Fred Hakim’s family owned a hole-in-the-wall hot-dog counter in Times Square that was the last of its kind when New York decided to revitalize the area in the 1990s by condemning dozens of establishments like his. It was a seven-seat, 250-square-foot piece of Edward Hopper streetscape at 229-31 W. 42nd St., which Mr. Hakim’s father had opened in 1941 and wryly named the Grand Luncheonette.
Mr. Hakim tried to keep the place open as a sort of living museum of the golden age of hawkers and honky-tonks in Times Square. But the city had other ideas, and after a two-year fight, he was evicted on Oct. 19, 1997.
He died April 25 at age 83.
Mr. Hakim seemed stumped by the economics of the Times Square redevelopment. In conversations with family members, and in interviews with the many reporters who crowded his joint in its last days, he often asked, “Where are the people who just want a hot dog and a knish?’’
Working for his father from age 13, Mr. Hakim was witness to a New Yorker’s version of the history of the world. From the counter, he saw bobby-soxers rounding the corner to swoon over Frank Sinatra at the Paramount. He watched the crowds flood the street like a dam burst on V-E Day, May 8, 1945, which also marked the end of the wartime brownout, when the lights in Times Square - the billboards, the marquees, the windows in every building that had been dark for three years - blazed once again.
He met a world of shoeshine men, longshoremen, sailors, drug dealers, prostitutes, and policemen in the gritty years. “He called it a symbiotic relationship,’’ his son Mark said. “You depended on each other, and no one was in anybody’s business.’’
Unlike his father, who had owned several hot-dog counters in Times Square at various times, Fred Hakim never fully depended on the Grand Luncheonette for his living. He worked there seven days a week, sometimes 20 hours on a weekend, but he also taught physical education and coached the handball team at Murry Bergtraum High School in Lower Manhattan.
Still, though Mr. Hakim liked teaching, the luncheonette was his calling. “He loved the people there,’’ his son said. “The regular people, the shady people with rolls of dollar bills they peeled off. They were all his friends.’’
Peter Sillen, an independent filmmaker, made a short documentary about the Grand Luncheonette in 1997, casting it as an emblem of the larger battle, since lost, to preserve some of the earthy character of Times Square.
Mr. Hakim comes across in the film as gentle (“Be right with you, young man’’), authoritative (“Hot dogs, hot dogs! Git y’hot dogs hee-ah!’’) and wise (“A knish? It’s potatoes,’’ he explains to an off-camera customer. “Potatoes inside, outside, every side’’).
Fred Hakim was born in 1928 in the Bronx, one of three children of Albert and Luna Hakim. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from the City University of New York.
Besides his son Mark, Mr. Hakim leaves his wife, Jane; three other children, Adam, Glenn, and Lisa; a sister, Ethel Matarasso; a brother, Michael; and three grandchildren.
Mr. Hakim lamented the closing of the Grand Luncheonette, but it turned out to be one of the luckiest days of his life.
If not for the eviction, he told his family and friends, he would probably have been behind the counter when the building collapsed less than six weeks later, burying the luncheonette under tons of rubble.
Demolition work next door, and a bit of wind, were cited as the probable causes.
“He used to say what a blessing it was,’’ Mark Hakim said. “Being made to close the business at 69’’ - Fred Hakim’s father, Albert, had worked into his 80s - “was very hard for him. He hoped to work till he was 90. But losing that fight was the best thing he ever did.’’