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Nothing Sweeter Than a Trip to Watercrest Deli

By ROBIN LENTZ WORGAN | Jul 24, 2019

The trips started early.

As I awoke, I would hear the sound of the ocean waves out the window of our beachfront pink house. I would feel the warmth of the sun shining on my face as I squinted to enjoy the dimples of Scott Baio on a poster hanging on my wall.

I would dress and walk down the steps, sniffing the smell of breakfast sausages frying in a pan, and I would overhear Nana ask my early-riser brother Gavin, “Can you go to the deli and get a gallon of milk and some eggs?”

Gavin would nod his head as she handed him a $20 bill. “And get yourself a treat,” she would add.

Those were always magic words to our ears. Each time Nana sent one of my siblings or cousins or me to the deli throughout the day, she encouraged us to get a treat.

This trip of Gavin’s would be the first of many daily trips to the Watercrest Delicatessen, located on the corner of 19th Street and the Boulevard in Surf City. It was a small deli run by a couple named George and Julie. And, as time went on, their daughter Sue helped them as well. It was there from the 1960s to late ’80s.

Just as Gavin got back with Nana’s order and a pack of grape Now & Later candies, Nana would ask my cousin Jenny and me, “Why, um, girls can you go back to the deli and get a pound of ham, a pound of American cheese, a loaf of bread and some soda? And don’t forget to get yourselves a treat.”

None of us ever minded going to the deli because we knew a piece of candy was built into each trip. In our bathing suits and bare feet, we would walk down to the deli at the end of the block.

As we waited for the cold cuts, we had time to eye all the candy in front of the counter and a large shelf of candy to the left of the counter. It was a child’s dream. There were all the normal candy bars like Snickers, Reese’s, Hershey bars, Milky Ways and Three Musketeers for 35 cents, and then there were also the no longer popular candy bars like 100 Grand, formally known to us as $100,000, Clark Bar, Mallo Cup, Mars, Charleston Chew and, later on, Whatchamacallit as well as hard candy including Jaw Breakers, Turkish taffies and Fun Dip.

Jenny and I always liked to pick our own treats and grab a bunch of individually wrapped Bazooka bubble gum packages. On the way back up to our house, we would tear open the gum, plop it in our mouths and unfold and read aloud our comic strips that were wrapped inside each one. In 1978 a piece of Bazooka bubble gum was 1 cent.

Other times we liked to buy silver dollar-sized SweeTarts and suck them until our tongues began to bleed. The owners would always look at our large candy order, then look at us while shaking their heads and back to the candy again, especially if it was early in the morning because they, I’m sure, were wondering if we were really allowed to eat all that junk. Happily, we were.

As Jenny and I walked back up the street chewing Bazooka, one of us would inevitably stub our toe and then walk on our heel until we reached the house. The price we paid for a stubbed toe was that Nana or our moms would encourage us to go back to the deli for another treat to make us feel better. We would usually head back down for candy cigarettes, and my Uncle Jeff would request Swedish Fish and my mom would request licorice.

Just as we were about to eat lunch, my grandmother would realize we had run out of mayonnaise, so she would send my brother Bryan to fetch it. He would come back chewing a bubble gum cigar and hand her the mayonnaise.

Later, after a few hours building drippy sandcastles, body surfing and frying on the beach, we would head to the house to watch “The Brady Bunch” and “Little House on the Prairie.” As we stomped off our sandy feet and entered the house, Nana would ask my little sister Katie to run to the deli for some paper towels. On Katie’s very first trip to the deli, at age 5, my grandfather and father watched her walk there and back from the front steps. Walking to the Watercrest Deli by yourself was a milestone that occurred between the ages of 5 and 6. Katie would come back sucking a blow pop or eating a Chunky.

Just before dinner and before the deli closed, my grandmother would ask my older sister Kim to go there to buy some breadcrumbs and a quarter pound of Lebanon bologna. Kim would walk back into the house, place the grocery bag on the bar and continue munching her bright yellow bag of Sugar Babies.

Darkness finally came. Lights went out and the ocean lulled us to sleep, but the next day the seven trips to the deli would begin again, and so would our choice of candy treats!

In Steve Almond’s memoir titled Candyfreak, he recalls how candy was an accepted snack in the ’50s and beyond. Nowadays, snack and candy are never mentioned in the same sentence, and we parents, as a generation, are much more hovering. We watch what our children eat, tell them to read instead of stare at their phones, and we fear for them to ride their bikes to school or to walk places alone. When we vacation at the beach, however, where hours go by like speedboats, we automatically give them more freedom and independence.

In my family, when we are on LBI, my siblings and I let our children ride their bikes everywhere day and night, we let them stay up later, wake up later, buy those glass bottles of Coca-Cola instead of bottled water, eat Lucky Charms instead of oatmeal, and, yes, we also let them eat their fair share of sugar.

Several years ago, my four children and I walked into White’s Market in Barnegat Light and I suddenly spied Bottle Caps.  The memory of the root beer taste brought me right back to my childhood summers filled with trips to the Watercrest Deli. Though that Surf City deli is long gone, my daughters, nieces and I have, through the years, sought out the best places along the Island to still get the old candy fix, and though this list may not be complete, it is most definitely sweet.

Sugar Shack, Barnegat Light

Foodies, Harvey Cedars: Wax Lips!

Surf City 5 and 10

Jersey Shore Deli & Grill, Ship Bottom: Chuckles and Razzles

The Candy Store on Schooner’s Wharf, Beach Haven: It’s like a candy factory.

Sweet Haven Candy Shop, Beach Haven: Lots of candy from ’70s and ’80s

Kapler’s Pharmacy, Beach Haven: A Blow Pop is still 25 cents!

 

 

 

Robin Lentz Worgan lives in Flourtown, Pa., and spends summers in Harvey Cedars.

 

 

 

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