Next to the spaghetti sauce, olives, and pickles at John's Friendly Market in Haddon Heights, John Johnson's chair sits unoccupied. But not empty.

Children have left flowers and construction-paper cards for Johnson, the store owner who offered them coins, candy, and rolls.

Adults have written about the 91-year-old grocer's generosity in a small book that sits open on his famous perch: One customer recalled the heaping lemon meringue pie Johnson gave her son for a picnic. Another said Johnson handed her a Thanksgiving turkey when she was out of work.

Johnson died a month ago of liver failure. But his small acts of kindness have etched him forever in the minds of residents in this borough of about 7,500, a corner of the world he served for more than 50 years.

"I still have kids, little kids, come in and want a flower to put on his chair," said Jessie Hagan, who owns the flower shop next door.

In his last conversation with family, Johnson spoke of the store, said his eldest daughter, Josephine Doto.

"He asked us to keep it going and apologized for not having it the way he would have liked to transfer it to us," Doto said.

The family plans to honor his wish.

Johnson attended Haddon Heights High, but never graduated. Instead, he worked at a Barrington market to help support his family.

In 1956, he began working at the Station Avenue store that later became his. It was called Lindsey's Market then, after owner Dick Lindsey.

Bill Bisirri, 62, a longtime town resident, remembers stopping in during the 1970s to look for white shoe polish for his wife, who was a nurse.

"John took the time out and put the bottle of polish right in my hand," said Bisirri, a delivery worker who drops off goods at the store once a week.

Bisirri learned to pick up his sandwiches and coffee elsewhere, he said, because Johnson would never let him pay.

Johnson took the place over in 1976, but kept its old name until Lindsey died, Doto said.

He showed up to work every day - including holidays - wearing a shirt and tie and his trademark red grocer's jacket, the words The Boss stitched on the pocket.

"He always wanted to have [the store] open in case someone needed something," said Doto, 58, an instructional assistant at Paul VI High School in Haddonfield.

On Christmas, Johnson stocked extra batteries for parents who might have forgotten them. One Easter, he sent 20-year-old clerk Sean Kennedy home early with a bag filled with cheese, crackers, and sweets.

"He was more concerned just with helping people, sometimes more than making money," said Kennedy, who has worked there for 41/2 years.

Johnson employed more than 20 people in his small shop, more than he needed, Doto said. He wanted to give jobs to local youths, and over the years he employed multiple generations of families, she said.

The store kept Johnson in touch with residents' lives, and he didn't let people struggle alone.

"He'd walk around with an empty bag, fill it, and hand it to an elderly couple or a mom with three kids," said Cathy Chando, 57, whose son worked there for a time. "I felt it was my duty to pay him back to come here."

Peggy Petrillo, who stopped by the store this week to buy laundry detergent, said Johnson always remembered her daughter's birthday. He left flowers on their doorstep one year.

In 2000, DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan of Philadelphia based a children's book on Johnson. Grandpa's Corner Store features a friendly grocer in a red jacket. Children would sometimes ask Johnson to sign their copies, Doto said.

When he needed a rest during his long days, Johnson sat in a padded desk chair positioned in one of the store aisles. In summer, he sat by the pasta sauce, near the cool deli counter and bins filled with bagels, soft pretzels, and the rolls he handed out.

In winter, when the draft from the door was too much, he shifted to the cookie aisle. Customers say they sometimes tiptoed by as he dozed.

In March, Johnson slipped and fell near the meat counter and broke his hip. He seemed to recover well at first, but his body slowly gave out, Doto said.

Johnson died May 10, days before his 92d birthday. His family buried him in his red jacket. Employees worked in shifts at the store so they could attend his wake and funeral.

"If it was up to John, he would have had his casket in front of the deli and everybody would have had a hoagie on the way out," said Megan McCarty, 24, of Oaklyn, who has worked at John's for 10 years.

Cards from at least 100 children sit in a basket on Johnson's chair, nestled in his summer aisle. Some wish him a happy birthday, some tell him to get well soon. Some just say, "Sorry."

"John is fun," reads one, signed in purple crayon by "Ben your friend."

Inside, the child sends Johnson his punctuation-free regards.

"Are you OK," it reads. "And I hope you have a nice time I miss you can you come back you are the best."

Contact staff writer Joelle Farrell at 610-627-0352 or jfarrell@phillynews.com.