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Life and Times at Grove

Life and Times at Grove

The Sunday morning Grove runs with Larry Hollander began in the 1980s. They persisted, mile after mile, with Larry opening Grove Pharmacy week after week,  month after month, year after year, until Dec. 16, 2012. That’s the day Larry told the Grovers that he was selling the store.

In the days that followed, Grovers past and present reminisced about their runs from the pharmacy … and about Larry. Here is how those conversations unfolded. It’s a fitting tribute to Larry … because they go on for what seems like miles.

Phil Coffin

The Grove Pharmacy runs as we have known them for decades came to an end this morning. Larry Hollander has sold the store.

Larry broke the news to us this morning that he is closing on the sale of the pharmacy tomorrow. After a half-century of his ownership and after working in the store for 70 years — Larry is 78 now — he is going to give up the reins and work at the pharmacy when he wants. He’ll still be a public face of the pharmacy, just not the owner.

But he has been the backbone of the Grovers for three decades. Larry and his cousin Charlie Lorber and their friend Mike Arace ran long together and eventually moved the start to the pharmacy. There has been a run from there every Sunday since. How many dozens, even hundreds of runners have been a part of those runs? How much camaraderie and fellowship and warped humor have been shared behind the counter at the pharmacy, what bonds and bombast shared in those precious 10 or 15 minutes before we would head out the door?

It has been years since Larry headed out the door with us, locking up from the outside, not the inside. But he has never wavered in getting up early on Sunday mornings and opening his place of business to be our place of running refuge. As Ron Wolfson said today, the worst two weeks of the year were when Larry was away on vacation.

Now it will be as if Larry is on permanent vacation. Maybe we’ll continue to meet in the school parking lot. Maybe we’ll slowly adjust our routine; life is never static, even if we may want that predictable stability. But it will be different without our anchor Larry, smiling and offering coffee on Sunday mornings (did anyone other than Doug Williams ever drink his coffee?), with Red, his seemingly caffeinated terrier, happily bounding about at our feet.

The back pack today was firm in its belief that we need to do something for Larry beyond give him our stunned, if heartfelt, thanks this morning. Something to let him know our appreciation for all those hundreds of Sunday mornings, with a kind word and a warm (or cool or dry) place to gather ourselves in our little running tribe. We’ll figure something out.

One thing I ask of you now is to share some memory/thought/story/tall tale/hijinks about Grove runs or the pharmacy or Larry himself. It might be fun for Larry to see how a few of his friends have viewed the place and him and the runs (and that damn Barbra Streisand tape in the cassette player in the bathroom; did he ever play it? I don’t think so). Let us hear from you, and we’ll make sure Larry hears it too.

Mark Frankel

Larry was always great to us Essex runners. I remember that he’d always greet us warmly and then talk to us about races and running. I never saw him do more than walk, but his stories of running were always inspiring. I best remember how he ran in the very first Disney marathon, the one-hundredth anniversary of the Boston Marathon, and LBI (which he never seemed to mind panning).

My mile PR is easily the Hollander Mile 🙂 Heck, I could even jog it and get a mile time faster than I could by running four laps of a track during a race.

Even though I stopped running at Grove several years ago, I always look forward to seeing him every year at the Labor Day race and saying hi. It sounds like I’ll at least get the pleasure of doing that going forward. It’s a shame he sold the pharmacy, although understandable why.

I still remember the time Mike Skara and I met Michele Baluk at the Pharmacy on Christmas morning one year. Larry, like Mike and I, doesn’t celebrate Christmas, so we began singing Christmas carols at the pharmacy and then continued to serenade Michele through 12.7 miles. Needless to say, she enjoyed the company so much she immediately moved back to England!

Glenn Trimboli

It’s a very sad day for all of us Grovers.  I started running with the Grovers around 1999.  Like many of us, we joined those Sunday runs because we were training for something, usually a marathon. That’s why I joined the group. Everyone was always gracious to any newcomers, as was Larry in the pharmacy.  The first time I walked into the pharmacy it brought back memories of my childhood.  My father also owned his own pharmacy in Red Bank, NJ.  As a child I would hang out there after school; since my dad worked 7 full days a week, it was the only chance to hang with him. So, like any dad, he put me to work.  Cleaning shelves, counting pills, stocking merchandise, etc.  And what I remember most was hanging out behind the counter.  So, every Sunday at Grove brought me back for a brief moment to my childhood.  And I guess those childhood antics spilled out to most of our runs as well.  From the jukebox of Mike Skara, to the WAE,  to the ASB’s (you know who you are) came some long-lasting friendships, something I never expected when I showed up for the first time. And Larry’s pharmacy provided the catalyst for all those friendships.  Thank you Larry for your hospitality most every Sunday, we appreciated it more than you could imagine. Good luck to you in your new role at the pharmacy.

