He would give anyone the shirt off his back.
That’s how friends remembered Peter Polachek Friday, a day after the lifelong Schenectadian succumbed to skin cancer at age 60.
The man was an institution in the historic Stockade neighborhood, where he ran a small store that became the community’s heart.
Everyone gathered at Arthur’s Market — for official meetings, regular lunch dates and impromptu picnics with friends in the lounge chairs outside. Polachek and his father, Arthur, fostered that living-room atmosphere even when they had a line of customers that stretched from one side of the store to the other.
Polachek’s friend and former employee Artur Wachala runs the store now, and opened the doors Friday with a heavy heart.
“I can’t believe he’s gone,” Wachala said. “He’s going to be greatly missed.”
If customers walked into the store without any money — and without any hope of getting any money soon — Polachek would hand out groceries anyway, Wachala recalled. If they needed money for rent, he opened the till and handed them cash.
“Many of them would come back and repay him,” Wachala said.
But plenty of people over the years took the cash and were never seen again.
“He got burned, I know he got burned,” Wachala said. “He still trusted people.”
He regularly drove to the City Mission in his van to transport residents to Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. When residents kicked the habit, he helped them find jobs and set them up in Stockade apartments. He usually gave them credit for bags of groceries as well.
When Wachala and his wife, Joyce, reopened the market, Polachek offered his entire lifetime of experience, advising them daily.
“He helped us with everything,” Joyce Wachala said. “He’d give the shirt off his back to anybody. You don’t find many people like that anymore.”
When skin cancer struck, Polachek kept his sense of humor, joking that he’d undergone radiation just to get a good tan, his daughter said.
“He kept a good attitude til the end,” Tiffany Brace said. “He looked in the mirror, because the radiation made him get dark, and said, ‘All I ever wanted was a tan!’ He was a funny guy.”
Despite her grief, she laughed as she recounted his many jokes.
It’s what he would have wanted.
“He said, ‘Don’t let anyone feel sorry for me. I’m happy, I’m 60, I had a good run,’ ” Brace said.
He took one last road trip this winter, driving to Los Angeles and stopping at every art museum along the way. He loved art — even bad art, Brace said, laughing again as she described some of the less-than-skillfully rendered art he collected.
“He thought it was good,” she said.
He regularly bought from local artists, often paying them more than they asked, as a way to support them in their efforts.
“I have a basement full of art,” Brace said. “He wanted one day to open a gallery and display it.”
He died before he could make that dream come true.
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Categories: Schenectady County