Brotherly love turned Mike Shirazi into a grocer.
Shirazi, 72, had been trained as an engineer, but when his brother Jacob, ailing from back surgery, needed help running the small D.C. store the family had recently purchased, he took a three-month leave of absence. Then a six-month one.
Thirty years later, Shirazi is still a grocer — until Friday, when the family will close the doors to the Brookville Super Market for the last time.
Customers of the Cleveland Park market have come to think of it as more than just a store.
“In some ways, Brookville has been the anchor for that strip,” said Mark Rosenman, a Cleveland Park resident since 1998 who shopped at the market at least once a week. He recalled fumbling for his wallet — forgotten at home — at the cash register several years ago, only to see the store manager reach into his own pocket and pay for the groceries, saying simply, “bring it in when you get a chance.”
Rosenman said he brought in the money the next day. “Certainly, it made me a loyal customer,” he said.
Last week, the store’s shelves were starting to look empty — but most were still laden with frozen beef kreplach, rows of cereal and oatmeal and neatly arranged vegetables under bright white fluorescent lights.
Mike Shirazi, soft-spoken at 72, emerged from the partitioned corner that served as the store’s office last week. He said the decision to close was a difficult one, but he and Jacob knew they were ready. Five years ago, another brother — Yash — retired. Then Jacob decided he wanted to be closer to his sons in California. That left Mike, who realized it was time for him to go, too. He plans on traveling to Europe and catching up on reading after the store closes.
“Between the two of us, we decided it’s time to hang up,” he said. “Being over 70 years old, then you would feel tired, and you would know it is time to stop and smell the roses.”
The brothers came to the neighborhood in November 1987, after Cleveland Park neighbors organized to replace a Safeway that was closing down.
Judy Hubbard, who moved to Cleveland Park in 1973, said the Safeway had served as a “community headquarters,” and the neighbors had gone to the Shirazi family, who owned a supermarket on Brookville Road in Chevy Chase, Md., to see whether they would take its place.
Ten days after the Safeway closed, the Brookville Super Market opened — and, Mike Shirazi said, it’s been open every day since then. Even during blizzards. Shirazi said a few of them would spend the night at the market, sleeping in their overcoats on top of the cashier stands, just to make sure the store could open in the morning.
“You knew in a major snowstorm that Brookville would be open,” Hubbard said. “You knew you could get down there, and they would be open for us.”
Shirazi said his family searched for another market to replace Brookville, and the local Streets Market chain will lease the roughly 7,000-square-foot space from them.
“We needed to have someone who would take care of the community,” he said. “We see they are sort of upscale and nice and would match the people of Cleveland Park.”
Campbell Burns, Streets’ vice president of business development, promised to continue what Brookville started — down to keeping much of the same staff in place, some of whom have worked for the Shirazis for decades.
“We just want to carry on their legacy,” said Burns, who added that the new Streets Market store will open in about two months, after a renovation.
Brookville’s longtime manager Lee Harvey — “Mr. Lee” to everyone, including Shirazi — said he’s fielded three to four phone calls a day recently from customers who burst into tears when they heard Brookville is closing.
“Everybody’s worried,” said Elizabeth Ferenczi, who walked to Brookville on Friday for a half-pound of sliced ham. She said her 90-year-old mother depends on the grocery store’s deliveries. “We’ve been terrified of this for a long time.”
“It’s gonna be okay,” Harvey reassured her, before slicing the ham.
“If you think it’s gonna be okay, then I’ll believe it, too,” Ferenczi replied.