Saying Goodbye to Shelter Island Landmark

Fedi’s, a mini grocery/deli, has been an Island landmark since I was in high school in the ’70s. It will open under new ownership sometime in April and be called Schmidt’s.

Doug, the man who owned and operated Fedi’s, was our Island version of Oscar the Grouch. Not only did he not suffer fools lightly, he didn’t suffer them at all. He treated locals like family—he loved some and hated others—and off-islanders had better be on their best behavior.

I recall a typical exchange from those years. The Island hadn’t been discovered yet in the ’70s and off-island people were inclined to complain a lot about how everything moves slower here and how the Island shuts down at 6 p.m., with the exception of Fedi’s who stayed open till 7 p.m., giving us all an opportunity to grab that last-needed item of the day.

Doug had a regular cash register, but on this night it must have been on the fritz because Doug was doing the figures on the paper bag he would then put your groceries in. The two off-islanders in front of me in line said to Doug, “Jeez, could this place (meaning the Island) be any more primitive? Have you thought of using an abacus?”

Myself and the other people in the line held our breath—this guy was in for it. Sometimes Doug was loud, sometimes very subtle. He said to the guy, “You interrupted me. Now I’ll have to start all over.” He pulled out a clean paper bag and started to add the guys’ items up all over—as slowly as he possibly could. The guy was seething and everybody else in line was struggling to stifle our laughter—Doug got him good. Everybody on the Island has a funny Fedi’s story.

I remember in my Junior year, gaggles of us girls would amble over to Fedi’s for lunch. I remember walking through the cold and opening that wooden door and feeling a blast of heat on my knee-socked legs. I remember how Doug would roll his eyes at the pack of giggling girls chattering about dieting as we bought chips, Cokes and sandwiches. Of course, when you’re a teen you’re not aware of the irritating noise level you produce. You only realize it when you’re an adult stuck in a line behind a pack of teen girls. That Doug still served us is a miracle.

One of the best things about Fedi’s, and I hope the Schmidt’s will continue this, is the fat sandwich. The deli didn’t skimp on sandwich fillings. My favorite was always the egg salad or chicken salad. You got a delicious sandwich that was a meal, and always fresh. Nothing’s better than grabbing a Fedi’s sandwich, and a good book, and parking somewhere overlooking the water and having a peaceful lunch.

Change is tough but inevitable. It will take about three years for everyone to get the spelling of Schmidt’s right. It will take about five years for everyone to stop referring to Schmidt’s as Fedi’s, or “you know the place—it used to be Fedi’s.” Personally, I would have kept the name because it’s already established, but that’s just me.

Best of luck to Schmidt’s. For most places, the proof is in the pudding, but in this case, it’s in the sandwich.

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