My recent story on Orthodox Jews who work as vendors at Wrigley Field — and their declining number — garnered a lot of attention among Chicago Cubs fans, including from many ex-vendors.
One of them, Michael Karlin, wrote me to share the story about how the whole phenomenon got started.
Karlin says he was the second-ever Orthodox vendor, back in the mid-1960s, and that he was turned onto vending by the pioneer in the field, Stewart Sheinfeld.
Here’s his story:
Dear Mr. Heilman,
Your recent piece on Orthodox vendors at Wrigley Field brought back very fond memories for me, having worked there for several years in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
You wrote that “no one seems to know quite how it began.” Well, I do, and I can fill you in. The first Orthodox vendor was Stewart Sheinfeld, a graduate of the Skokie Yeshiva class of 1967. Stewie, who unfortunately passed away earlier this year, was a great guy who somehow found out about the job and got it — it must have been in 1968. Being a classmate of Stewie, he later told me about it, and I then eagerly became the second Orthodox vendor.
We were both joined subsequently by Larry Hirsch, and the three of us comprised the first group of this great Chicago tradition. Interestingly, we tended to be among the top earners at the job, which follows a pattern of Orthodox Jews excelling in almost any profession — even beer vending!
Now living in Teaneck, N.J., where two of Stewie’s sons also reside, I can honestly state that vending at Wrigley Field still rates as the best job I ever had. I have many great memories of experiences on that job, besides making a lot of money (on a good day, we could earn over $100 way back in the early 1970s, after turning 21 and getting beer to sell). The Cubs had become a good team in 1969 (remember that awful collapse to the Mets?) and subsequent years, the crowds were big, the atmosphere was great, and nothing beat working there.
So, when anyone reminisces on the tradition of Orthodox vending at Wrigley Field (which should continue), they should also remember the grandfather of all this, one Stewart Sheinfeld, who started it. May Stewart be fondly remembered for this, as well as his many other accomplishments during his too short lifetime!