T.—was "best." At least that's the way I understood it.

In a City of eccentric shops and shopkeepers, this display is truly one of the most exceptionally weird phenomena I had ever encountered.


Anonymous said...

I'm going to guess that the clock indicates the store was once upon a time a Smiler's, which was a now-defunct chain of 24 hour convenience groceries in Manhattan. The sign featured a round-faced smiling deli-man cartoon, and had a clock. There used to be one on 7th Ave south below Christopher St and I remember seeing others in the 1970s.

Ken Mac said...

incredible! I am over there today! Thanks for the tips and pics.

Anonymous said...

The clock is from the Smiler's chain so I wonder if this was at one time a Smilers. This place reminds me of all the delis in NY in the 60's and early 70's that featured rotisserie chickens in the window... my sister and I used to love that smell.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Interesting on the Smiler's point. That's probably right. I remember those clocks. But this must has been a Smiler's some time ago, because the M.T. sign sure seems old and weathered.

Unknown said...

I can confirm that it was a Smiler's Deli back in the day. There are still a few Smiler's left in the city, the biggest on Madison and 54/55th.