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Landmark Mastman's delicatessen closing

This week Jack Shapiro will close the landmark Mastman's Kosher Delicatessen where he has grown tired of selling Jewish delicacies -- corned beef, bagels, lox -- at the corner of Hertel and Colvin avenues for some 25 years.

"You get to the point in your life when you say, 'It's time to go,' " said Shapiro, who bought the deli, now more than 60 years old, from the original Mastman owner. "I'd like to know what it's like to have a day off."

The sale of Shapiro's deli building is expected to close this week. The buyer, Robert Nuchereno of Williamsville's Arista Development, made arrangements to have for-rent signs posted in the windows and said he is sorry Shapiro won't stay open. He knows people are sad about it.

"I called my sign guy to put up a sign and I thought he was going to cry," said Nuchereno, who declined to disclose the sale price. He imagines another sandwich shop would be a good fit in the brick storefront that has Murray's Tavern next door. "I think it's a good corner."

Shapiro, who sounded blue, but resigned, said he might be open today, or he might not. It depended, he said Monday, on how much of his stock of knishes, chopped liver, bologna and other meats he managed to sell by the end of the day.

Just as the lunch hour started on Monday, he talked about being the last of the small kosher delis. "There's nothing in upstate New York," said Shapiro, who plans to send out resumes and look for a new job. "I'm like the last of the surviving breed."

Shapiro only began announcing his departure recently because the sale wasn't assured until last week when the closing date was scheduled for this Wednesday.

As a few customers came past the door-length sign that said, "Enter here for a true deli experience," they stood beneath the ceiling fans that turned quietly. From behind the clean white counter, two clerks sliced pastrami and served the sandwich lunch special that comes with all-you-can-eat pickles and sauerkraut for $6.59.

The closing news made people nostalgic.

Charleen Teibel stopped in on her lunch break for a cup of matzo ball soup to go and reminisced about being young in the 1950s and 60s. Back then her Jewish father made a Sunday ritual of specially ordering lox, cream cheese, potato salad and smoked whitefish from Mastman's.

"You always had to call ahead because there was always such a line. It seemed like all the Jewish people in Buffalo would come here to get their goodies," said Teibel, who let the tradition fall away after her father died.

It was lucky she'd made it in. "I'm glad I came for soup. Good luck with whatever you do," she said, walking out.

John Seitz leaned back and waited calmly for the $7 corned beef, mustard and rye sandwich that is always so huge it takes two sittings to finish. The Buffalo State College student, who was about to go home, eat and write a paper, said he started coming because a professor told him it was the best place for sandwiches on Hertel.

"I was going to tell my professor to hurry up and get one more sandwich," he said with a rueful look.

e-mail: mkearns@buffnews.com

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