citybeat (2006-44)

A synagogue honors one of its most popular members

Requests that UT’s trolley route provide the Old City service go unheeded, for now

Wednesday, Oct. 25

Harold Shersky Day

Those who have, for more than a year, been craving a Harold’s sandwich, or some of his wife Addie’s apple cake, or just a word with Harold himself, will have some relief this weekend.

Many grieved when Harold’s Kosher-Style Food Center, one of Knoxville’s few longstanding culinary institutions, closed last year. Harold Shersky opened the place in 1948 as a kosher grocery with a small restaurant on the side, but over the years it evolved into a popular restaurant with a kosher grocery on the side. With the help of his wife, Addie Shersky, he kept it going for well over half a century. They celebrated the restaurant’s 50th anniversary there in 1998, to the accompaniment of klezmer bands. After Addie Shersky died in 2003, Harold seemed ready to keep it going indefinitely. But after he was injured in a traffic accident early last year, Harold took his friends’ sensible advice that he should retire. After a brief attempt by well-known chef Bruce Bogartz to keep it going ended abruptly, the building was sold, and the old interior furnishings cleared out.

The spirit of Harold’s Deli, its more popular name, survives—as does Harold himself. Shersky is now 87, and at least healthy enough to hold court this Sunday, Nov. 5, when Heska Amuna Synagogue at 3811 Kingston Pike will honor one of Knoxville’s living legends. At the event, dubbed Harold’s at Heska Amuna, they’ll serve Harold’s favorites for both lunch, from 12 to 2, and supper, from 5 to 7:30, including the more popular deli sandwiches, knishes, matsoh ball soup, and Addie’s famous apple cake. Several of the old staffers we used to know by name—Sandy, Steve, Terri, Ann, and Big Sam—will be on hand, too.

In fact, Harold Shersky himself will be there at 1:30—just in time for Mayor Bill Haslam to arrive and declare it Harold Shersky Day.

It’s about time. The son of a Russian immigrant refugee from the czar’s pogroms, Harold Shersky was born around the corner on old Vine Street in 1919, and grew up in downtown Knoxville, where his dad ran a butcher shop. Except for some time in the service during World War II, he has spent his life in Knoxville. Though the kosher deli was long a cultural center for the Jewish community in the days when the Arnstein center and both synagogues were downtown, the restaurant was also, for more than half a century, a cultural crossroads. Among his early customers were country and bluegrass musicians like Flatt and Scruggs, who played in the live radio shows at the nearby WNOX studio. There was often a line to sit down for lunch, even when the downstairs room was open. Harold and Addie introduced many Knoxvillians to a lot of foods that we now take for granted, like cream cheese and beet horseradish, and some claim Harold invented the pumpernickel reuben. In recent years, Saturday-morning breakfasts at Harold’s were sometimes standing-room-only affairs, when the staff filled some breakfast orders that would have been problematic at Waffle House, like scrambled eggs and lox with beet horseradish, or kosher-pastrami bacon. You wish Harold were here to see downtown getting popular again, but there were days when you’d have to wonder where all the new customers would sit.

Harold’s closing last year was sudden and unexpected, and it left many old friends without an opportunity to say goodbye. Organizer Susan Contente says it’s an opportunity for folks to say goodbye to the deli. “Harold’s closed without any ceremony, which is sad for all of us,” says Contente.

The event is free, and proceeds from sales of the food, which will be sold at prices similar to those at Harold’s, will go to the synagogue, a conservative Jewish congregation of which Harold Shersky is still an active member. An auction after supper will feature a wide array of items, including champagne, a week at Arrowmont art school in Gatlinburg, and basketballs signed by Heska Amuna’s second-most-famous member, UT basketball coach Bruce Pearl.

The synagogue isn’t promising anything, but from this vantage, it has the makings of an annual festival. Parking may be an issue; Contente suggests visitors try the synagogue first, but if it’s full, parking will be available at the old Bearden Bi-Lo on Forest Park, accessible by shuttle bus. Visitors should come in by the main entrance on the side of the building.

Developer John Craig, who bought the building at 131 S. Gay last year, found that the place needed major work, and he has accomplished much of it. He says he’s talking to prospective tenants and is working on a floor plan; beyond the fact that the second floor will be residential—the old bar up there was used for storage in recent decades—he’s not ready to announce anything, except that a restaurant is among the possibilities, and he respects his building’s unique heritage. Nobody’s expecting a resurrection of Harold’s Deli, but it’s hard to give up that heritage. Craig is, for the time being, leaving the distinctive chrome ’50s-style Harold’s sign in place.

Yellow Light for the Orange Line

As of now, only one trolley line runs through the Old City. It’s called the Late Line. The problem? It only revs up when the clock blinks 8 p.m. on Friday. Currently, the Knoxville Area Transit and the Old City are at odds over a petition to extend the orange trolley line through the Old City.

