The John of John’s Grocery passes away


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John Alberhasky was working as a bartender for his brother Bernie more than 60 years ago when a good friend sold him his future, recalled son Bill Alberhasky.

“The guy just said, ‘John why don’t you buy my store; I want to retire,’ ” Bill said. “So he did.”

With that purchase in 1948, a staple of the Iowa City community began on the intersection of Market and Gilbert Streets. And though 28 other corner markets have come and gone since then John’s Grocery still remains. Sons, grandchildren, and loyal customers alike say its success can be credited to one man — John Alberhasky.

“Every customer and every last bit of charity work, he cared about,” said Alberhasky’s grandson, Doug Alberhasky. “Iowa City lost one of its greatest icons and will be hard pressed to find another soul that is as caring as John.”

John Alberhasky, the store’s former owner, died Thursday. He was 92.

“He loved life, he loved to laugh, he loved to sing,” said Jerry Alberhasky, another of his sons and one of his seven children. “I loved working for him.”

John’s Grocery, 401 E. Market Street, is still training Alberhasky’s remaining grandchildren, Doug said, recalling his earliest memories of working revolved around “following grandpa at the apron.”

But there’s one memory that sticks with him — away from the store — when Doug was trying to jump across Ralston Creek.

“I was just about there and got stuck,” he said. “Grandpa came around and said, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘I made a stupid,’ so he said, ‘I’ll give you a stupid.’ ”

John, Doug said, used his humor to help people learn from their mistakes.

Charles Drum, a customer of John’s for more than 40 years, said he was surprised by Alberhasky’s personality when they first met.

“I came here from Texas and wasn’t use to having someone behind the counter who was as educated as John,” Drum said.

John retired from the store in the late 1980s, but Drum said he still recalls his days behind the counter.

“I came in one day, and John was slicing cheese at the deli counter,” he said. “I decided to ring the bell, but I knew he saw me. John says, ‘Who do you think you are, Quasimodo?’ That’s just who he was, a kidder.”

John enlisted in the Navy following Pearl Harbor, a little over year after he married Erna, to whom her remained married almost 69 years.

Upon returning, John attended the University of Iowa for two years after completing his tour.
But hoping to support two children and a wife, Bill said, he turned away from the bartending gig and to the grocery business.

“Once a grocery business gets in your blood, you’re stuck with it,” Bill said.

And every member of the Alberhasky family has been stuck with it, he said, including himself. Bill, started working along side his father when he was 8.

And those times, he said, could be rough.

“He was a tough task master,” Bill said.

Visitation will be held Oct. 18 at Lensing Funeral Home followed by a funeral at 10 a.m. at St. Mary’s Cathedral the next day.

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