Life’s Lessons Learned #44: Givant’s Deli

After living for a short while above the House of Pizza, I moved closer to work. I found an apartment that was about a block from the main office of the bank. At that time I was not packing a lunch, but rather took daily advantage of the plethora of eating establishments in downtown Lancaster. I regularly ate at Zimmerman’s Restaurant on the corner of Orange and North Queen streets. My favorites were their daily soup specials (especially their bean soup with rivels) and or the often-available snapper soup. The restaurant is still there, but the clientele, name, and the ownership have changed, and I have not been in the restaurant since the mid 1970s. Now I have to drive about two hours to the Pinetown Inn near New Hope, PA, for authentic snapper soup.

Some of the other places I frequented for lunch downtown (now all gone) included:

• Woolworth’s lunch counter – good German Chocolate Cake
• The Rendezvous Café at Watt & Shand – in the store basement
• Garvin’s Department Store lunch counter – in the store basement
• Central Farmers’ Market (Tues. & Fri.) – buy a roll, meat, chips, etc…
• Southern Farmers’ Market (Wed.) – see above, same stuff
• Givant’s Deli – Lancaster’s only true Jewish delicatessen

Givant’s Deli, East Vine St.

Givant’s Deli, East Vine St.

Morris Givant owned a very popular deli with sit down tables in the rear. He made great sandwiches, on wonderful breads, and had homemade soups, including Matzo Ball soup, to die for. I was a regular customer, and learned that he had a single bedroom, furnished, rental unit on the second floor. It offered off-street parking, and a “sort of roof deck” out the back entrance. The quality of my lunch (and now sometimes breakfast) meals improved greatly with this housing change. I also was able to pick up a few extra bucks on the weekends as I helped Morris with cleaning and stocking the deli shelves.

This apartment was a vast improvement over the one above the House of Pizza. Since Givant’s was closed at night, it was also quieter. However, the neighborhood was substantially worse. Lancaster was at the time a racially segregated community. To some extent it still suffers from the residual effects of this. The area that was available for housing for persons of color, as well as Lancaster’s sizable Puerto Rican population, was the Seventh Ward (based on gerrymandered voting districts). This neighborhood was also the only location for the city’s public housing units. Indeed, the head of the mortgage department at my bank had explained to me during my training in his department, that there was a neighborhood within the city where the bank did not give homeowner mortgages. He then showed me a map of the city with the “Seventh Ward”, actually outlined in red ink, i.e., they actually “red lined” it!!! East Vine Street was the northern border of the Seventh Ward, and also the location of Givant’s.

On April 4th, 1968, I watched from my window as two firebombs were tossed: one into a Watt & Shand Department Store warehouse just a half of a block north of my apartment, and one into the Haddad Shoe Company just outside of my rear door. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated that day. When I came home that afternoon (the bank closed early that day because of the assassination) one of my black neighbors warned me to stay indoors that night. I watched as the mob rioted one story below me where they were met by the Lancaster City police.

I built my first piece of furniture while living above Givant’s. It was a cube table made of 3/4” birch-faced plywood that I finished in a dark maple stain. I had begun subscribing to Apartment Life and saw the idea in the magazine. The rest of the apartment was fully furnished. It was inexpensive furniture, but I did have a small kitchen. I began to cook some of the recipes in Apartment Life as well. I still have a few of those recipes in my recipe box. The bedroom had two twin beds. I remember that the bathroom had a tub with a shower, and now, as I think about it, I think that my first apartment bathroom only had a shower.

One bathroom memory from this apartment sticks out. I had a friend from the bank that was getting married, and I arranged his bachelor party. He lived a good distance outside of Lancaster, and was far too drunk to drive home, so he bunked at my place in one of the twin beds. In the middle of the night he threw up, and I hauled him, and the sheets, into the bathroom and put him, and the sheets, under the shower. I then threw him back into bed. The next morning, as he awoke I told him that he had been sick and he said, “I WAS NOT!” I simply replied, “Where are your sheets”, and we had a good laugh. He later divorced, went to divinity school, became a minister in Boston, divorced, remarried, and is now back in Lancaster. We are no longer close, but there are some great memories in our past.

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