A Fond Farewell to Mr. Fortunato

                        By Gary Weickart

  There she was. Walking briskly down Woodland Drive towards my home, my "Nana" Phoebe Kern was on her way to the village. Eagerly joining her, I knew that we would probably stop at Raulston's grocery store, Zwissler's Butcher shop and best of all Fortunato's. While I never was overly excited about the first two shops, the undisputed highlight of any journey into town was always that oasis of fun at 62 West Main Street known as Fortunato's Pharmacy.

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  Walking through the central glass front doors, I would immediately turn right and be enraptured by a solid wall of comic books, their vivid colorful covers enticing me to spend the dime tightly held in my small hand. To make the choice even harder, that same dime could also provide me with a good size candy bar plus a chocolate Coke served up at the long soda fountain with its row of swiveling red-topped stools.

  While Nana went about her business buying 'grown‑up' stuff, I thoroughly enjoyed every minute in that wonderful store and it is always the first place I think of when I reminisce about 'Old East Islip'.

  Presiding over it all was a kind, intelligent and warm‑hearted gentleman ... Vincent Fortunato. He was there to help his customers, many of who became friends of his, and his extra measure of kindness to my Grandmother will always be remembered and appreciated. In that era before tanning salons, he was the only man in town with a suntan in February, the result of his annual winter cruise to points South.

  He was professional, courteous and set an example on how to run a business that seems forgotten in today's fast‑paced, shopping experience. When was the last time you were greeted with a cheery 'Hello', thanked after you paid and offered free gift wrapping for your purchase? It was the rule rather than the exception in Vincent Fortunato's store.

  After the Pharmacy closed in 1974, 1 lost touch with Mr. Fortunato as the years passed, though I frequently saw him in front of his Main Street home tending to his immaculately kept yard and garden. It was about six years ago that I wrote a letter to him, thanking him for the many happy memories of my youth and wishing him well. How surprised and thrilled I was when he paid a visit to my shop "Get It On Paper" in Islip to thank me for the nice letter. We both chatted for some time and that started my visits to his home where, just like the old days in his store, I was warmly greeted and made to feel comfortable. It was then that I met his lovely wife Adora who was always warm, friendly, and personable. It pleased me that Mr. Fortunato had found such a loving woman to share his life.

  Though I had hoped to feature a photo of Mr. Fortunato or his Pharmacy his busy schedule and declining health prevented him from uncovering the photo's of his wonderful shop he said were in his desk upstairs. How I would have loved to see them and rekindle the memories of those happier bygone days. Sadly, my friend Vincent Fortunato passed away last October 8. He will be remembered for a long time to come by all that had the pleasure of meeting him.

  So now only the memories remain of my sweet Grandmother bringing me to East Islip village to visit what I thought was the best store in town. Farewell and thanks to both of you.