The issue was raised at the Oct. 26 City Council meeting by Renée Sanábria, owner of Old City Java, who, along with other Old City stakeholders, wants the orange line extended through the Old City at all times. Currently, the line crawls up and down Cumberland Avenue, then makes a hook around World Fair’s park before forming a full loop around downtown by connecting Locust, Main and South Gay streets, and part of Summit Hill.

Sanábria’s vision is that instead of the line traveling left onto Summit Hill—dismissing the Old City entirely—she and petitioners want the line to take a right on Summit Hill, circling the Old City before arriving again on Summit Hill.

“It wasn’t so much a proposal as it was correcting a mistake,” says Sanábria, who believes the extension should have been in the original trolley route plans.

The problem, Sanábria says, is that City Council opted not to vote on the proposal for at least another three months. “At the beginning, we were led to believe that it was going to be passed by January. Board members said it was a great idea. Not until the meeting were we informed that no provision could be passed until January, the time any provision like that can be put into effect,” says Sanábria.

According to KAT’s director of marketing and development, Belinda Woodiel-Boyd says it’s not that easy. Woodiel-Boyd says KAT tries to maintain improvements to its routes three times annually. “These proposals were for January. October is our cutoff time because it takes time to print new schedules and get new drivers.”

These complications take time to be reviewed. Because of this, June is now the startup date for a “possible” new orange route.

Sanábria admits there has been much opposition to the plan. “A few people filed objections, saying the 100 block is already congested enough.”

Woodiel-Boyd adds that a few years ago a Lunch Line was added to the Old City, but was unsuccessful. The line ran on a five minute frequency and still few rode it, she says.

However, Sanábria and petitioners noticed other route problems, too. All other lines—the blue, green and red—run around the Knoxville area no later than 6 p.m. on weekdays.

The biggest complaint among Knoxville residents seems to be the trolley’s issue with promptness. In a Chattanooga study, most people indicated that they would not regularly depend on a trolley unless it arrived every five minutes. The orange line now supposedly comes every 10. When three trolleys tailgate each other, the line can increase the wait to as much as 30 to 40 minutes. Some think the problem is that it already tries to do too much.

Woodiel-Boyd says KAT tries to balance many different needs, everyone’s needs. That’s the biggest challenge, she says.

“If the service was extended to the Old City [now], the trolley would come every 15 minutes instead of every 10,” says Woodiel-Boyd. “We don’t have funds to add another trolley or another trolley to add.”

Sanábria notes that the University of Tennessee funds a significant percent of the orange system. “They were talking about pulling the orange line. They’re unhappy with the time scheduling. Every 10 minutes hasn’t been good enough for them,” says Sanábria.

 Downtown Knoxville is changing, Woodiel-Boyd says. “The needs are changing. We have limited funds. Instead of just throwing in a block here and there, we’re saying let’s look at the system as a whole.”

Woodiel-Boyd says KAT is in the process of reviewing the trolley system and strategizing new ways it can work more effectively. She says it will start by surveying trolley riders and downtown stakeholders in early 2007.

“It’s a wonderful thing to serve the Old City during the day, but some issues made the time a little challenging,” says Woodiel-Boyd.

Sanábria says she and other Old City businesses feel neglected. “It’s a shame that it takes so long for something like this to get done right. We’re a tax-paying community. We’re just trying to unify the downtown area.”

                          MEET YOUR CITY

City Council meets at 7 p.m.

Beer Board meets at 6 p.m.

November 7 & 21

November 21

December 5 &19

December 19

*Both meet in the Large Assembly-Room of the City Council Building on Main Street





Nov. 2

Board of Electrical Examinations & Review

3.30 p.m.

Conference Room 511 of the City-County Bldg.

Nov. 7

Mechanical/Gas Board of Examinations & Review

8:30 a.m.

Conference Room 511 of the City-County Bldg.

Nov. 8

Plumbing Examination & Review Board

8:30 a.m.

Conference Room 511 of the City-County Bldg.

Nov. 13

Industrial Development Board

5 p.m.

17 Market Square, #201

Nov. 15 & Dec.20

Metropolitan Knoxville Airport Authority

4 p.m.

Board Room on the 3rd floor of main terminal

Nov. 17

Board of Adjustments and Appeals

9 a.m.

Conference Room 511 of the City-County Bldg.

Dec. 13

Civil Service Merit Board

1:30 p.m.

Conference Room 453 of the City-County Bldg.

Dec. 13

Mayor’s Council on Disability Issues

4-6 p.m.

Large Assembly Room of the City-County Bldg.

Dec. 21

Board of Zoning Appeals

4 p.m.

Small Assembly Room of the City-County Bldg.


Wednesday, Oct. 25

Thursday, Oct. 26

Friday, Oct. 27

Saturday, Oct. 28

Sunday, Oct. 29

Monday, Oct. 30

Tuesday, Oct. 31