Sharon Morrissey

Please be assured that the Evil Queen did not put a curse on Grove Pharmacy. You know I have been wanting you all to join us at Fleet Feet, but even I wouldn’t stoop that low. I am very sorry to hear this news.

Although I am not a hardcore Grover, I have enjoyed many wonderful mornings with the group over the years. What a fine tradition — providing warmth, friendship and laughter to so many people for 30 years. Wow Larry, that sure is something to hang your hat on! Congratulations!!

Not only will I always remember the start to so many nice group runs from the store — Ten Hill Challenge, Ten Town Challenge, and the countless heartfelt send offs to the NYC Marathon. But, Grove Pharmacy has been centered on service not just for us runners but for our families and the community. I have entrusted them to pierce all four of my daughters’ ears (and luckily no other body parts as of yet).The pharmacy has provided us with many a Halloween costume accessory, card or scented candle. Best of all was the thrill of leaving with a bag full of penny candy.

Best of luck to Larry in his retirement and many thanks for the memories.

Charles Lorber

Sunday morning for at least 25 years has meant Grove. Larry, the late Mike Arace (my great guru) and I first ran from Mike’s home on Marquette Road as a part of a circuit (Thursdays from my house, Tuesdays from Larry’s and Sundays from Mike’s. We also ran from Marsha Bankroft’s and Dave Baime’s on other days).  We ultimately changed Sundays to Grove because we didn’t want to wake Mike’s wife. Larry didn’t know how to say “good morning” quietly.

Soon, due to our participation with the Essex Running Club the group grew.  Chip Bearden, Phil Coffin, Laura Messina, Dave B, Tanya Lenkow and many others too numerous to list became regulars.  We were all speeds, shapes and sizes, but Larry was the constant. He talked me into training for a marathon and Grove was always there for the long Sunday runs (I wasn’t always old and slow … well I wasn’t always old). Ultimately the “back packers” were born … Paul Maloney, Tanya, Laura, Dave and I would plod along, discussing everything from politics to family to nonsense.  We ran through births of grandchildren, job changes, family joy and sorrow. We ran the Hollander mile, Mt. Hebron and the “run of the parks.” By the way, Mike, Larry and I called it the “run of the parks” because we went through Brookdale, Nishuane, Mountainside, and others because we knew they had water fountains. We knew Larry was always there, the store would be open (warm in the winter and cool in the summer), bathroom and water available.

I haven’t been to Grove to run for a few years because I can only do a mile or two these days, but the friends that talked me through the Sunday training and 13 marathons remain. Many of you know that Larry is my cousin but most of you don’t know that his dad founded the store in 1926 and my father joined him as a partner in 1932. Grove has been a family business for 86 years and will remain a community pharmacy.  It has meant much in my life, and the Sunday runs are right up there with my father hiring me to clean the shelves as an 8-year-old for 25 cents an hour.

Paul Maloney

At the run at my house today, we learned of Larry Hollander selling Grove Pharmacy after many decades. The ERC appreciates Larry’s support of the “world famous” Grove Pharmacy Sunday Morning Runs, an important part of the culture of the Essex Running Club. We love you Larry! Thank you!

Harold Porcher

Thank you, everyone.  Thank you for sharing all of these wonderful memories.  As a new Grover, I joined the group in 2009, I missed out on a lot of this glorious history.  But I have made great friends largely in the behind-the-counter chats at Grove Pharmacy.  Larry, you might come up short when measuring a mile, but as a friend you are one in a million.

Randy Miller

I don’t remember my first visit to Grove, but there were plenty of visits for me. I didn’t join the group far back enough to remember Chip at the front of the pack.  I do remember having his mother-in-law’s phone number so we could call at 7:05 to inquire if Chip was on his way yet. Over the years, Chippy scared off more enthusiastic young runners than my corny puns could have (to date, anyway). Yes, he has won in at least one category.

The best part of the Grove runs were the recaps.  Far better than what actually took place. Remember the duels between members who liked to consider themselves writers? At one point there was a heap of guys who got paid for their writing. And at one point there were a gaggle of runners in the law profession. Policeman, attorneys, judge.  Luckily, that era and the beer mile era never overlapped.  Lapped?  Good one…

Will show mercy with the other puns I deleted while here. Ok, spoiler alert,

I’m compelled to round this out with one last one:

Unlike the Hollander Mile,  Larry has never come up short with the Essex

runners.

Glen Freyer

To this day, I can’t believe someone who wasn’t running came in to open the store for us before 7 a.m. every Sunday. I like you guys and running well enough, but not nearly that much. Thanks Larry for your generosity, your unanswered offers of coffee and your always saying the wrong thing to Mike Skara. You will be missed as much for the warmth of your friendship as for the warmth of your store.

