Word & Image: Toney Wiley, 56, Counterman at Nick’s International Foods 

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Scott Elmquist

"I was raised in Church Hill. When I was coming up, it was rough there. We didn’t have the stuff people have now like central air and central heat. Mostly we had coal stoves and oil stoves. You had to go to the grocery store to get coal and oil. In Church Hill, we had grocery stores that sold everything. Now I live in eastern Henrico and it’s a hundred times better than where I came up. I live in a residential, upscale neighborhood.

"I started at Nick’s in April of ’88. It was eight years part-time and the rest full-time. I was working here 8 to 2:30, then leaving and going to the Crazy Greek, cooking from 3 to closing. Then about 15 years ago, Manuel Mouris asked me if I’d like to work for him full time here, 8 to 5:30, five days a week. I said yes because I was working 3 to close at the Crazy Greek and I didn’t have no time and when I got off at 12:30 or 1, what is there to do? Nothing! I had to work Sundays and holidays like Mother’s Day and Easter. Here, they close all major holidays.

"Every day’s not going to be the same. Some days you’re going to wish you weren’t here and some days you’re fine. I set up the deli every morning, make sure everything’s ready. I make all the soups. By the time I open the doors, the deli’s ready for customers. Then I start to help out. Some days it starts from when you open the door, others days not till 10. Majority of people come in, when I see them, I can have their lunch ready before they even get to the counter. Some people don’t change what they eat so I can have it waiting for them.

"If I ever have a business, it won’t be in the city. They don’t realize if they want to revitalize the city, how you going do that when people can’t park anywhere, and they’re scared to come down here, afraid they’ll get a parking ticket on their car?

"About 10 years ago, I wanted to open me a deli. I got the know-how but not the resources. Takes a lot of money to deal with the city, especially with the food tax thing they got. That was a mistake. When you come in and get a sandwich for six dollars and end up paying seven and a quarter, it ain’t us, it’s the city.

"It’s not the same customers coming now that it was at first. They’re more health-conscious now. Then you got those that come and don’t care about that and just buy what they want to eat.

"I like everything about working here. I like the people who come in. I enjoy what I’m doing until the day comes I can’t do it."

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