Muriel Ross, known to many local residents as a long time Health Bar waitress at Bresee’s Department Store in Oneonta, died Thursday at the age of 96 at the A.O. Fox Nursing Home.
From the early 1940s until Oct. 1, 1978, diners in downtown Oneonta quickly got to know Muriel Ross. A Roxbury native, Muriel began working at the former Kandyland, a popular downtown restaurant, and then heard about a job opening at Bresee’s in 1943. She had two boys to bring up, as well as their grandmother, so she applied and was hired practically on the spot by Fred Bresee, as the pay and benefits were better at Bresee’s.
Muriel Ross worked long hours, normally beginning at 7:30 a.m., earning about $8 a week not including the tips. The tips made all the difference, she said. Downtown Oneonta was a bustling place after World War II. At that time the Health Bar was on the main floor of the department store. She said she worked ten years when the restaurant moved to the basement of the store.
“It was like a club for the businesspeople to meet here,” Muriel recalled. Names such as Messrs. Lee, Henderson, Brackett, Bunn, Bard, and others gathered to “settle the world’s affairs,” she said.
A normal day would had about 300-500 people in the restaurant, and Muriel described it as hard work, but said she met some wonderful people. She and some of the customers would play little jokes on each other. When Muriel was asked for a half cup of coffee, she’d whip out her special “half cup” from under the counter. She also provided a trick arrangement where the cup stuck to the saucer.
Muriel was also known for stylish handkerchiefs and jewelry she wore at work each day.
“We did a great business,” Ross recalled when speaking to a crowd gathered in July 2010 at the Swart Wilcox House’s open house series on Sunday afternoons. “People waited to get a seat because the price was right and the food was good. Thursday nights were especially popular as it was a shopping night and we stayed open late.”