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Why Snockey's will close after 103 years

The third-generation brothers who own it are tired. And there is no fourth generation willing to step in.

The beginning of the end, says Ken Snock, was 2008.

The restaurant business was smarting from a recession.

Snockey's, his family's landmark, no-frills oyster house, was 96 years old. His parents and grandparents had weathered two world wars, Prohibition, and the Great Depression.

Surely, as Ken and his brother, Skip, rationalized, they could keep going.

"We were determined to make it to 100 years for the legacy," Ken Snock said Wednesday. "We sucked it up."

And they did. Snockey's made it to its centennial in 2012, commemorating May 3, 1912, the day that 20-year-old Polish immigrant Frank Snock, with a borrowed $50, opened an oyster house at 142 South St. (See Danya Henninger's backgrounder here.)

Snockey's moved three times over the years; it has been at 1020 S. Second St. in Queen Village since 1975.

Sunday, Nov. 29 will be the finale. It's closed for Thanksgiving and will be open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday this weekend.

For a while, in the glow of the anniversary nearly four years ago, Snockey's fortunes seemed to brighten. "We weren't as hip as everyone else," Snock said, unapologetically. "There was a time when not being hip was hip."

"We were a curiosity and people moved on to the next thing," he said.

Reality set in. "My brother is turning 68, and I'm 65," Ken Snock said. "We decided it was time to go."

There is no fourth generation, either; each brother has two daughters who have no desire to step in, Ken Snock said. It's also not as if the Snocks could turn the place over to anyone. Oyster houses are high-maintenance businesses that rely on highly perishable ingredients and specially trained workers. The pool of shuckers is just so deep.

Last year, the Snocks put the restaurant and its property, which includes apartments, on the market, with an asking price of $1.35 million.

"We thought, 'Let's keep the restaurant open because it's much easier to sell a restaurant that's open,'" he said.

But every prospective buyer has been more interested in the real estate piece than the oyster house. "It's all condos, condos, condos," Snock said. "We have been staying open for the wrong reasons."

Snock said they had a "viable offer" on the table.

The brothers, who each have had one-week annual vacations and worked five- and six-day weeks for as long as they remember, have made no special plans for Sunday night.

"Who knows?" said Ken Snock. "I'm sure something will happen spontaneously."

He recalls the stories from his customers, and it's chilling, almost, to consider what 100 years old means in the days when restaurants that make it to 10 are considered to have been "around forever."

"There's a 100-year-old woman who is here every two weeks," Snock said. "She told me, 'My father was a ... merchant on Fifth Street and brought me in for the first time when I was 9 years old. That's 91 years ago. Or the personal stories. People who've gotten engaged here. One man said he brought in his wife on their first date. I asked him, 'How long ago was that?' He said he graduated high school in 1923."

Philadelphia had "hundreds of oyster houses" a century ago, Snock said. "One by one, they died off."

(This post has been updated with new information.)