On Monday, a homeless man with back and drug problems died in front of New Island Deli on the Brooklyn Heights-Cobble Hill border. Nicholas Hernandez could almost always be found around that corner, Atlantic Avenue and Henry Street, and he had become a beloved neighborhood fixture, Brooklyn Heights Blog reports. “He never had anything but a kind word for people on the block,” commenter DJ told the blog. “A really decent guy, I’ll miss having him as part of our nabe.”
He was, Lillian Ann Slugocki wrote in a 2009 profile on the same blog, “a junkie that people trust.”
Slugocki wrote that Hernandez had been a grocery store owner in the Bronx who’d gotten mixed up in money laundering, spent time in jail, and wound up, somehow, in the Heights. He was kept alive by the deli, as well as nearby Nova Zembla furniture store and Heights and Hill Funeral, the three of which would “hire him to sweep or shovel. Buy him lunch, hot coffee on cold days, offer him a place to sleep out of the elements.” (This, by the way, is the kind of thing we lose when local businesses are replaced by national chains.)
Heights and Hill will hold a memorial service on Saturday, from 12-3.
Here are some choice anecdotes from BHB comments sections:
“When he found my elderly neighbor wandering on Atlantic in only his underwear on a winter day, Nick brought him inside, called him an ambulance, went with him to the hospital, and came back to our building to check on him during the following weeks.”
“Once I was smoking outside [my tattoo] shop and daydeaming while looking in my own window, I felt a presence that woke me out of my day slumber, he had been standing next to me for who knows how long I looked down and he’s smiling like he just played the biggest joke in his life, it cracked me up.”
“One day, as I walked by, he told me I have cute toes. It definitely creeped me out. However, there’s something gentle about him and whenever we pass he says hello and has a smile.”