Tom, the Concierge of Court Street, Brooklyn at it's Best @overinbrooklyn
Article from NYTimes
Panhandlers in this city are often ignored, stiffed, even reviled, but sometimes, if they hang around long enough and take the right approach, they can work themselves not only into the wallets, but also into the hearts of those they solicit.
Such was the case with Tom, the Concierge of Court Street.
Tom was the guy who held the door as you walked in and out of the Super Deli, outside of which he was a daily fixture, on Court Street between Baltic and Kane Streets in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. He was the guy who offered to carry your shopping bags, or simply offered a bit of conversation. Tips were welcomed but not required.
“Tom was genuinely friendly, even to people who never gave him money,” recalled Ursula Alexander, who lives nearby. “He was good-natured, one of those people in the city who have a big impact, even though we never get to know them.”
So when word spread on Court Street that Tom died last month, he was honored with a sidewalk memorial of posters, flowers and photographs. It was stomach cancer, somebody heard. How old was he? Somewhere around 50, it seemed. Supposedly he lived with his mother in nearby public housing projects: Wyckoff Gardens, was it? Or maybe Gowanus Houses. And what was his last name, again?
He was cheery, talkative, helpful and benign, many said, a secondary character in the daily narrative of this busy street. He would arrive in the afternoon, in time to catch riders streaming up out of the Warren Street exit of the Bergen Street subway station, returning from work in Manhattan.
Court Street memorial.
Tom was no wino, and he was not homeless. He appreciated gifts of food, and would load them into his backpack to bring home at night. When Tom stopped showing up, several months back, his many friends and benefactors on Court Street did not know where to look, or even have a last name to go with.
“I spoke to him every day but I never knew his last name,” said Robin Gurung, who works afternoons and evenings in the grocery store. “No one did. Everyone just knew him as Tom.”
Here is a photo of Robin @joncronin:
Tom would often take dollar bills and walk across the street to Ruben Liquors, to try for bigger winnings. He would buy scratch-off lottery cards, said the owners, Brenda and Rick Ruben.
“If Tom was a drinker, we’d know it,” said Rick Ruben. “He was just a happy-go-lucky guy.”
Ms. Alexander, paying for a bottle of Jack Daniels, looked over.
“Are you talking about Tom?” she asked. “At first I ignored him when he offered to carry my shopping bags, I didn’t know anything about him. But I saw he was good-natured and that’s worth a lot.”
Next to the deli on Court Street is Sam’s Restaurant, now in its 80th year under the same family ownership.
Louis Migliaccio, who took the place over recently from his father, Mario Migliaccio, 82, was doing his billing at one of the tables.
“Why is everyone making such a big deal about this guy?” he said, gesturing out the window toward the sidewalk memorial. “Fifty thousand people walk in here asking about Tom, no one buys nothing.”
The specialty at Sam’s is pizza made in a brick oven. The elder Mr. Migliaccio has been making them himself for nearly 60 years.
On the wall was a sign:
Today’s Menu, Two Choices:
Louis Migliaccio talks tough, but he too had a soft spot for Tom. He’d chat with him, maybe give him a sandwich. But when it comes to coddling the poor, he takes after his old man.
“I liked Tom, but I never gave him a penny,” said Mario Migliaccio. “That’s not how you help someone. I came to this country when I was 22, with five dollars on credit. I washed dishes here 18 hours a day, for 20 bucks a week. It’s called working for your money.”
Tom’s death was confirmed recently by a woman who came in to the deli and through tears said she was Tom’s sister. Mr. Gurung offered condolences, and resisted asking for additional information. He had managed to preserve one memory, however: Tom, winking, photographed on his cellphone not too long ago.