Marvin Chane - A Tale In Two Cities
The location was ideal, on the corner of one of the busiest intersections in the old Philadelphia neighborhood of Germantown. Chane's pharmacy (we called them drug stores in those days) was surrounded by other active businesses. There was a popular bar across the street, a super market just a half block away, and a high-end candy store just a few doors down.
There was a busy shoe repair store close by. The second floors of the buildings housed offices, including dentists and lawyers. There were two large grade schools a few blocks away. Students passed the pharmacy on their way home. They often stopped in to enjoy the soda fountain. The year was 1951.
Our friend Tom McGill, who worked there as a soda jerk, recalls meeting the owner and his wife. We don't, but we understand the senior Mr. Chane was ill and may have died about that time. But we did know his son, Marvin Chane, who appeared to be running the place when he was only 19. He was a good looking, personable guy, and seemed to be a savvy young businessman. We saw him when we dropped by to visit Tom McGill, which was often. In fact, we had hoped to get the job as a soda jerk when Marvin hired Tom. Our problem is that at age 14, we were only 4'11" tall, one of the smallest boys in our high school freshman class. Tom McGill, although a few months younger, was about a foot taller. Marvin thought we were too short for the fountain counter. He hired Tom.
Tom liked to tell the story about how he left the job after about a year. He liked Marvin Chane and enjoyed his job, but money is money.
"I was making 55 cents an hour," he recalled recently. "I had a chance to earn 75 cents working at a Sears auto store, changing tires and stuff. I asked Marvin for a raise. He said no and tried to talk me into staying, pointing out that I would have to spend carfare to get to the Sears store in Jenkintown. But I did leave."
McGill recalled the incident when informed of Marvin Chane's death at age 90 earlier this month, after a long battle with Parkinson's disease.
We are not sure how long Marvin Chane ran the pharmacy. In the next decade, the neighborhood went down. Most of the good stores closed. Thousands of families moved. Today, you can hardly recognize the intersection. It is a place where you make sure your car doors are locked when you stop at the light. We think he sold out before things got really bad. He was, as we said, a good businessman.
If the Germantown pharmacy was a good business, his next move was an apparent gold mine. He owned a pharmacy downtown, in the high-toned Rittenhouse Square area. He probably had that property for most of the 1960s, but we don't recall seeing him during that time. The next time we heard his name was when our managing editor at Gold Coast Magazine began dating him in the mid-1970s. By then, he was a co-owner (along with his cousin Marvin Himelfarb) of the Bahia Cabana in Fort Lauderdale. They were known as Big Marvin and Little Marvin. They turned an obscure non-descript little hotel located on the south side of the Bahia Mar Marina into one of the most popular waterfront hangouts. It took advantage of the great view of the active marina, which was separated by only a narrow inlet. That location is what prompted Chane to make the purchase.
In the process, they pioneered open air waterfront bars. That is according to Bob Townsley, who had a 50-year career as a bar manager on the Fort Lauderdale beach. Townsley worked with Chane during the early days of the Bahia Cabana.
"The bar there was indoor," recalls Townsley. "One day Marvin said to Little Marvin, 'What would you think about putting the bar outdoor near the water?'"
The bar soon became a reality. It was a round bar, and the owners also rebuilt the small dock with tiered seating leading down to it. Thus began a 28-year ride as the bar attracted a steady crowd. According to Bob Townsley, it also inspired numerous places with waterfront views to put in open air bars. It was sold in 2000 and closed after serious storm damage in 2017. A major development was recently announced for the site.
We are sure that during our many visits, sometimes with our young family, we brought Marvin up to date on Tom McGill, who retired early in New Jersey after a successful career in marketing. Tom became a valued shareholder in our magazine, and we saw him when he spent part of winter months in the Naples area.
On one of his visits to Fort Lauderdale, we decided to have some fun. We arranged through Marvin's girlfriend, our editor, to go to dinner with a visiting couple. Neither couple knew who they were about to meet. That meeting was in the lobby of Bahia Cabana. I simply said, "You people know each other, don't you?" The couples looked at me strangely. "Don't you know each other?" I repeated. Marvin Chane broke the awkwardness by extending his hand to Tom McGill. "I"m Marvin Chane," he said, and I heard Tom, almost beneath his breath, slowly drawl "M a r v i n C h a n e," and then introduced himself with a great smile.
There followed a fun dinner with a lot of reminiscing about the old Philadelphia neighborhood and both men telling stories about their respective careers. Toward the end of the dinner, after a few drinks, Tom brought up the subject of his leaving the soda jerk job in 1952 when Marvin wouldn't give him a 20-cent raise. To our amazement, something of an argument broke out, with Marvin making the same arguments about the time and carfare involved with Tom taking the suburban job. This did not rise to the level of a lawsuit when both men realized the absurdity of rehashing an incident from almost 50 years ago. A happy good night was had by all.
The incident does illustrate, however, the quality that made Marvin Chane such a success in two very different careers a thousand miles apart. Once a businessman...