Although there hasn’t been an ice cream parlor in Woodhaven for decades, residents still remember them fondly. Muller’s, Grader’s, Behren’s and Wrede’s were all very popular parlors whose names haven’t been seen around Woodhaven in many years.
And then there was Wilkens Confectionary, which sat at 92-05 Jamaica Avenue and served homemade candy and ice cream, as well as hot lunches and sandwiches on Saturdays.
The shop originally opened as Buck’s in 1925, and when Buck got himself a partner in 1933 it was renamed Buck & Edelbohl’s. In 1936, Emil Wilkens took over the business and gave it the name that many residents remember to this day.
A few years later, Emil Wilkens would marry Mildred Kehlbeck in a ceremony that would turn out to be the very last wedding to take place in the old Emanuel Church, which was torn down to accommodate the widening of Woodhaven Boulevard.
They bought a house a few blocks away from their store and had a few children.
The Wilkens were respected members of the new Emanuel United Church of Christ, and used to provide the ice cream that was served to children after the annual Anniversary Parades held on the first Thursday of every June.
It was a different time in New York City, where the business owners and the people who worked the shops were our neighbors and our friends. We knew these people, went to church with them, and our kids went to school with their kids.
It created a strong bond between the business district and community, something that has sadly been lost in recent decades.
Wilkens Confectionary would remain in business for nearly four decades, finally closing in 1974. Ads in the Leader-Observer show that it was briefly replaced by Lewis' of Woodhaven, who used the space for holiday shoppers.
In subsequent years it was the home of Woodhaven Records & Tapes (and Head Shop), before giving way to the 1980s and Video Maniacs. Then it was Jea & Son Supermarket for 20 years, before doing a brief turn as a kickboxing school and then finally a mobile phone store.
But many people still have warm memories of Wilkens Confectionery and they will be happy to hear that Mildred Wilkens, who put in a great many hours in that shop we all loved, recently celebrated her 100th birthday.
In fact, the town of Brookfield, Connecticut, proclaimed July 22, 1918, as “Millie Wilkens Day.” She celebrated with friends and family and even some former store owners in Mr. & Mrs. Helmuth Bolowsky of Manor Delicatessen, who joined in the festivities.
Her daughter Ann says that she had a wonderful time at her party seeing old friends and family and even danced in her chair to Chubby Checker’s “The Twist.”
In fact, hearing that oldie prompted Millie to recall the great jukebox they had inside Wilkens Confectionery.
What a treat it must have been to have such places, where you could get ice cream and malted milk and egg creams and listen to great music on a jukebox. It’s a shame that such places don’t exist anymore and that today’s kids will never know what they were like.
We owe a great debt to the families that ran these shops and brought such great value to our community. And while almost all of them are gone - Emil Wilkens sadly passed away in 1994 - we are blessed that Mildred Wilkens is still with us and enjoying ice cream on her birthday.
And so, from all of Woodhaven to Millie Wilkens on the occasion of her 100th birthday, we say thank you and wish you the very best of health. May you celebrate many more birthdays dancing the Twist and enjoying ice cream!