At 84, Eli Miller is giving up the seltzer business.
“…The reason I work is, I just can’t stay home,” Miller told the New York Times back in 2013.
Though Miller is financially able to retire, he didn’t want his loyal customers to suffer through a bottle of bad seltzer.
“I don’t want them to have to drink that dreck you buy in the supermarket,” he said at the time.
He tried cutting himself some slack, making a few compromises as his back started to give out: He began using hand carts, asking his customers to meet him downstairs instead of lugging the boxes all the way up to their apartments, and cutting down on his hours, to keep his business alive.
But the clearly energetic, passionate Miller, now 84, has decided just this year that it’s time to stop hauling crates of seltzer to people’s front doors. He’s sold his route the youngest seltzer delivery-man in New York, Alex Gomberg, who is inheriting the business at 29-years-old.
Gomberg's family owns Gomberg Seltzer Works, the last seltzer factory in the city. Miller had been filling his bottles there since 1960, at a time when seltzer delivery men were a common site around the boroughs. Gomberg's father, Kenny, founded the seltzer distribution company Brooklyn Seltzer Boys.
The charming Miller sometimes acted as a confidante to his long time customers, who admitted that he’s a presence that will be missed along his Brooklyn route. They counted Miller as friend they wanted to keep around regardless of prices.
Gomberg charges around $40 for a 10-bottle case of seltzer, whereas Miller charged around $30 (when he first started out, he charged around $2 per case). Gomberg has lost some customers since Miller decided to retire, but not because of his higher prices. He told the Times that when customers found out Miller himself would no longer be making deliveries they discontinued the service.
The New York City institution, while fading, hasn’t died out yet. It’s just evolving. Gomberg, for instance, offers the opportunity to pay by credit card for his near-300 customers. And while Gomberg and his family are keeping the seltzer delivery tradition alive, there's no doubt that Eli Miller will always be remembered as the true face of New York City seltzer.