Leo & Jimmy’s Deli in Wilmington closes after 87 years [video]

 Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki buys the final sandwich at Leo and Jimmy's Deli on Market St. Friday afternoon. (Andrea Gibbs/WHYY)

Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki buys the final sandwich at Leo and Jimmy's Deli on Market St. Friday afternoon. (Andrea Gibbs/WHYY)

Friday was the last day you’ll hear someone say, if you want a good deli sandwich, head over to Leo and Jimmy’s in downtown Wilmington.

“I was afraid if I didn’t take it I might regret it later,” said Barbara Hackett, owner of Leo and Jimmy’s Delicatessen. Hackett accepted an offer from Wilmington based developer the Buccini/Pollin Group to purchase the building that housed Leo and Jimmy’s and the neighboring building, which she also owned.

Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki, Downtown Visions Executive Director Marty Hageman and loyal customers gathered at the store on its final day to say thank you and goodbye. “Jimmy and Barbara were more than just fine food purveyors. They were always goodwill ambassadors for the city of Wilmington, Hageman said.

The narrative that is Leo and Jimmy’s is weaved throughout Wilmington according to Mayor Purzycki. “Wilmington isn’t just the new buildings and businesses. Wilmington is [Leo and] Jimmy’s, Mayor Purzycki added.

The mayor called Hackett “the enthusiastic ambassador for our city. The person with the undying confidence in the future of our city. That was Barbara’s special husband.”

Leo and Jimmy’s history dates back 87 years ago. The two original owners, Leo Rosenbaum and Jimmy Hackett, have passed away, but their professionalism, commitment and those much talked about sandwiches have lived on through the people who continued their vision.

Rosenbaum started the deli counter in 1930 at the Silver’s 5 and 10 Cent Store. “Jimmy had gotten out of the service, he was 20-years-old when he started working with Leo,” Hackett said. It wasn’t long afterwards that Jimmy was promoted to manager of the deli counter.

Their working relationship blossomed into a partnership. The two operated deli counters at various Market Street locations including the Wilmington Dry Goods and Kresge’s.

In 1972, they ventured out on their own and started Leo and Jimmy’s Delicatessen. Two years later, they relocated the store to its current location at 728 North Market Street. Sherri Hackett, the owner’s daughter reminiscences about the day they moved in. “I was six-years-old. It was a Friday night. It was 1974. That’s when they moved in, and over that weekend we came in and washed all the walls down. We had a little picnic on the floor, and they opened on Monday.”

The rigorous work schedule has not really let up. Hackett, her daughter Sherri and the ladies that serve up the sandwiches start early, as early as 5:30am. Work begins from the time they walk into the door until the store closes at 4pm. But customers wouldn’t have it any other way. “I don’t know where I’m going to get my coffee and bacon in the morning,” David Feasel said.

Feasel is more than a customer he became part of the family after forging a friendship with Jimmy Hackett back in the 80’s. “We just became very, very dear friends, and he was like my adopted father. I called him father Hackett and we did a lot of stuff together.”

While Feasel’s relationship with the Hacketts will continue, other customers like Gina Crawford feel like they’re losing a part of history. “My son told me that they were closing. I was like, ‘oh my God! You’ve got to be kidding?’ They’ve been here since I was a little kid. They’re a landmark.”

Leo and Jimmy’s absence is bound to create a void in downtown Wilmington. The sandwich shop has been the go to spot for businesses, government workers and those fulfilling their civic duty. “Leo and Jimmy’s provide the sandwiches for the jurors at the court house, so everyone was familiar with them and they said that they were fantastic, go grab some for lunch and I’ve been coming here pretty much exclusively since, ” Mark Harper said.

Hackett said if it weren’t for all the years of support from customers like Harper and Crawford and so many more, her family’s business wouldn’t have been around for so many years, and for that she’s grateful.

The last day for the store marked a solemn occasion for many of those who came to witness the final farewell.

After presenting Hackett with a plague honoring her late husband, affectionately known as the Mayor of Market Street, Mayor Purzycki had the honor of ordering the last sandwich, which Hackett made.

Hackett, who turns 72-years-old in August, has no immediate plans for the future with the exception of finishing up some projects around the house.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.