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Tea and coffee in downtown Amsterdam

Tea and coffee in downtown Amsterdam

The Van Dyk was a popular place

One of the most popular lunchtime spots when downtown Amsterdam was booming was the Van Dyk.

The building at 24 East Main St., which became the Van Dyk, sometimes spelled “Van Dyke,” had been previously occupied by offices of Adirondack Power and Light, according to an article written for Historic Amsterdam League by Jacqueline Daly Murphy.

When the power company moved to Market Street in 1927, the James Van Dyk Company, a chain grocery store, moved to 24 East Main from its 92 East Main St. location.  The store, which boasted in an advertisement that it had 300 outlets, specialized in teas and fresh ground coffees.  The local owner and manager was Earl F. Fischer.

On the second floor of the building, above the store, was a tea and coffee eatery affiliated with the grocery called The Duchess.  Duchess was a brand of coffee sold at the store.

Murphy said the upstairs establishment featured “only the finest ingredients and the freshest vegetables, an electrical refrigeration plant, hand-washed dishes, radio entertainment and singing canaries hanging in each room.”  The Duchess closed in 1928 and the downstairs grocery began serving coffee and tea.

In 1929 Harry Vanderbeck and Victoria “Vicky” Karner moved to Amsterdam with their son Donald.  They had married six years earlier in Singac, New Jersey.   Harry managed the Van Dyk and Vicky began making sandwiches there.  They lived on Mathias Avenue off Vrooman Avenue hill.

Murphy wrote, “With Vicky making homemade tuna fish, egg salad, or ham and cheese sandwiches, and Harry grinding the coffee beans and making coffee, the shop drew huge lunch crowds.”

Murphy recalled that in the 1940s the Van Dyk had faded green metal stools and wall counters, “Vicky’s warm brown eyes (were) peeking over the counter in the front of the store where she made her sandwiches in view of passers-by.  Her cheeks seemed flushed as she didn’t stop her labor, the aqua uniform complimenting her ruddy complexion.”

Vicky’s uniform, Murphy said, seemed to be the “same dress, apron and hat that the bakery workers wore across the street at the Federal Bakery.”

Murphy said “the aroma of coffee beans penetrated the air.”  Harry Vanderbeck, tall and lanky, usually smoked a cigar as he worked.  He was known for his homespun philosophy and wry humor.

Retired Daily Gazette reporter and current WCSS talk host Sam Zurlo said the Van Dyk “was always mobbed.”

Mike Mancini, retired city deputy fire chief, said his parents enjoyed ground coffee at the Van Dyk and allowed young Mike to have tea.  He put cream in his tea from little glass bottles with cardboard tops.  Afterward, the family crossed the street to the Federal Bake Shop at 33 East Main St., where Mike’s father, an East End undertaker, would buy a jellyroll. 

The Van Dyk closed in March, 1954. Vicky Vanderbeck died that June in New Jersey and was buried at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Fort Johnson. 

Harry went to work at the venerable Trask’s Cigar Store at 6 East Main near the intersection with Market Street. At one time there were Trask’s Cigar Stores in Little Falls, Amsterdam, Gloversville and Utica.

In 1962, Vanderbeck became co-owner of Trask’s with George Rogers, buying the store from Ford Trask.  Rogers had begun clerking at Trask’s in 1934 and became manager in 1956 after the death of manager Fayette Hale, Sr.  Hale had managed the Trask’s store in Amsterdam for 25 years.  He collapsed and died one morning at work.   

Rogers and Vanderbeck offered the Trask store for sale in 1969.  Vanderbeck retired in 1989, after working 60 years in downtown Amsterdam.

Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact him at 346-6657 or bobcudmore@yahoo.com.

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