The motto on their business card was “We Sell Everything” – a bold statement that is difficult to back up. But Lewis’ of Woodhaven did back it up – and they did sell everything – for over 70 years from the day it opened in 1933 until its closing in 2004.
Lewis’ started as a small store in Brooklyn before Louis Lewis moved to Woodhaven, opening in a 20-foot storefront that eventually expanded into their 85th Street store. The business was handed over to his two children, Larry and Julius.
“My father and my uncle got along socially,” Larry’s son Jeff Lewis recalled. “But they had two very different ideas on how a store should be run and they ran into difficulty among themselves, so they opened up a different store and my father ended up in the 90th Street store and Julie ran the 85th Street one.”
And that was how Woodhaven became blessed with not just one, but two remarkable stores that once you started shopping there you knew you couldn’t live without.
“It was crazy, but everybody in Woodhaven had ‘their’ Lewis and you couldn’t convince them to shop in the other store,” Lewis recalls.
Instead of competitors, though, the two stores complimented each other and it was a common sight to see Lewis’ employees dashing between 85th and 90th Street to get an item the other store carried for a customer.
And the quality of the two stores never diminished one bit over the years, as the businesses were handed down to Jeff and Julie’s son Robby. That you could always get what you were looking for in one of the two stores spawned a popular saying around Woodhaven, “If you can’t find it in Lewis’, you don’t need it!”
“We took a lot of pride in that,” Lewis said. “We carried 55,000 items, excluding holiday and promotional goods; 55,000 regular everyday items, compared to a Costco today which has around 5,000 items.”
Lewis’ of Woodhaven supported a lot of families, as many locals worked at one of the two stores and many residents of Woodhaven had their first real job there. And the employees of Lewis’ of Woodhaven became like a fraternity that has stayed in touch over the years.
Some of the former employees of Lewis’ will be gathering at Roma View on Friday, October 10, as the legendary store will be inducted into Woodhaven’s Hall of Fame at the WRBA’s 43rd Annual Celebration and Fundraiser.
Lewis’ will be honored alongside our Man of the Year, Historian Allan Smith,, Woman of the Year Margie Schmidt and Business of the Year, The Avenue Diner.
And there will be a special raffle of a full-sized painting of Lewis’ of Woodhaven, donated by the artist Madeline Lovallo, who will also be in attendance. The person who wins that will have an opportunity to get it signed not only by the artist, but by members of the Lewis' family as well.
Tickets to the Woodhaven fundraiser are $65 per person and include a delicious buffet and free beer, wine and soda. Tickets can be purchased online at woodhaven-nyc.org or projectwoodhaven.com, or you can call (718) 296-3735.
All proceeds from the fundraiser goes to the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association to assist their ongoing efforts to make our community a better place to live.