Neil “Pops” Needelman is a welcome, vivacious, and comforting throwback to the delis and butcher shops of ol’ Brooklyn, as he hosts his retired friends at his weekly kibitz (Yiddish for “informal chat”) at his son’s restaurant: community pillar, The Fish Store, in Bayport.
As is the nature of these meetings, the attendees asked not to be formally named in the article due to the subject matter and connections they held.
Held every Thursday, the kibitz, which started in the spring, have grown popular, with the entire back part of the The Fish Store’s restaurant set up for attendees.
Delectable pastries are brought in each week from PLACE by Pops’s son, Seth. “He [Seth] pays for all this; it costs me nothing!” he brags.
Coffee and tea with half-and-half and a generous container of sugar, are offered.
Pops’s wife, affectionately known by the community as Mama, and famous for her homemade marinade and paradoxically light and decadent rice pudding, checks in on the men at regular intervals.
Suffolk County News was invited to join in this past Thursday, Sept. 9, at a leisurely 10 a.m., to enjoy the conversation and crullers.
As the first woman to attend the weekly kibitz, ladies’ man and World War II Pacific theater veteran, Bob Fritts, was eager to share stories of his antique plane, which he still flies out of the Bayport Aerodrome from Hangar 6 on weather-permitting days.
Nestled into Fritts’s wallet is a picture from 1960 (before Kennedy was even elected!) of a nearly 4-foot lobster he captured off the North Fork of Long Island.
Pops said his motivation to start this group was to get people to gather, especially after the pandemic had left many so lonely. “It’s a good way to get to know others, and we get to enjoy some coffee and food,” said Needelman.
A former union elevator operator, Pops has an encyclopedic knowledge of the major buildings in Manhattan, and even shared a story of the Woolworth Building having one of the only elevators still running on a water-based hydraulic system (there are others, but use oil).
“They had this guy come in and help me who was like 100 years old,” said Pops, “but that’s how old the elevator was! And he took out this small tool, this tiny hammer, and hit one of the water containers a few times and said, ‘Is it [the elevator] level now?’ and it fixed it!”
Water would rust the components of the hydraulic system, and then the rust particles would collect in the mechanics, causing the elevator to become unleveled, but simply tapping the particles out of the gears fixed the issue.
A man with two classic cars, one being a Shelby Cobra, lamented the cancellation of the Javits car show, but was excited that his vehicles were going to be featured in two local vintage collections.
Pops and Mama had originally moved to Holbrook in the late ‘70s, after being intrigued by the affordable price of housing in the lesser-developed area at the time.
He had actually broken down on the Koscuiszko Bridge en route to meet with the developer to put his down payment on what would be their Long Island home, but found an honest garage shop at the base of the bridge that “got to the problem, a radiator vent that needed to be replaced, and charged me a fair price, and I was on my way.”
Youngest son, Seth, served as a first mate during summers while in college, and eventually went on to work for another fish store after learning how to fillet and prepare catches at sea.
“We were very supportive of him wanting to own his own fish store,” said Pops, “and he’s done a terrific job with it and always helps the community.”
Now joining his son in serving the community as a meeting place, Seth said of his father, “He is an amazing man and someone that loves to hear from everyone.”
To join Pops, simply come on down to The Fish Store at 836 Montauk Highway in Bayport on Thursdays between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m