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Mom And Pop And Hoboken: Portraits In Mile Square City

Posted: December 12, 2012

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Frank Sinatra's hometown is swiftly morphing into a commuter hub. What does that mean for the longstanding business owners? It's hard enough to survive the economy, let alone Hurricane Sandy.

Chickie, owner of Chickies Luncheonette, which has been closed since Hurricane Sandy. Delaney says this local haunt is

Chickie, owner of Chickies Luncheonette, which has been closed since Hurricane Sandy. Delaney says this local haunt is "one of those places where you walk in, and everyone turns around and says, 'Who are you?' "

Dom at Dom's Bakery. His claim to fame, Delaney says, is that Frank Sinatra would have his bread flown out to Hollywood every week.

Dom at Dom's Bakery. His claim to fame, Delaney says, is that Frank Sinatra would have his bread flown out to Hollywood every week.

Stevie, butcher at Truglio's Meat Market

Stevie, butcher at Truglio's Meat Market

Ivan, a baker at Antique Bakery, claims that their oven hasn't been turned off for more than 100 years, according to Delaney.

Ivan, a baker at Antique Bakery, claims that their oven hasn't been turned off for more than 100 years, according to Delaney.

John, owner of Fiore's Deli, which claims to have the best

John, owner of Fiore's Deli, which claims to have the best "mutz," or mozzarella

Jimmy, butcher at Truglio's Meat Market

Jimmy, butcher at Truglio's Meat Market

Patty, cook and owner at Piccolo's Clam Bar, standing in the

Patty, cook and owner at Piccolo's Clam Bar, standing in the "Sinatra room"

Miguel, cobbler at Giovanni D'Italia Shoe Repair. This room, Delaney says, was completely underwater after Hurricane Sandy, and the business had to relocate.

Miguel, cobbler at Giovanni D'Italia Shoe Repair. This room, Delaney says, was completely underwater after Hurricane Sandy, and the business had to relocate.

Adan, assistant baker at Antique Bakery

Adan, assistant baker at Antique Bakery

Emma has worked at Chickies Luncheonette for 25 years; it has been closed since Hurricane Sandy.

Emma has worked at Chickies Luncheonette for 25 years; it has been closed since Hurricane Sandy.

Esther at Dom's Bakery

Esther at Dom's Bakery

Stefan, owner of Babylon Comic Books, which closed after Hurricane Sandy

Stefan, owner of Babylon Comic Books, which closed after Hurricane Sandy

Giovanni, cobbler at Giovanni D'Italia Shoe Repair. Their claim to fame, Delaney says, is that they haven't dusted in 50 years.

Giovanni, cobbler at Giovanni D'Italia Shoe Repair. Their claim to fame, Delaney says, is that they haven't dusted in 50 years.

Miguel, assistant baker at Antique Bakery

Miguel, assistant baker at Antique Bakery

Eva of Babylon Comic Books, now closed

Eva of Babylon Comic Books, now closed

Norberto, cobbler at Giovanni D'Italia Shoe Repair

Norberto, cobbler at Giovanni D'Italia Shoe Repair

Giorgio Pasticcerie Italian bakery is owned by a father-and-daughter pair: Giorgio, who moved to Hoboken from Italy, and his daughter, Mary Grace, a first-generation American.

Giorgio Pasticcerie Italian bakery is owned by a father-and-daughter pair: Giorgio, who moved to Hoboken from Italy, and his daughter, Mary Grace, a first-generation American.

Dorothy's parents opened Schnackenberg's Luncheonette in 1927; she has worked there since she was a kid.

Dorothy's parents opened Schnackenberg's Luncheonette in 1927; she has worked there since she was a kid.

Exactly 97 years ago today, Frank Sinatra was born in Hoboken. A few decades later, On the Waterfront, starring a young Marlon Brando, was filmed there. The small New Jersey city, which sits on the Hudson just across from Manhattan, has a storied past of which locals are fiercely proud.

That's what photographer John Delaney is trying to capture in his series Hoboken Passing: Mile Square City's history, as told by its longtime business-owners. What started as a digital photography masters thesis has turned into an ongoing documentary project. And having worked with legendary photographers Richard Avedon and Irving Penn, Delaney knows how to make a portrait.

"I kind of fell in love with these little multigenerational, old businesses that were ... community centers," Delaney says on the phone. "I realized that because this town is transforming so fast into a commuter town, a lot of these places can't afford the rent, so I wanted to capture that."

Delaney quickly learned that this effort is a race against the clock. Many of Hoboken's small businesses — even ones he had just photographed — didn't survive Hurricane Sandy, let alone the economy.

"I gained a lot of weight doing this," Delaney says. Which would be hard to avoid if you're spending time with John at Fiore's, who claims to have the best "mutz" (or mozzarella) around. Or with Ivan at Antique Bakery, who claims their oven hasn't been turned off in 100 years. Or with Dom of Dom's Bakery, who used to literally fly fresh bread out to Sinatra in Hollywood.

Each of these business owners has a source of pride. At Giovanni's D'Italia Shoe Repair, Delaney says, they bragged about how long they had gone without dusting. But then Hurricane Sandy came along and washed all that dust — and that claim to fame — away. Giovanni's managed to stay open but has since relocated. Other shops and delis were not as lucky. And whatever happens moving forward, Delaney hopes to capture it.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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