JACK NEAM, 88
Jack Neam's market catered to Washington's elite
By T. Rees Shapiro
Sunday, January 3, 2010 Washington Post)
For more than 40 years, Jack Neam ran the "most expensive market in the world."
Neam's Market, a family business at the confluence of Wisconsin Avenue and P Street in Georgetown,
was the have-it-all grocery for Washington's establishment before Dean & DeLuca and Sutton Place
Gourmet became part of the culinary vocabulary.
As one of the most prolific grocers in the Washington area, Neam's Market produce found its way
onto the plates of royalty and heads of state, including in the dining rooms of the District's most
prestigious address: 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW.
Mr. Neam, with brothers Edmond and George, owned and managed the market founded in 1909 by
their father, Najeeb Neam, a Lebanese immigrant who at one point housed his family in an apartment
above the grocery.
Mr. Neam and his brothers had worked odd jobs in the store as clerks ever since they could walk.
A lifelong District resident, Mr. Neam was a 1940 graduate of Western High School, where he was a
captain of the football team. He had been recruited by several colleges, but he stayed home to tend to
the family's interests.
After service in the Coast Guard during World War II, Mr. Neam returned to help restock shelves, work the cash registers, cut meat in the
butcher shop and make deliveries before eventually taking over the business with his brothers in the mid-1950s.
Blessed with an exquisite taste for precious perishables and exotic delicacies, the family filled the market with more than 60 varieties of
imported cheese and 24 kinds of mustard. They carried Mennonite wheat flour, litchi nuts and papadum, a wafer-thin Indian bread.
Every customer of Neam's Market was assured that if a particular item was not in stock, the family would find it and provide it in their store
"We do a classy trade here," Mr. Neam told the Washington Post in 1981. Newsweek once ranked the market as the most expensive in the
Jack Neam, 88, who died of congestive heart failure Oct. 16 at his home in Arlington County, took great pride in the assortment of cuts the
meat counter offered, including selections of pork crowns, squabs, pheasants, quail, milk-fed veal and sweetbreads.
The fruit section, which always had plump berries and crisp pears in stock, no matter the season, once inspired nationally syndicated
columnist Art Buchwald to compare it to a jewelry boutique and declare that "Mr. Neam . . . is to fresh fruit what Bulgari's is to jewelry."
Re-creating a fictional conversation, Buchwald wrote in Mr. Neam's voice: "Consider this diamond-shape pear an investment. In three days
when it's ripe it will be worth three times what you paid for it."
The store started as a soda fountain and candy shop and eventually gentrified its shelves to accommodate the evolving demands of its
neighborhood and surrounding area, even offering to make deliveries as far as Chevy Chase and McLean.
The market's patrons and matrons included many boldface names: the Mellons, the Harrimans, the Vanderbilts.
"We could have published a who's who," Mr. Neam told The Post in 2000.
The grande dames who frequented Neam's Market might rub fur-coated elbows in the soup aisle with Nancy Kissinger, maybe chat at the
register with Elizabeth Taylor or perhaps stand behind Katharine Hepburn at the butcher.
Jackie Kennedy had a charge account at Neam's while her husband was president, but he cut her off for spending too much at the market.
After 80 years of continuous operation, the Neam brothers sold the grocery in 1989. They stayed on as consultants and still own the
property. The building is now occupied by a Marvelous Market.
For many years, Neam's was an integral part of the District's cultural fabric and a landmark of Georgetown's merchandise scene. A 1982
profile of Georgetown life by the New York Times described how Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt requested that Neam's Market select and
hand-deliver a gift of Russian caviar to first lady Nancy Reagan.
In 1985, director Mike Nichols chose to shoot a few scenes in Neam's for his Washington-based film "Heartburn," starring Meryl Streep and
Jack Nicholson. Each of the three brothers was asked to supply headshots to the film company to determine whether they looked the part of
proprietors of their own grocery store.
Only Jack Neam was selected for a speaking role in the movie, as a butcher serving Streep. He became a member of the Screen Actors
Guild and enjoyed retelling stories of his time on the movie set.
"He used to say Meryl Streep co-starred in his movie," said his daughter, Amelia Neam.
For his brush with stardom, Mr. Neam earned royalty checks from Paramount Pictures all of his life.
The last one he received was for $9.
Bulgari's is to jewelry," columnist
Art Buchwald wrote.
(John Mcdonnell/the Washington