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2013-08-08 / Other News

Little Old Canarsie - The Next Generation: Pop Klee

By Ken A. Rogers

Growing up in Canarsie, I came to know some truly remarkable people. One of those people was Bill “Pop” Klee. Starting in 1912, Bill’s father, known as “Pop” by the locals, operated a barbershop at 1443 East 94th Street. As it was the custom in those days, there was a back room in which there was a billiard table. This was around the time Canarsie Mayor William Warner, along with a group of investors, constructed the Canarsie and Rockaway Beach Rail Road. The train transported passengers from New York to Canarsie Landing where they boarded ferries to the resorts on the Rockaway peninsula. The waters around Canarsie were not yet polluted and were filled with striped bass, clams and oysters. Canarsie became a popular fishing spot. William Klee added fishing poles, bait and tackle to the items sold at his shop.

As a young boy, I remember buying a dozen bloodworms for a dime. If you were an adult, you paid a quarter for a dozen worms. I can’t recall any adult sending in a kid to buy bait for them. Old Pop Klee was just not the kind of person you would take advantage of. William Klee passed away in 1958 and his son Bill took over the business. He closed down the barbershop, added five more billiard tables and stocked the window with the latest fishing rods on the market. To us kids, in the 1960’s, he became known as Pop Klee mainly because he never changed the sign in the front window. Pop Klee’s became a popular place for teenagers in the late 1960’s. Pop had two rules and, if they were not followed, you could get disbarred from the establishment for a day with the length increased for repeated offenders. Pop would look the other way if you were shooting pool during school hours or had a hint of beer on your breath but, if he heard a curse word or the sound of cue sticks slamming on the table, he would send you packing.

Pop Klee In 1969, Canarsie High School was closed after a day of riots. Pop made sure he knew where his regulars were and that they were safe. Often, in the summer, while the boys played pool, you could see Pop through the back window tending the roses planted by his father when Bill was a little boy. One of Karen (Klee) Olsen’s fond memories of her grandfather, Bill “Pop” Klee, is the great big iced barrel in the front of the store. “In order to keep the soda and Yoo-Hoo© cold, the glass bottles were kept in a large barrel with a block of ice that was delivered with tongs by the ice man. You had to dunk your arms many times to find the one bottle you wanted. Many times I wanted to give up but Grandpa would encourage me on. So I persevered and that Yoo-Hoo© or cream soda was well worth it.

Pop loved Canarsie and loved to talk about it. He got great enjoyment out of the young men who frequented the pool room. I think it was his way of providing a safe place for the teenagers and older guys. He always knew what was going on in Canarsie because he had the best informants around. The guys confided in him on almost everything. And when it looked as if he was reading his everpresent newspaper or magazine, he was listening. He was a smart guy. Canarsie was his home his whole life as well as his parents and grandparents.”

Bill “Pop” Klee passed away at the age of 80 in 1995. The Bait, Tackle and Billiard Hall has been converted into a multifamily residence. However, William and his son Bill will live forever in that special place known as Little Old Canarsie.

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