A hearty “Hey, Mr. Alday!” followed by a meaty handshake always greet this author upon entering Three Angels By The Park – a coffeehouse sitting diagonally from the entrance of Maria Hernandez Park on Irving Avenue and Starr Street. The building waves a red banner proclaiming “Coffee” from the second floor. The proprietor – Jerry Cronin – is a genial former-history-teacher turned barista/landlord. The entrepreneurial father of three, after whose children the café and several sandwiches are named, occupies himself with the daily ins-and-outs of running his business. This not only includes ordering beans and keeping the vinyl records spinning, but greeting each and every customer by their name.
Jerry and I sat on a large blue couch and a smallish wooden chair, respectively, located in the first 10 feet of the 100-foot-deep shop. One of his children napped on the couch. A Beatles record was playing on the turntable. “This used to be an Italian barber shop,” he tells me, “I bought the building ten years ago. It’s about 100 years old.”
We first met in 2010 shortly after he first opened his doors. In 2011 the shop was temporarily closed for 6 months. Since reopening he has begun hanging artwork on the walls, started serving sandwiches, and hired a new barista. “That very nice young man, behind the counter there,” in his Irish-American-by-way-of-Queens accent as he points to the new hire who is dutifully tamping espresso.
In the beginning he was the only person there. “My wife was very supportive of the shop. One night I was driving home and I started counting the stoplights. There’s 88 stoplights between my shop and my driveway. That’s a lot of distance and time between myself and my family.
“Now though, I’m primarily here on the weekends. I’m in and out fixing things here. But I also own other buildings so I’m here often but am doing things besides the coffee shop.”
At this moment we pause so Jerry can say hello to some of his regulars. “I’m a man from a different generation and I think that some people enjoy the throwback quality of an old guy having a conversation. But some may view my chatty approach as something from Jupiter. There’s different ways it can go and I’m learning – sometimes you just want to get in and get out. I understand that.
“Another thing I’m coming around to understanding is how significant Bushwick Open Studios is. It really pumped us up this year and I was determined to be up to speed. So we had an artist named Murj paint a mural in the back yard and I’m thrilled with how it turned out.”
Looking around, there are white walls and an original brick wall. Jerry shows me around the shop pointing out the different artworks. “I’m keen on hanging new work. If anyone has any ideas, I’m always open to hearing them.
“Sometimes outside influences force us to act. I’m really grateful for BoS this year because it forced me to confront the need for art in the shop. So we’ll see what happens.”
He and his family live in the Rockaways and were present during Hurricane Sandy. The damage – which Jerry is quick to point out was minor compared to much of that suffered by his neighbors – did force him to relocate his family into one of the recently vacated apartments above the shop.
“It was by pure luck the apartment was empty. That was nice though, it gave me more time to spend with the three angels. You know, seeing them off to school – being here when they got out.”
Following Sandy he transformed the library in the back room into a charity book sale. At one dollar a book, all of the proceeds went toward a kindergarten that was destroyed in the Rockaways.
“We raised $266 dollars. I didn’t expect to do that – not to mention some of the special moments people had while lookin’ through the books. This young lady picked up a book on Churchill to finally learn about him after years of her father telling her about their shared heritage with Churchill. She called him at the register,” making a phone gesture with his hands, “‘Dad you’re neva gonna believe it.’”
UPDATE: We were just informed that Three Angels by the Park closed last week. We are verifying this information with Jerry Cronin.