History Hidden in Plain signt

Vincent Gerbino: The merchant who mixed business with pleasure


In 1929, newlyweds Rose and Vincent Gerbino moved to Valley Stream. Employed as an in-house photographer at the John Wanamaker department store in New York City, Vincent (1900-1970) initially commuted to his job. His employer tried to convince him to stay – he was talented and very well-liked, but Vincent had other plans. An entrepreneur at heart, he opened his first store on Rockaway Avenue and never looked back. He continued taking photos, his passion, in addition to selling cameras and film. Impatient and wanting to grow his business, the shop began to diversify. “First he added musical instruments, phonographs, and records, which helped satisfy his love for music,” explained Rose (1904-1997) in her 1990 oral history recording with interviewer Helen Dowdeswell (1914-2010).

In 1938, Gerbino moved to the shop pictured here. He needed more space to accommodate the televisions, stoves, and washing machines he was now selling. It is worth noting that another building predated this simple one-story structure. “The Grand Junction Hotel is a large and commodious building,” described the January 26, 1872, issue of the New York Evening Express. By the 1910s, James G. Capie owned the establishment – re-christened the Sagamore Hotel. Usually, a grander, larger building replaces a teardown; in this case, just the opposite.

By 1949, Vincent had outgrown his rental space. He bought property and built a store at 31 West Merrick Road. An ad in Newsday from that time describes his business as “Nassau’s Oldest Established Camera Store.” The building was large and deep with plenty of room to hold cumbersome appliances. His business prospered. “What spoiled everything was when he got sick and passed away in 1970,” confided Rose in a quiet voice. “You know his name is still on the store [1990],” replied Ms. Dowdeswell. “Really? I never go down that way. It’s still sort of painful. He was a really good man. He loved people and they loved him back.”

Location: 241 Rockaway Avenue (southeast corner of East Hawthorne Avenue)