Bob Gorman

I started running with the Grove gang in 1997, long before you guys would be called the Grumpy Grovers. Back then there was no acceptable excuse for missing a Sunday run unless you were, perhaps, out of the country. We showed up in the rain, sleet, ice and even deep snow. I continued that craziness until late 2006. During that time I enjoyed not only the camaraderie on the roads but also the cup of coffee that I accepted from Larry and the friendly conversations in the Pharmacy before every run.

I haven’t been inside the pharmacy in a while, but I have had the ongoing pleasure of dealing with Larry professionally ever since. I joke with my patients that Larry is the anti-CVS. He’s well known for his excellent service and high quality throughout the community.

A couple of times during the past year I came close to a return visit to the Pharmacy, but it was not because I was running well or far.  It was to have that cup of coffee and pre-run chat with Larry.

I join all of you is wishing him well.

Howie Brown

I joined the ERC in 1989 while Larry was still the club president.  It took me a few years of running with the Sunday morning 9 a.m. group runs before I started showing up at Grove. My goal was to improve my speed.  So running with Charlie, Larry, Dave and Milt Westrich didn’t seem like the way to go.  Somewhere around 1992 I found out that Bill Mishler was running from Grove, so I started showing up with my friend Buddy and later Mel Rosenblum and Myron Schiller joined us. I recall Jill Booth, Annette Johnson and a very fast young Swedish girl being in the group. I recall Larry locking the door and going for runs with us up to 1993 or 1994. When I married Judy in 1994 we became more regular at Grove.  I have a great picture of Larry, Lynda, Bill Mishler, Charlie Lorber, Mike Kantor, Sally Salmon and some others after the bus dropped us off in Staten Island for a marathon in 1991 or 1992.

I know exactly where I was when Chip and Judy talked me into REALLY training for a marathon (the corner of Bloomfield Ave and Park).  My favorite part of the Grove runs were the hilarious write-ups by Phil, Chip and Charlie. Up to that point I had no reason to own a computer except to read those very funny stories.  I remember Kary Reeves and some very funny white running bra articles.

Somewhere along the road I got slower and my long run and fast run became one and the same in order to keep pace, so I switched to Fleet Feet.

Larry will always have great memories of his pharmacy and running group.

Chris Jaworski

I drank Larry’s coffee once or twice, but I swear its quality had nothing to do with my very limited attendance at Grove over the years! (The coffee was good. 🙂

The neat thing is that Larry always treated this relative stranger as though I were a regular Joe there. A heartfelt hello, a warm handshake, a question — instantly you were welcomed and drawn in.

Longtime Grovers have many great stories about Sundays with Larry. Some who know of his generosity in opening the pharmacy week after week, year after year, may be interested to know of the other ways he has helped runners and contributed to our club and our sport. I picked up a few snippets of info during my time as editor of the ERC newsletter. While preparing items for publication during the club’s 25th anniversary year (2008), I pored over back issues and learned just how involved he’d been.

1984

January — Larry joins Essex Running Club at the start of its second year.

1988

December — Larry and other club members are to host Sunday group fun runs (attendees “leave a dollar on the table”).

1989

January — Larry writes a Keeping Track article on anti-inflammatory drugs.

May — Larry writes an article, “I’m Glad I’m Slow.”

October — Larry encourages club members to spread the gospel of running.

1990

April — Larry sympathizes with runners who are labeled “out of control” because of their high mileage, and he describes several theories for their situation (“The larger your bills, the longer your miles; the more trouble with your boyfriend/girlfriend, the more the miles; the bigger bastard your boss is, the bigger the workout; the harder it is to cope with life, the harder the workout”).

1993

August — Larry offers a list of fun facts called Medicine Drops.

September — Larry tells a cautionary tale of a member who “kept pushing, pushing till his body could go no further” (the member was “incapacitated with a bad back”) and expresses his “hope that we all learn a lesson, throw our watches in the sea, enjoy nice easy running for many, many years, and trade speed for longevity.”

October — Larry writes, “Those who take the ERC bus to the New York City Marathon improve their time by 20%. There is a 25% improvement if the bus has a bathroom.”

1994

February — Larry writes an item on scaling back to deal with the blues during a tough winter.

October — Larry writes about the passing of Fred Lebow, who once encouraged him and other runners to finish a wintry 30K in Central Park, and about how watching the 1979 New York City Marathon had gotten Larry to “shape up his life.”

1995

May — Larry recaps doing New York City’s Five Boro Bike Tour with Mel Fine, Robert Fine, and Lynda Solomon.

