Bob and Judi Pheiffer never should have met, but nearly 40 years ago, for reasons Bob calls “fate,” they did.
Judi was born in Brooklyn and grew up in the Bronx. Bob was born in Manhattan’s Lower East Side and grew up in Brooklyn.
When Judi was a teenager, she moved with her family to Hollywood so her father, Sholom “Red” Stodolsky, could open the renowned Baroque Bookstore on Las Palmas. Bob moved to California to live with friends and be a “hippie.”
One day, 38 years ago, Bob, then 27, brought his dog and guitar to Los Angeles’ La Brea Tar Pits. He saw a cute girl, almost 18, and played The Eagles’ song “Desperado.” Then, when he noticed she was looking his way, Bob took his dog’s paw and made it wave to Judi, who was sitting with a friend.
“Judi was smitten,” Bob said, while standing in the antique store he has owned with his wife, , on Fifth Avenue for the last 15 years.
But, it was Judi who got up and went to talk with him.
“The rest, 38 years later, is history,” Bob said, explaining that the day after they close up their shop for good, August 1, will be their 30th wedding anniversary.
The married duo have been working together ever since they met, first running a wholesale airbrush clothing business from a basement in Park Slope when they moved back in 1978, called Romantics Airbrushed Originals. Then, in 1997, they opened their antique shop between President and Union streets.
“The amazing thing is that we have spent basically 24 hours a day together for 38 years and we are still living, and still like each other,” Bob said, turning to Judi and laughing.
For the past 15 years, they have been working at their own store selling antiques—anything from old signs from the neighborhood, to expensive jewelry, anatomical posters from the 1950s, to furniture and glassware.
But, come July 31, their doors will close for good and they are packing up and moving to California, near San Diego. They intend to live a quieter life, a life of west coast beaches, hiking, yoga and family.
“We want a change. This has been 15 years, seven days a week, we want a life,” Bob said, explaining that they barely have time to do their laundry between the store and buying antiques to keep up their collection. They will be moving to California, where Judi’s family lives, in September.
Judi, who was a founder of the Fifth Avenue Merchants Association and then co-president of the Fifth Avenue Business Improvement District, has done a lot to make the avenue what it is today. But, the arena has become something she is not necessarily fond of.
“I’d have to say, the Barclays Center has changed the neighborhood. It’s a lot of development and it’s now not the Brooklyn that we came here for,” Judi said, explaining that it feels like their neighborhood is being Manhattanized. “For us, it feels like the nature of Brooklyn is not what it used to be.”
But even still, Brooklyn is still their home, part of their being and they will always love it. For two Brooklynites, even a big change can’t drive them out. They are leaving because they want to. And they are heading west to explore a new city.
And at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how far they will go, for Kings County will be right there with them.
“We’re still New Yorkers, I’ll be over there with my accent,” Judi said, explaining that she’ll bring her city habits, like not having the patience to wait at a street light, along for the ride.
But, just in case they change their minds, they are keeping their home in Park Slope.
“If it doesn’t work out, we have a house to come back to,” Judi said.
Standing among pocket watches, old diamond rings and a rather large collection of Bakelite, they reminisced.
When they first opened, they said, Fifth Avenue was “pretty shady.” They used to chain their stuff sitting outside their door, or else it would get stolen. And a few times, big pieces, like a giant mirror, or a big table, were taken by the “users and abusers” of the neighborhood.
Bob and Judi have plenty of stories about their first couple of years, sharing their turf with Aunt Suzie’s and 200 Fifth. But one story, Judi said, ended with them fitting into the social fabric of Park Slope.
About eight years ago, they put a great big pine country table out front, but soon, someone snatched it.
“I started asking the street people about our table and I told them it was out here and now it’s gone,” Judi said. “I didn’t want to know who took it, I just said, ‘Maybe you know who took it and it would be nice if whoever took it brought it back.’”
Then, the next morning, she walked up to the store, the gate was down and the table was just sitting there.
“That’s when I felt we were really part of the neighborhood,” Judi explained. “I put the word out and it came back.”
While standing in their store, Chris Mackin, who has been shopping here for 15 years and has lived in Park Slope since the 70s with her husband, said she has also seen the neighborhood transform.
“You think things will never change, but they always will, I still haven’t adjusted to that fact yet,” Mackin said, while she stopped in to shop and chat with Bob and Judi. “I am sorry they are leaving, but they are reaching their dream.”
Every corner of their store has a story, from the neon-pastel sign from the old Laundromat that is now in on President Street, to the shrine, if you will, of Charles Bukowski.
But, what many may not know is that back corner is not devoted to the writer, but rather the bookman who first championed Bukowski’s work: Sholom “Red” Stodolsky, Judi’s late father.
Bukowski and Red met at Red’s store, Baroque Bookstore in Hollywood and became close. Bukowski wrote a poem about him, aptly named “Red,” in his collection “Septuagenarian Stew” and also included him in his book, “Ham on Rye.”
Little details like that make the store what it is and what it will be remembered as.
Irene LoRe, the executive director of the Fifth Avenue BID, said she is very sad to see them go.
“Bob and Judi are the Mom and Pop Shop,” LoRe said, who owned . “They personify what is good about Fifth Avenue and Park Slope. They are main Street America.”