Here’s a development that boggles the mind, given recent trends in Red Bank’s retail scene.
There’s a new store on the bustlingest stretch of Monmouth Street that you can go into with $20, buy a couple of items, and still walk out with change.
The display racks are made of unfinished pine. The front counter is a pine board lined with glass jars of penny candy. The merchandise includes apple-scented candles in mugs for about $6 as well as 2-foot-by-3-foot European rugs for $9.99.
And driving the business into existence is the proprietor’s desire to bring a little bit of the dear departed Prown’s back to downtown Red Bank.
“It’s a throwback,” Irwin Katz says about his store, which he named Four Chicks & a Rooster General Store after his five kidsfour girls and a boy.
To which any thinking person must ask: Is he nuts? Or does Irwin Katz know something the rest of us don’t?
The newspaper that had covered the store’s front windows came down last Friday, after months of delays, revealing beautiful wood floors that Katz had refinished and a pressed-tin ceiling with a fresh coat of white paint on it.
“I opened at about noon, and right away, I had tourists from France,” Katz says. “I swear to god, they started their vacation in Red Bank.”
Next in was a woman from Middletown who bought a clothes hamper for her beach house. Katz took that as a good sign.
A Bronx-born 60-year-old who now lives with his wife and kids in Shrewsbury, Katz once sold linens wholesale; among his customers was the legenday Prown’s, where he later worked. A housewares emporium legendary for its seemingly endless inventory, Prown’s closed its retail operation on Broad Street in early 2003 to focus on home improvements, which it now offers from a space on Monmouth Street a couple of blocks west of Four Chicks.
Katz opened JJ’s General store on Shrewsbury Avenue four years ago, selling everything from do-rags and t-shirts to ironing boards and luggage.
It was a mix as eccentric as Katz himself. For one thing, he’s borderline freakishly adamant about not being photographed, and though he told redbankgreen why, he asked that we not disclose it in the interest of his privacy.
He also carries a wallet reminiscent of the overstuffed billfold used in an episode of ‘Seinfeld’ by the fictional George Costanza.
“Are you kidding me? I am George Costanza,” Katz says, cradling his rhino of a wallet in two hands. “Seinfeld stole my life.”
When we popped by Four Chicks late Friday afternoon, a friend was trying to tell Katz what hardware he’d need to properly hang his new sign in the window. But Katz kept interrupting, and didn’t seem to comprehend what he was being told. “I swear, you have ADD,” the friend said.
Katz recently sold JJ’s to concentrate on the Monmouth Street shop. The space he took over, at 24 Monmouth, was most recently the home of Town Trimmings, the last of a string of fabric-and-sewing stores that occupied the space for more than half a century.
“What allowed me to do this is that the landlord is old-school,” says Katz. “He’s reasonable.”
Looking down along Monmouth Street, Katz points out a store where the landlord is getting $4,500 a month from a new business. “We need more regular stores, and we’re not going to get them with these kinds of rents,” he says.
Katz says his mix of merchandise will change to match the demand he encounters. “I’m a work in process,” he says. “I don’t yet have a handle on what’s really going to move. Hopefully, it will grow into what people need.”
It all sounds decidedly old-fashioned and dowdy, and rather out of sync with the repeated assertion of the TriCity News that Katz is “hip.”
“I don’t want to be hip,” Katz. says. “I don’t even know what the word means. I just want to be a good fit for the downtown.”