November — While running the New York City Marathon, Larry accepts spectators’ offers of a bagel, chocolate, candy, an orange, a banana, and, from Sri Chinmoy’s group, a Coke (Larry recommends that “ERC members try running a marathon like you are going to a Bar Mitzvah and stuff your face. Your time might be a little slower, but you will cross the finish line feeling content and happy”).

1998

September — Larry is thanked for organizing the Verona Labor Day Classic.

1999

April – Larry and Lynda’s wedding is announced.

September — Larry race-directs the Verona Labor Day Classic.

2002

Larry is inducted into the ERC Hall of Fame.

2008

Larry serves on the planning committee for ERC’s 25th anniversary celebration, and emcees the event.

Larry and Lynda Hollander and Grove Pharmacy sponsor an appearance by two-time Olympian marathoner Anne Marie Letko at the September club meeting.

Every April

ERC presents one of its members with the Larry Hollander Award for Club Service.

Paul Kartanowicz

I had thought I had been a long regular at Grove, but reading some of these stories I am quickly realizing that while I was getting comfortable with walking (you have to crawl before you can walk, and walk before you can run) many of you were already training for marathons.  Just to put it into perspective when Laura Messina ran her first Grove run I was four. Not four miles, or four years running, but  four years old. (Editor’s note: PK is math-challenged; he was actually 15 when Laura began running at Grove!)

Skip ahead to (the then bearded) Mick Close’s Sept. 11 Memorial Run of 2008 and that’s where my Grove story begins. I believe that was a 14-miler, and it was the first time I had ever run the distance (by a long shot) in my life. And everyone made it look so easy. I remember early in that run, while heading East on Glen Ridge Avenue, Randy Miller finding a bunch of half-deflated party balloons and tying them to his waist as he ran alongside me. Is there a refund policy on membership fees? Later heading South on Highland (and literally running at my then race pace) Randy made the infamous comment that Karen Merz was quite the “tomboy” being able to run with the front pack, to which she, without breaking stride, replied, “Maybe you are all just all running like girls.” Still later I remember (now deep into oxygen debt with blood sugar dropping at a free-fall rate) Doug Williams pulled up alongside of me. I only remember it was Doug because he was wearing his signature brimmed running cap, and introduced me to his “longtime running friend” (and fellow hat wearer) Glenn Trimboli. I of course dropped further and further to the back of the pack, got horribly off course, and made a beeline back to the Grove Pharmacy. And that was my first Grove run.

As the Sundays grew colder the group varied in size, almost never amounting to the size of that first Sept. 11 run. I ran in baggy basketball warm-ups with about four layers on my chest. Once I wore a full faced ski mask in the snow.  I was still learning to dress like a runner. (I had to call Glenn Trimboli the night before to make sure anyone even showed up on a snowy day. Of course now I know better.)  That winter, now with many budding friendships taking place, I decided Karen Merz was the perfect mix of someone I can trust with personal stories and yet someone who wasn’t (yet) on my inner circle of friends, and she was the first person ever (outside of my parents or future in-laws) that I told of my plans to pop the big question to my longtime girlfriend (and now wife, Amanda). It felt so good to tell someone else, without any risk of it getting back to Amanda.

As I started to get fitter as a runner I was able to hang (at least for a little longer) with the front pack. I still to this day claim honor of the only person who was never “Hebronized.” Not because I was so strong or fast … quite the contrary.  I was so weak I would always lose the front pack. It took me months to start and end with the front pack, and to actually learn the “regular Grove route.” I was feeling pretty good. And then all of a sudden one day “Fast Mike” (we call him “Mad Man” now) started joining us. And that’s when the music came to Grove. Mile after mile Mike Skara would entertain us with his songs. Sometimes apt songs like “Running on Empty” and “Run to the Hills” have become perennial favorites. Once he sang “Sloop John B.” to which I improvised the line “this is the worst run, I’ve ever been on…” Soon I  been a member of every consecutive year since 2008. Phil Coffin was becoming more of a friend and less of the (other) bearded guy.

I couldn’t have even thought about training for my first marathon without the support of my friends at Grove. I began to get so excited about Sunday long runs that it would be Wednesday and I would be sending out emails to the Grovers … “So who’s excited about the 20-miler this Sunday?”  Phrases like “Four Turkeys,” “Reservoir Loop,” “Bradford” etc. became part of my vernacular. And I was proud to be part of this small, odd group who was as equally excited about torturing ourselves up and down the hills and around the abandoned mental institutions of Western Essex County through snow, heat, pouring rain, and winter darkness.

