James L. Josey (1908-1995)
By Angie Mangino
Back when I was a Regional Manager for House of Lloyd in the late 80’s, Harry Lloyd, the Kansas City company’s owner, had the idea that Regional Managers should rent out a storefront to make into a showroom. From this location we were to promote the products and have a place to run meetings for our demonstrators, supervisors and District Managers. He offered half of the rent to encourage us to invest our time and money into making it work.
I originally opened at one of the stores at Arthur Kill Road between Main Street and Butler Ave next to where Joura Movers had been. But the only foot traffic I got there were a few people rushing to catch a train, or getting off the train to go home tired after work. Needless to say, I spent most of my investment just to have a meeting place, something that defeated the original concept since I wasn’t taking in any money to cover the other half of the rent I had to pay.
So when Mrs. Rosemary moved her dance studio out of 173 Main Street to around the corner on Craig Avenue , I moved my showroom there. I always loved the uniqueness of that cute building with its Queen Anne style setting it out from the surrounding buildings. Obviously, so did a lot of other people because that building is now a New York City Landmark!
On the very first day I opened up my new Main Street showroom I was outside sweeping the sidewalk of the litter that was spoiling the entrance. I so wanted this showroom to succeed where the other one hadn’t. And who should walk by to stop and talk with me, but the man I was later to discover everyone called the Mayor of Tottenville!
James Josey asked me what I was doing and shouldn’t I be having him do the sweeping.
“Why would I do that?” I asked, quite confused. “This is my store so it’s my job to keep it clean.” And that’s when I heard the most contagious laugh as he told me he liked me because I was color blind.
The color of a person’s skin holds as much significance to me as the color of one’s hair. What a person says, what a person does, who a person is; that’s what I notice. So what I see now as his playful little testing of me went totally over my head at the time. And that’s when Mr. Josey and I became buddies.
He would stop by most days that I opened the showroom to share a cup of coffee and neighborhood gossip with me. I looked forward to those times because he was such a sweet older gentlemen who loved, and was such a part of, Tottenville back then and by our acquaintance I was becoming even more a part of this wonderful neighborhood. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of the people who stopped by to check out my store were at some point prompted by Mr. Josey during his walk around town to do so.
It was only years later that I would learn of Mr. Josey’s history here in Tottenville.
Born in South Carolina, James Josey moved from Harlem to Tottenville to work at Nassau Smelting in 1942, where he became a union organizer. In 1945 he was a charter member of the Staten Island League for Better Government; founder and senior member of the Tottenville Improvement Council, being the vice president in the 70’s after he retired in 1969 from Nassau Smelting; and was a liaison officer on the staff of Borough President Robert Connor. Through the years he collected many service awards for his community activism.
But I will always remember Mr. Josey for the twinkle in his eyes, his spontaneous laugh, his generous heart, and the passion he had for Tottenville, his hometown for 53 years.