Sometimes history is so close to the surface, all you have to do is remove a few bricks to find it. Pioneer supermarket on Columbus Avenue between 73rd and 74th streets peeled away some of its facade because the city Buildings Department was checking out the store’s structure. For a short time, the sun shone on a sign that had been hidden for 54 years. It said “CAFE” in what appear to be neon letters.

Pioneer opened in 1959, a manager there told us, replacing the cafe and other businesses. The manager didn’t know the name of the cafe. “Before my time,” he said.

Does anyone remember anything about it? Let us know in the comments!

Also, can you imagine Pioneer being the new business on the block?!?

Thanks to Geoff for the photo.

HISTORY, NEWS | 11 comments | permalink
    1. TG says:

      They had unearthed some cool brick arch structures under the sidewalk (in the bottom left of that first photo) that they have since demolished. I wonder if that was actually part of the original basement ceiling.

      • geoff says:

        Pioneer’s basement extends from beneath the store to beneath the sidewalk on the Columbus Avenue side. The brickwork supports the steel beams upon which the sidewalk is built. So, the sidewalk is actually part of the basement ceiling.

        It is somewhat fitting that the work was done the old fashioned way—by hand. All of the debris from the sidewalk was carried in plastic buckets to the dumpster. A wheelbarrow was available to the workers for only a short time, about two or three days.

    2. w 75 says:

      unearthing and shining light!
      the best part of a new story!
      great photo!

    3. JC says:

      Could there be a name of the cafe under the brick before the unearthed neon letters?

    4. JW says:

      The 1959 remodeling is iconic if ugly (with apologies to Pioneer). What history this has seen! It looks like there is original rusticated limestone, possibly intact, behind the hideous 50s flagstones. No doubt a name was attached to the cafe. Perhaps someday the facade will be restored in keeping with the rest of the building.

    5. Scooter Stan says:

      They also unearthed the skeleton of poor old Portia Mandelbaum, still clutching the can of Manischewitz Chicken Gribbenes that she had been holding waiting for the Pioneer cashier to stop chatting with her colleague and pay attention to the customers.


    6. UWS Shopper says:

      Pioneer is a disgrace. The cover holes in the floors with cardboard & scatter rugs. Their a/c broke a couple of years ago and the store has no a/c. You don’t get itemized receipts, just itemized numbers like an old-fashioned adding machine. The cash registers are hidden from view as your items are rung up, the counter where you check out your merchandise is all chopped up & doesn’t move, so the cashier has to reach for the merchandise. The place is filthy.
      I tripped on a rubber mat that had curled up around the edges. They don’t care and say they are proud of its age & customers love it. Plus, they are smug & tell you they’ve outlasted Food City & Food Emporium. That’s true. The place is a disgrace. That whole store needs remodeling. Nobody at that store cares about the customer, just rake in the money. I mean cardboard covering holes in floors? No a/c in 95 degree weather.

    7. Nick says:

      There were no “cafes” on Columbus Avenue in the 1950s. Given the size of the building and the era, that’s probably the beginning of the word “cafeteria”.

    8. Paul says:

      I live on the UWS but I work in East New York. The Pioneer near the office is cleaner, better stocked, cheaper, and friendlier than the one on Amsterdam. I walked into the store on Amsterdam, walked around exactly once and left, never to return. With Fairway so close, why bother?

      • UWSlongtimer says:

        Dude. You say you live on the upper west side, but you don’t know Amsterdam from Columbus? Though what you say is pretty much on the mark, your geography fail erodes your cred.