I could go on forever. About the first time I met Harold Porcher in his black cross trainers and basketball shorts (surely he’ll never run sub 3…). About how we once tried to Hebronize Jenn Martin and we ended up tiring ourselves out in the interim. About me complaining about my old job, and how month after month I swore I was quitting (I quit 2½ years ago and it was one of the best things I ever did). About telling Phil Coffin how bad I wanted to break 19 minutes in the 5K. About the season that everyone was training for the Boston Marathon except me. About making sure to wear my hat from my first Boston marathon for weeks after completing the race for the first time. About emailing everyone for advice if I should show up a little earlier on my wedding day so I can squeeze in a run with the group – wow, I got a lot of NO’s that day, but still managed a solo 10-miler. About getting home, and waiting eagerly for Phil’s recap. ( I must have refreshed my inbox 20 times each Sunday afternoon.) About all the jokes that Doug Williams laughed at long after we had stopped, and about how that made us start laughing again.

The paces and faces of Grove have changed, and probably always will. Some people now run with the Fleet Feet group. Some people moved to another state. Some people stopped running altogether. And some people live on only in our hearts and with the brief touch of a park bench.

Thank you, Larry, for being the catalyst for all of these beautiful memories. I might have usually been the last one in the door on those Sunday mornings, but I enjoyed them more than you may ever know.

P.S. I think I once had a ¼ cup of coffee.

Tom Eaton

Larry – thank you so much for opening your doors to us these many years.  I have only been a part of this wonderful tradition for a few years now – since 2007, I believe – but I will have memories of standing behind your counter for the rest of my life.

I joined the Grove Street gang through an invitation from Phil Coffin.  I would watch him run by my house in the mornings and then see him at my bus stop.  Eventually we started talking and I let him know I had signed up for the NY Marathon and was looking for a group to run with.  He immediately told me about Grove and eventually I got up the guts to make my way over there.  I remember walking in the door with Ted Bongiovanni and discovering it was his first time there as well.  Larry and the gang made us feel welcome right away. But I will always remember that when I got home and Meredith asked me how it went, I told her that the humor level made me think I had just joined the junior varsity cross country team. Little did I know that I would come to depend on those bad jokes to get me through many Sunday morning runs.

I know exactly how far it is from my house to the pharmacy (1.1 miles), how long we typically need to wait at Grove for PK to show up (10 – 15 minutes), and that Larry is never one you should complain to about a marathon time.  I also know that most Grovers would probably stand behind that counter and talk until at least 8:00 am if someone didn’t remind us we were there to run.

Regardless of where our future runs begin, I will always be a Grumpy Grover at heart.  Thanks for being the catalyst for so many great memories, Larry.

Judy Weiss-Brown

I, too, have so many fond memories from our Sunday ritual runs from Larry’s pharmacy.  It was our second home, and Larry always made us feel welcome, cared for and supported.  He always knew just what to say to cheer us up and inspire us to head out on those very cold, chilly winter mornings.  We sure laughed a lot during those runs of varying distances with the real, imagined and questionable characters to spur on the jokes. Those were the days I still ran the roads in the winter. And as the story goes, I too, found myself shifting out of Grove to FF after the mid-pack and back-pack seemed to disappear.  As Chip pointed out, so glad Larry made the decision to sell the store at a time we can all congratulate and salute him for having made such a powerful, positive impact on so many lives over the years.  Larry, you’re the best!!  Enjoy the next chapter!

Amanda King

I’ve been a Grover twice — once back in about 2000, when I was training for my first marathon, and then starting around 2009 when I was inspired by young Fred’s talent to take it up again. I was new to serious running when I first joined, and had tried Fleet Feet once but (sorry chaps) they were too slow and I got too cold running with them, so I came to Grove and was thrilled to be able to keep up with “The Kenyans” (Phil, Desmond Duncker, Mick, and Dave Collins, the super-fit, formerly 200lb donut-eating policeman – whatever happened to him?). I was amazed then, and am to this day, that someone who didn’t even run would be up so early on a Sunday morning to let a running group hang out in his pharmacy. Thanks, Larry! If it wasn’t for you, I probably wouldn’t have run that first marathon.

When I came back to Grove in 2009, only one word can describe the experience: humbling. It was about a week after Boston, and everyone was in great shape. Luckily for me, Desmond had a bad cold so he was running slowly enough that I could just about keep up with him. I didn’t dare show my face for the next few weeks, but trained hard alone and was finally able to run  10 miles with Karen, Jenn Carbone and the rest of the  new wave of Grovers (for me it was a hard tempo run, for them just half of their long easy run). I often don’t show up on Sunday mornings because the thought of trying to keep up with the fast guys and Catherine Smith is just too daunting, but when I do I never regret it. It’s a great group and always so nice to see Larry in his neighbourhood pharmacy, lovely and warm in the winter, and super-cool in the summer.

Thanks Larry, I’ll miss you.

Ron Wolfson

I have to say that I am disappointed with the attitude of the group.

