They come before sunrise, or just after work, in a big line at the ice-cream shop on Court Street, behind a counter that sometimes doesn’t seem to rise all the way to its window at all. The owner sits at a chair in front of the windows, ready for the morning scoop. The young girls in back scurry about behind him; the men in front, clicking their heels in unison when they enter, go back for seconds.
“I go out at 7:30,” said the soft-spoken proprietor, Al Hanafi, still on the job, as he served a customer on a recent morning. “I always stay here until my late brother rings me in.”
In many ways, Mr. Hanafi is an embodiment of a New York neighborhood that is fading fast: a black man in a black suit and tie, serving ice cream in an ice-cream parlor he owns for 40 years. In his case, it has proved a recipe for success, with three Brooklyn locations, in various incarnations.
“If you want to run a business, I would ask anyone, ‘Do you want to keep your mother alive?’ The way I look at it, I’m lucky to be out of the hood, at least they can find a headstone that says ‘Al Hanafi,’ ” he said. “This neighborhood doesn’t want me. I don’t make nobody go to Brooklyn. I’m the Harlem of the West.”
For Mr. Hanafi, at the very least, this area is something of a laboratory for his own brand of Afro-American entrepreneurship, a zone of course-correct tension and tension-resolution. That contrast comes out in the soft, sepulchral voice that calls out for an ice-cream cone, the way he has switched the rotisserie chicken on the menu recently from marinated and marinated to peppered and fried.
I had once bought an ice-cream cone from Mr. Hanafi for about 75 cents, and I found myself returning a few weeks later, when he had changed some dishes, including the chicken, and the store had looked like a broken-down candy store.
“Befriended by the elderly, I’m friends with the old people,” he said. “If you went to my first parlor, where my brother-in-law owned the place, he was the same type of man as me. A minute after the police show up, he would take care of his old lady; he took care of his kids. He’s not a racist. He’s 50.”