By T. Rees Shapiro Sunday, January 3, 2010 Washington Post)
Jack Neam's market catered to
JACK NEAM, 88, 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, team'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
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 world.
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
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
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.