No matter the weather a group of us would show up at Grove Pharmacy so Larry would have someone to talk to in the morning. Even when he stopped running we went out of our way to make him feel as if he was still one of the group. Plus, we gave him two weeks off at Christmas and another two weeks off in March. Even though he invariably picked the coldest two Sundays of the winter and wettest two days of the spring, we never complained.

And how does he repay our kindness? By selling the store without even consulting us! Thirty years of friendship right down the tubes. And let’s take a look at terms of the sale. He insisted that all of his employees be able to keep their jobs. But what about us? He didn’t even negotiate that the new owners open the store every Sunday @ 7:00 a.m. Larry, you sold us out.

Frankly, I am disappointed and hurt. And if Larry was to offer me a cup of hot coffee, I would just say “no thank you.”

Genie Temmler

I was a Grover for about four years, and by the time I stopped (everyone was getting too darn fast) Larry was no longer running either, or no more than a jaunt around the track.  It was indeed a source of amazement that he would haul himself out of bed every Sunday morning to accommodate our motley crowd.  A friendlier, more welcoming soul I have never met!  Larry certainly is one of the reasons I fell victim to the Running Bug (in my dotage, I now suffer from the much less virulent Walking Bug).  Enjoy the time off, Larry!!

Charlie Lorber

What you all don’t realize is that Larry would never have opened the store but for Larry and I needing to pee before we ran. We used to run from Mike’s home on Sundays, but Larry was so darn loud he woke Mike’s wife.  Hence we relocated.

Most of you also don’t remember the guy who almost single-handedly caused the end to the Grove runs. Phil will remember his name, I don’t. But we used to keep the door locked when we saw him pulling into the parking lot and the fast guys tried to burn him out so he wouldn’t return.  I remember that it looked like he lived in his car.

Randy Miller

Bobblehead Bob. Enuf said.

Laura Messina

Charlie, that strange ick guy was dubbed Bobblehead Bob. Do you remember when he asked cop Dave Collins, “Do you think that the white Christian male has lost his freedom of speech in this country?” Oh, and Bobblehead’s outfits were disgusting, some thought he had stalking potential and he tried like hell to keep up with the front pack but they burned his butt pretty quickly.

I dreaded catching up with him after he got blown away by the fast guys, so I either took a different route or practiced speed work. Me, doing speed work. That’s how gross he was.

Once he popped out of the bushes to join a surprised Doug on a midday run, blabbering the whole time, even pulling down his shorts to show Doug a rash on his lower abdomen.  No doubt Doug did major speed work that day.

He claimed to have run at Oregon and won many races, but there was no information available anywhere to back up such claims.

Poor Larry, Bobblehead often arrived at the pharmacy early. Maybe that’s why he decided to bring his dog Red on Sunday mornings.

Charlie Lorber

Bobble … of course. How could I forget his name. He would run with the fast group then double back when he got burned out and join us at the back. We then tried to avoid him. Awful guy who, I think, never showered.

Ron Wolfson

One year when I was pushing Jake in the stroller at the Sunset Classic and my wife took some home movies. When I later looked at the video there was a shirtless Bobblehead. Uuggh.

Phil Coffin

It was almost exactly 15 years ago that I first stepped behind the counter at Grove Pharmacy. Seven months after moving to New Jersey, I accepted Bill Mishler’s invitation to join the Grovers, on Jan. 4, 1998. We ran 10.5 miles in 88:28. Here’s the entry from my log book: “Ran w/ the Grove Street gang for the first time. 4-6 of us most of the way. Very pleasant. And a beautiful morning.”

It was the first of hundreds of mornings at Grove. Back then Larry would greet us inside, then lock up and take an integral role in the run. It was a course he and Charlie and Mike Arace had developed over the previous 15 years, aided and abetted by others, like Bill, all of whom had come to Grove for miles and had come back for much more. It was a less homogeneous group in the late 1990s — several distinct groups, each large enough to feel the pull each week to join their running comrades, at paces that were different enough but not so different that if you were having a good day or a bad day (or a good stretch or a bad stretch) you could not move up or move back and still have company.

It wasn’t just plodding miles and giggles, though. Larry may look like a smiling man of good cheer all the time, but he was a serious racer. Don’t let him tell you otherwise (he’s old enough to have forgotten, ya know). One of my strongest memories of Larry, in fact, is from a race. Eight weeks after I first showed up at Grove, Larry, Charlie and Bill had talked me into running the E. Murray Todd Half-Marathon. The entire drive to Lincroft, Larry kept hammering at the point: “At 10 miles you make a turn and head into the fiercest wind. It just blows across these open fields. It’s like that every year. At 10 miles it just kills you.” It was almost 40 miles on the Parkway, and for almost 40 miles Larry was making me a wreck thinking about the worst wind I would ever run a race in.

