City grocer honored for contributions to the community
By Dan Kelly, Reading Eagle reporter
(This article is reprinted by permission from the January 21 edition of the Reading
Eagle newspaper. Tom Schleifer and his family are members of Trinity Lutheran
Ricardo Mercado said he feels invigorated when he eats sancocho.
“It makes you feel good, like you can't get sick after you eat it,” he said,
referring to the Puerto Rican-style beef stew. “Especially in the winter.” Mercado
and his wife, Blanca Cruz, said the Buttonwood IGA is the only market in Berks
County where they can find all the ingredients they need for the stew in one
place and at a good price.
Cruz said Reading grocer Thomas R. Schleifer is the reason.
“He's very good,” she said.
Schleifer, the owner of the store, was sorting yautia and other roots and tubers
common in ethnic recipes when Mercado and Cruz browsed through the produce section.
They were not the only Schleifer fans in the store.
Schleifer rang up some high praise Thursday as area church and political leaders
honored him for his 26 years in business.
Pastors and representatives of 22 area churches and political leaders, including
Mayor Tom McMahon, honored Schleifer for his contributions to the neighborhoods
around the store at Buttonwood Street and Schuylkill Avenue.
Whether it's a cake sale for a church or picnic supplies for a summer program,
Schleifer has always been there, said Vera Ellison, a member of the Mount Zion
Church of God in Christ, who helped organize an impromptu ceremony outside Schleifer's
“I came in here the other day and bought two containers and his people wrapped
them up special for me and then they called me to make sure I got home with them,” Ellison said. “You can't fake that kind of love.”
“There was a time in this community when you couldn't ask for chitlins, collards
and pigs feet,” said Jean Nelson of Washington Presbyterian Church. “But
not any more.”
McMahon presented Schleifer with a proclamation citing his dedication to the
“He's one of the last ones that still carries on the tradition of one-on-one customer
service in a store of this size,” McMahon said. “I can't think of
a better example of community building.”
State Sen. Michael A. O'Pake, State Rep. Thomas R. Caltagirone and City Councilman
Dennis M. Sterner also presented Schleifer with proclamations honoring his work.
Schleifer of Robesonia thanked everyone for the attention, but insisted it wasn't
He said the reason he stocks a full line of Spanish, Mexican, Jamaican, African,
Caribbean and other specialty foods is because that's what his customers want.
“It comes from years of experience looking for things people are asking for,” he
said. “Sometimes I'll go to New York. I found a woman in Newark, N.J.,
who specializes in African foods.
“In a community like this you sell your business by word of mouth,” Schleifer
said, holding up a six-pack of Vimto, African soda pop.
Greg Little and Collette Gilmore of Laureldale said that's exactly how they ended
up shopping for meat there.
“We're looking for a slab of beef at a good price that we could have butchered
into cuts of meat,” Gilmore said.
“Her cousin told us about this place, so we decided to check it out,” Little