RYE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Rye has bid farewell to a little mom-and-pop shop that’s been the heart of the community for nearly half a century.
Peggy and Tony D’Oforio opened T.D.’s Rye Smoke Shop 46 years ago.
Stepping into the narrow, dimly lit store was like stepping back in time, with Sinatra on the radio, dark wood display cases zinc-linked to keep tobacco products fresh, a tin ceiling and a phone booth in the back.
But that old world charm is not what made this store special, it was the customers.
“A lot of them are like family,” said Tony D’Onofrio Jr., who came to help his mother run the store after his father died more than 20 years ago. “Kids that were growing up were calling mom and dad uncle Tony and aunt Peg.”
Former Yankee skipper Joe Torre bought his morning paper at the smoke shop.
“His routine was he would go to the Y, work out, come here, get his newspapers, go over to Starbucks, get a couple of coffees and then bring them home to his wife,” D’Onofrio said.
But one day, Torre walked in and realized he forgot his wallet at home.
“Mom says, ‘What are you doing?’ Take the papers and pay us later. Then she reaches into the cash register, hands him a $20 bill and says to him, ‘You gotta get the coffee,'” D’Oforio said, adding Torre was dumbfounded. “He leaves and he comes back at lunch time. He comes to the door and yells, ‘The dead beat is back!’ He goes over and hands mom a little Starbucks bag and in the bag is a $20 bill and three autographed baseballs.”
In 1994, former New York Ranger Eddie Olczyk was also a regular customer and one day he made a special appearance at the store with the Stanley Cup.
“Unfortunately the word had leaked out and there was like 200 people outside the store but Eddie was great,” D’Onofrio said. “He brought the cup in and didn’t leave until every kid that was outside got a chance to come in and get a picture with the cup.”
Through the years, the shop became a community hub.
“After 9/11 people people were coming in here just so that they could get a hug from my mother because they wanted something of continuity, something that still was the same,” D’Onofrio said.
The space around the counter was a veritable extended family photo album displaying Christmas cards from customers and friends.
“My mother loves the cards because it shows the families,” D’Onofrio said. “She can never throw them away. She puts them in a manila envelope every year and when we decided we had to move them out we filled up two large tubs full of the cards. I have a funny feeling we’re going to start a few scrapbooks.”
In the final days, customers stopped in for one last lottery ticket and there was talk of saving the business with the winnings.
“I love them,” said customer Teresa Lapietro.
“It didn’t matter if you were Joe Torre or some 6-year-old coming in for a piece of bubble gum. Tony, Peggy, Anthony they treated you like you were the most important people in the world,” longtime customer Douglas Carey said. “Some of the most honest, warm, giving people that any community in this country and world could ever ask for.”
The building is being redeveloped and the family reluctantly has closed.
“We have to leave and we really don’t want to,” D’Onofrio said.
The family is grateful for all the memories.
“Thank you for letting us serve you, thank you for letting us be a part of your lives,” D’Onofrio said. “It makes me feel very humble, and both happy and sad. The people are what make the town special and we were very happy, very glad to be a part of that.”