By George Capsis
My son Doric recently corrected me: “You haven’t been living on Charles Street for 50 years; it’s more like 60.”
As you get older, time collapses and events you thought occurred a year ago actually took place three or more years ago. So, when I read that Murray Greenburg of Murray’s Cheese opened his shop on Cornelia Street in 1940, I mentally froze—77 years ago…wow!
I certainly remember stolid and sardonic Murray in his white apron with one eye askew. I often wondered whether that feature resulted from his battles in Spain, when he fought with the American Communist Lincoln Brigade against Franco.
Murray’s tiny store was encrusted with a continually changing display of international food delicacies, leaving space for maybe six customers. So, the store nearly always had a line outside because it featured a groaning counter of two-dollar-a-pound cheeses. Today, I still think of Murray when I have to pay six dollars a pound for cheese in “cheap” Trader Joe’s.
I got the impression that Murray knew everybody in the cheese market, which was on Greenwich Street below Canal Street, and was offered product closeouts.
Inside the store, Little Louie worked with another young Italian clerk. Louie eventually bought the business from Murray and opened the corner shop on Cornelia and Bleecker, but it was not the same.
A customer whose name I forgot also inherited the Murray lineage and opened East Village Cheese on 4th Avenue, which was more like the old store. However, the cheese went up to three dollars a pound and the store closed.
Years ago, while in Athens, I was in the car with Aleco, my cousin John’s brother-in-law. He recommended a great yogurt that I should bring to America and took me to the Fage factory. There, I obtained a batch, which I gave to Murray. When I asked him for the customer reaction, he said, “Give me some more.”