A tiny girl empties a handful of candy onto the counter of the small store: Chick-O-Stix, Jungle Jollies, Laffy Taffy. Her other hand dumps damp pennies in a pile.
Adam Weiss counts out the coins, and the child sweeps the goodies into a paper bag. He gives her some paper penny-wrappers - for next time. She gives him back a beautiful smile. “Look at all the pennies and rolled coins,” says Merle Weiss, the older man who sits on a stack of milk cartons next to his son, watching the day's business flow past. “You can tell it's the end of the month. Everybody's spending their change.”
Merle is 48. He's worked at The Beer Dock, a carryout store at Huron and Lagrange streets, since his father brought him in to help at age 10. He's tired, he says. Adam, 19, is not excited at the prospect of a lifetime of 12-hour workdays, even if he is the third-generation Weiss to run the place.
“It's been a decent life,” Merle Weiss says. “It's paid the bills. Business is still good. But I think I've already made up my mind. ... It's unbelievable, the changes in this neighborhood, just the last two or three years. It used to be such a nice, friendly melting pot. But now the pimps, the prostitutes, the drugs, the hold-ups. ... It's just getting to be too much.”
The Beer Dock is many things to Toledo's Vistula neighborhood. It's the last of the family-owned carryout markets. It's the only place within three well-populated blocks where you can buy bread, milk, chips, diapers, beer, or bologna. It has a wide, littered lot and a shady porch ideal for hanging out and visiting.
“It's the only one of its kind in the neighborhood. All the other little mom-and-pop stores have gone by the wayside,” Toledo police Sgt. Keith Miller says. “It doesn't help that so many people around here aren't working. They have too much time on their hands, and the closest store is The Beer Dock.”
Merle doesn't have definite closing plans. He feels sure he can sell the place - that The Beer Dock will remain open after he goes, with a new face behind the linoleum counter.
When Sam and Grace Weiss bought Sam's Beer Dock in the early 1960s, there was a dry-cleaning shop next door, a convent down the street, and seven other small markets in the surrounding blocks.
“My dad stayed here, in a chair, watching TV, till about 1972, when he had a stroke,” his son recalls. “People still remember him, the guy with the cigar stuck in his mouth.”
Vistula then was a working-class neighborhood, a mix of racial and ethnic groups, Merle says. “There was black people, Greeks, Lebanese... Danny Thomas lived down the street. Where'd all those people go? I don't know. The older ones died off. Some of them we still see - they live over in Madonna Homes. We have our regulars, yeah. People come in with their kids, and say they came in here when they were small.”
The old storefront was a simple garage door. In good weather, bins of tomatoes, lettuces, corn, apples, and greens stood outside.
“If I did that today, people would run up and grab what they wanted and steal it all,” Merle says. “Now, I just carry lettuce and tomatoes in small packages.”
Big sellers these days are Newport cigarettes, penny candy, single, cold cans of cheap beer and malt liquor. Some customers are getting sharper, harsher, sometimes vicious.
“In our first 37 years, we were held up twice,” Merle says. “And then, in 1998, we were robbed seven times - men with guns. Nobody ever got hurt, thank God. And that's not counting all the break-ins.” Merle sighs. “And it keeps happening.
“It's time for me to get out. Time to find a new job. Start a new life.”