So of course when I got to Mile 10 and made that turn, saw the open farm fields that Larry had described that would allow the wind to blast me all the way to Pennsylvania, I was tensed up and ready … and didn’t feel a thing. No wind at all. Helped by another ERC runner, I wound up running my half-marathon PR. It wasn’t too long before Larry finished, and I was able to bust him good about his lies — all attested to by Charlie and the always trustworthy Bill — about the damn wind that never materialized.

Then I ran E. Murray Todd the next year and at Mile 10 headed into the fiercest wind I’d ever run a race in. Larry did in fact know what he was talking about.

Even if he couldn’t remember your name. He called Laura “Laurie.” I think to avoid too many slip-ups he’d call a lot of us “Kid.” How many hundreds of Sunday mornings have I heard Larry greet me with, “How ya doin’, Kid?”

Everybody was the next “Kid” to be welcomed. Even the infamous Bobblehead, as damning an indictment of the gene pool’s shallowest end as you’d ever meet.

Eventually Larry’s runs became shorter and shorter, then run/walks. Eventually we noticed that he was no longer going out the door with us, but Larry never indicated he’d really like to shut the door on our Sunday mornings and sleep in.

Did Larry ever want to close the Sunday routine down? Did he ever feel pangs about having “his” run hijacked by younger or faster or pushier runners? Did he feel saddened or angry, as the crowd of runners got younger (and faster), that his best running days — days when we’d have had respect for the times he put up — were lost to history? Did he envy the youth and speed and connectedness of the new Grovers? He never gave a hint that he did. As one of the loves of his life, running, was being pulled away from him by increasingly bad knees, he provided a comfort zone (and a bathroom!) that allowed us to nurture our running and our friendships in a way he could see only for a few fleeting moments each Sunday before we mumbled thanks and sped off. I respect him a hell of a lot for that. I don’t think I could suffer that silence.

So over the years the Grovers became their own quirky little running community, with friendships and rivalries and laughter and songs and embellishments and endorphins that smoothed over any inevitable frictions and eased the difficulties of the tens of thousands of miles the group has accumulated after walking out the pharmacy door week after week. PK is absolutely correct, the faces and the paces do change. Bill Mishler was the unquestioned Grove stud when I came, with sub-3-hour marathon cred and a resume that came to include 60 or more marathons. Now he’s in Ohio. Dave Collins joined up, driving from Wayne and then Sparta every Sunday to train himself into 3:10 shape. Gone. Leslie Racine was the fastest woman (and there was a sizable group of women then) in 1998, running a marathon in the 3:40 range. Gone. Kary Reeves replaced her as the fastest woman. Gone to Massachusetts. Nicole Sanders, a woman in from Washington State, very slight and slender, looked as if a puff of wind could blow her away but a tough-as-nails marathoner. Gone. Fast Jen. Gone. John Thornton and Andy Fried and their triathlon buddies, the first Ironmen I ever knew; still around, still competing, but gone from Grove. Although we sure do not miss John’s damn Jingle Bell jester hat! Mike Kantor and his gray cotton sweats. Gone. Eric Stadnyk, who had the misfortune of living at Mile 1 of the course, and for whom Madman Mike would yell if Eric had slept in instead of showing up. Gone home to Canada. Doug joined us and we learned facets of him that we never could have known otherwise, including that relentless ability to laugh. And make us laugh. Taken from us.

Running friends came (Howie, Judy, Chip, Desmond) and went to Fleet Feet, with an ethos of its own. It’s a great group, but it doesn’t have Larry.

Now we won’t. Well, we won’t have Larry at the store. He won’t be there, making the coffee no one will drink and chatting us all up and botching names and making us all feel good about the kind of runner we are, smiling and displaying an ease and amiability that we like to think the running community embodies. That’s sort of a running myth, but Larry actually does embody the best elements of human nature and has shared them with us because he, like us, has a passion for running. Lucky for us, he also has a passion for people.

Maybe we can remember to share that as well as the miles.

John Thornton

I remember that guy and his name was Lovell and we dubbed him the Unabomber because he would not tell anyone where he lived nor what he did or where he came from. Phil, I still have that noisy reindeer hat and I bug other people with it these days.

I will always remember Larry and the solace he gave to new runners and the welcome that he shared when he opened up the store for us. I usually got there early during the holidays to buy my cards and sundries. I was such a regular that he started giving me the job of making the coffee. I actually think we should have one last memorial run from the store as a remembrance of such a great guy and comrade.

Chip Bearden

I remember both Lovell and Bobblehead. They were a little strange. True, many current and former Grovers might have difficulty being judged “normal” by the average American (or even average runner). But those two guys definitely had dogs and cats throughout Montclair yowling in distress when they ran by.

