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Robert Lee Toomer, 80, popular grocer

He was a popular figure in Point Breeze

Robert Lee Toomer
Robert Lee ToomerRead more

BOBBY'S GROCERY in Point Breeze was a neighborhood fixture for 30 years.

Bobby - Robert Lee Toomer - was one of the most popular figures in the South Philadelphia neighborhood. Customers loved him. He usually had a big hug for men, women and children, and a kiss for the kids and the ladies.

The store at 20th and Federal streets featured hand-dipped ice-cream and if you had been a customer for any length of time, Bobby knew what you wanted before you could open your mouth.

OK, one butter almond, one coffee, one rum raisin and two vanilla fudge swirls.

And if you were a little short of cash, he would "put it on the book," and you paid when you could.

Robert Lee Toomer, an Army veteran, Baptist church deacon and devoted father and grandfather, died Nov. 25 of complications of a respiratory illness. He would have turned 81 on Thursday. He lived in Pembroke Pines, Fla., but had lived most of his life in South Philadelphia.

Bobby's Grocery was across the street from the 17th Police District and Fire Engine 24, and he donated refreshments to the police and firefighters every Christmas. Also, they were loyal customers of his store.

His store was also a source of employment for neighborhood young people. Often, a job in the store was their first taste of the working world.

Neighborhood kids were among the store's best customers. They would stop for candy and snacks on their way home from school.

Bobby was a passionate sports fan. Even though his favorite team was the old Brooklyn Dodgers, he supported all Philly teams.

He was proud of his grandson, Rasual Butler, an NBA veteran who played with the Miami Heat and is now with the San Antonio Spurs.

After Bobby moved to Florida, he was able to attend all home games of the Miami Heat while Rasual was with the team. He also traveled to New Orleans when Rasual briefly played for the New Orleans Hornets.

Bobby opened the grocery store with his former wife, Carol Butler, in 1972, and it quickly became a crucial part of the neighborhood. He closed the store in 2003 and moved to Florida.

Robert Toomer was born in Wilmington, N.C., to Earl and Marie Toomer. He graduated from Williston High School in 1954. He was a loyal alumnus and often returned for reunions.

Bobby moved briefly to New York City before being drafted into the Army in 1955. He served in Germany.

In 1959, he moved to South Philadelphia where he took a job as a bartender at Lou's Point Bar. It was there that he met his future wife and business partner Carol Butler. The marriage ended in divorce, but they remained friends.

After moving to Philadelphia, Bobby joined St. Paul Chapel Baptist Church where he became a deacon. After moving to Florida, he became a devoted member of Way Fellowship Church in Pembroke Pines. He was a popular parishioner and often had dinner with the pastor.

Bobby suffered a stroke in 2006, which caused some paralysis on his left side.

"He did not let it slow him down, however," his family said. "And he was adamant about making a full recovery."

Bobby enjoyed hopping the bus to Atlantic City, where he tried his luck at the casinos.

He is survived by a son, Robert Lee Toomer Jr.; a stepdaughter, Cheryl Taylor; four other grandchildren; four great-grandchildren, and his former wife, Carol Butler Hawkins. He was predeceased by a brother, Johnny Earl Toomer.

Services: 10 a.m. Friday at St. Paul Chapel Baptist Church, 1217 S. 21st St. Friends may call at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Mitchum-Wilson Funeral Home, 1410 S. 20th St., and at 8 a.m. at the church.