Not So Over the Hill Gang

A common occupation for immigrant Poles and their families in Toledo was to own groceries or butcher shops or work in the grocery business. Both in the Kuschwantz and in LaGrinka, small groceries stores dotted the neighborhoods.

One such grocery, in the Kuschwantz, on Woodstock Ave., between Nebraska Ave. and Dorr St. belonged to Benny Jaskolski. Bennie was born in 1923 and grew up in the home next to the grocery on Woodstock. He remained in that home until his death in 2001. He was born to George and Catherine Tomczak and married Delores Konczal in 1959.

Jaskolski’s grocery was started by his father in the 1920s when it initially operated as a bakery. It was during World War II that the operation was turned into a grocery due to the shortage of flour. Benny expanded the meat department and gained hundreds of loyal customers who purchased specialty Polish meats such a kielbasa, kiszka, Polish meatballs, liver sausage, and head cheese. The story also offered czarnina (duck soup), which is a delicacy to many Poles and sweet and sour kapusta (cabbage) dish that was popular in Toledo. (Kapusta is just the Polish word for cabbage and you will hear many people talk about kapusta; however, the dish or preparation will vary. Sweet and sour kapusta was a somewhat regional dish/preparation of cabbage to the Toledo area.)

Benny was a member of the National Association of Retail Grocers and attended it conventions. A Toledo Blade article, published on 15 June 1940 entitled Grocery Merchants to Attend Session and indicates several other Toledo area Poles active in the organization other than Benny: Chester Mierzejewski (I am not related to this person), Agatha Cieslinski, and Mr. and Mrs. F. X. Kaduboski.

Toledo Blade, 15 June 1940
Toledo Blade, 15 June 1940

Ann Fisher (a journalist whose early career was at the Toledo Blade and ended up as a broadcast journalist in Columbus), wrote an extensive article on Benny as he sold his store in 1989. Benny took over the store and ran it with his sister after their father died in 1949. When she retired, he ran the store alone. A stroke had caused Benny to sell the store and in this article, Benny reminisces that at the store’s heydey, he had four butchers working at the same time and many came to the store for his specialty meats. My family would order a ham and pounds of kielbasa from him at Christmas and Easter, which were the busiest times of the year for Jaskolski’s grocery store. Until sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s, most customers of the store walked to the grocery. It was located in a residential neighborhood, just a few blocks from Champion Spark Plug. My dad made near daily stops into Jaskolski’s on his way home from work at Champion.

Toledo Blade, 13 March 1989
Toledo Blade, 13 March 1989

Because of the store’s location within a predominately Polish heritage neighborhood, Benny had no reason to advertise. I found no advertisements in any of the local newspapers but I remember the store never being empty of customers as I was growing up. I often walked there to pick up last minute groceries for my parents–sandwich items, milk, etc. I remember walking up to the large meat counter and asking Benny or one of the other butchers for a pound of thinly sliced ham or bologna and being treated well. Mom sometimes would give me a list and often, Helen, the cashier would take the list and help me find all the items. The store was small and crowded but always organized and friendly.

As the neighborhood began to age and demographics changed, and after Benny had a stroke, the store was sold. Benny was active in a group called the Not-So-Over-The-Hill Gang, a group of retired grocers. The Toledo Blade ran an article on the Gang on 7 November 1992 in the Peach Section. The Gang would meet at the Surf restaurant to reminisce and continue long-standing friendships. Today, the store is vacant and abandoned.

Jaskolski Grocery 2022
Jaskolski Grocery 2022 (Google Street View)

Benny died 15 June 2001, survived by his wife and daughter. His wife died five years later.