Except for the above, I’ve resisted the urge to respond publicly to some of the postings that followed Phil’s original message [privately is a different matter; I hadn’t heard about “Heidi” (imaginary)  or Kary (very, very real) in years]. Taking my direction from Phil, the purpose of this group effort seemed to be to express our thoughts about Larry and the happy times we all experienced at Grove over the years.

Back in the olden days, Phil and I occasionally talked about assembling those early “recaps” to preserve for … well, it was a sorry idea. Truth be told, I have nearly all of them stored away in email archives. Anyone who wants to tackle about 8 years of weekly recaps (with myriad responses) is welcome to it. LOL  In the meantime, it makes sense to capture these few, at least. So be careful what you say; your words may live on long after Grovers of all eras have passed on or defected to triathlons.

Karen Merz

Oh the pressure…… so many things to say but I will keep it short.

Larry, you will be missed more than your bathroom … and coming from me that means a LOT!

Doug was the only one who drank your coffee, but you still offered to the rest of us every week.

Thanks for the memories!

And for the rest of you…… you do run like girls!     😉

Tanya Lenkow

When I ran my first marathon, I never thought I would ever run that distance again. It was a great experience, but once was enough.

Then I met Jill Booth, who introduced me to Essex Running and casually said let’s enter New York and train with the Grove Group. The Grove Group? That would be Larry’s Grove Group, the group of runners who had bragging rights to not one but many marathons.

And so I joined the elite subgroup of E.R.–the Grove back pack. We trained year-round, regardless of the weather or how we felt, knowing that Larry would be there waiting for us every Sunday morning.

What a difference running with a group made! Logging in mile after mile was now fun, because there was so much to talk about with Larry, Charlie, Laura, Jill, Judy, Howie, and many others. We had so many topics to discuss: books, movies, children, jobs. Occasionally we would even mention running, as in what marathon each of us was thinking about entering. Before I knew it, I ran four more marathons in a span of three years, something I never would have done without Grove group.

Recently life has gotten in the way of long-distance running, and it doesn’t help that I have slowed way down. I probably couldn’t keep up with any running group now, but back then I had Larry’s Grove runs. Those were by far the most fun in over 30 years of running.

Thank you for all the memories, Larry!

Laura Messina

Sometime in late ’95, I first showed up at Grove Pharmacy, complying to a challenge from Chip. I met the regulars of that time, who have now all moved to other endeavors, other locales.  And now, so has Larry.

From Day One, Larry was wide awake, friendly and welcoming, generally busting me about one thing or another.  Yes, I have always been so short. Yes, I really need all these layers to run in the winter. No, I cannot pace Tom Eaton up Mt. Hebron. To this day, he still calls me Laurie and is the only person to get away with it.

Larry was part of the serious but congenial Grove contingent for my first half, the huge Philadelphia Distance Run, where we all stayed in the host hotel.  The others were aghast because I was totally unaware that the Kenyans riding the elevator with me were the world-class elites who would win this prestigious race.  My brush with fame — and I was clueless.

At Grove, Larry would run with us at first (Charlie, Judge Dave Baime, Chip, Tanya, me) but his balky knees started restricting how far he could go. Eventually the distances got shorter and shorter until he stayed back at the pharmacy, frustrated, disappointed, but always nice to all of us.

Back then, I could hold my own with speed and pacing.  Thus began my training in ’97 for my first marathon with Chip, my running partner.  We must have looked quite the pair.  I clearly recall my amazement and elation as I completed distances that were once mysteriously unattainable.  With the encouragement of the Grovers, the long runs became do-able.

There were at least 12 of us at the Steamtown Marathon in 1999, all Grovers or related to one. I had glommed a ride with Phil and Bob Gorman and had a huge hotel room all to myself.  No one could have scripted a better first marathon, including the exquisite surprise of Larry showing up on the course to cheer for all of us!  My Steamtown experience remains as one of my happiest memories ever.  I just wish one of you “experts” had warned me about the stupidity of taking a long, hot bath after a marathon.  Ow, ow, ow my legs … dumb dumb dumb.

The few minutes of banter in Larry’s pharmacy made it worthwhile to get up early each Sunday morning. Even when I am not in Essex County, I still begin my Sunday runs at the same time, in my own simple Grover solidarity.  The years of being at Grove have given me encouragement, friendships, a lot of funny moments, goals and inspiration.  I even got a great husband out of the deal, who originally was just another one of the fast guys who I watched disappear every Sunday morning.

Nowadays, I am a Back Pack of one, but still plan to retain that distinction.  I will continue to view myself as a Grover, but it sure as hell is a lot colder in the parking lot than inside the pharmacy!

My sincere thanks to Larry for giving this little Grover the years-long experience of a lifetime.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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