Remembering a South Shore icon

Former Morton’s owner Jerry Silverman dies at 84

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Friends and family members are remembering longtime Five Towns resident Jerry Silverman as a hardworking and selfless man.

Silverman, the former owner of Morton’s Army Navy Store, at 533 Central Ave. in Cedarhurst, died on Sept. 26 in Valley Stream, of what family members called “a long illness.” He was 84.

Born on Nov. 21, 1934, in Far Rockaway to Russian immigrants Morton and Estelle Silverman, Jerry was raised in the family business after his father opened Morton’s in Far Rockaway in 1931. The store moved to Cedarhurst in 1973, and has been there ever since, making it one of the oldest businesses in the village. Originally located on Cedarhurst Avenue, it moved to Central Avenue in 2005.

Silverman’s son, Steve, now owns the store. “I’ve always said that my father was born old,” Steve said. “He was born into the family business and began working there at a young age, alongside my grandparents and his three siblings.”

Morton’s has stood the test of time as a small business, Steve said, because of his father’s strong work ethic. “My father was always on call, day and night,” he said. “It also comes down to customer service. We treat the customers like they’re our ex-tended family, and this started with my grandfather in Far Rockaway.”

Current and former residents shared their thoughts on Silverman’s passing via social media. On Sept. 29, former Lawrence resident Laurie Gross, of the “Five Towns History” Facebook page, posted, “He’s a South Shore icon and may his memory be a blessing.”

Hewlett resident Chris McGrath, an attorney in Garden City, has known the Silverman family for 45 years, and even worked at Morton’s while growing up in Inwood. McGrath spoke at Silverman’s funeral, sharing a story that illustrated his friend’s character. “When I was a teenager, an 18-year-old kid was caught stealing a jacket at the store,” McGrath recounted. “The kid told Jerry that he stole it for his younger brother. Jerry told the cops to let him go, and he let the kid keep the jacket. I thought he was crazy for that.”

McGrath added that the teen returned to the store with an envelope of money. “Jerry didn’t take his money,” he said. “He told the kid to buy something for his mother. It shows that type of man Jerry was. He was always looking to help others, and it was never about him.”

 When McGrath passed the bar exam, he recalled, “Jerry hung up a sign at Morton’s congratulating me on becoming a lawyer. I didn’t even have to tell anybody I passed the bar, since they already saw the sign at Morton’s.”

“My wife says I never get rattled as an attorney,” McGrath said. “I say that’s because I worked for a man in Jerry Silverman who never got rattled. He was the best person you’d ever want to meet.”

Steve took over the store when his father retired in 1999. Jerry turned his attention to fishing and playing golf and poker. “My father was such a hardworking man,” Steve said. “I was proud that he was able to enjoy retirement for the last 20 years of his life.”

Nonetheless, his father would come into the store and help out. “He always kept an eye out on the store,” Steve said. “It was just his fatherly instinct to do so.”

Silverman’s passion for the Giants and Mets, his son said, lasted until he died. “We would be in the hospital, glued to the Mets game,” Steve said. “He loved his teams even during his final days.”

Asked what might be ahead for Morton’s, Steve said, “I’m not sure what the future holds for the store in years to come, but our goal is to hit 100 years. We’re 11 years away from achieving that.”

Silverman is survived by his sister, Mary Ann Siskind; his brother, Mel; his partner, Ellie Fishman; his children, Joel; Steve and his wife, Shari; and Beth and her husband, Sam; and six grandchildren, Jordan, Sydney, Sarah, Ryan, Ben and Mackenzie. He was predeceased by his wife of 52 years, Nina, and his younger brother, Don.