“What a man, what a man, what a man, what a mighty good man!” Those lyrics from hip-hop icons Salt and Peppa are befitting this man who left us last month on the verge of his 98th birthday. What Bill Griffin accomplished in the time since his August 3, 1925 birth, right here on Springwood Avenue was nothing short of amazing. A true son of Asbury, he was educated in the City schools, graduating from Asbury Park High. He and his seven siblings and their parents. Bill and Naomi Griffin were members of Mt. Pisgah Baptist Temple, right across the street from where they lived. When Mr. Griffin left home for the first time he went off to serve his country in World War II.
When he returned, he came to stay and to make his mark as a businessman, like his father before him. Many readers will remember the many Griffin-owned businesses. I certainly remember Griffin’s cleaners when I was a little girl, right across the street from Eddie’s Barbershop. However, the cleaners wasn’t the only business of this impressive entrepreneur, although his widow, Marilyn Griffin, remembers hearing that “no one could press a pair of jeans like he could.” For those of you too young to remember, in the 70s, you had to have your jeans pressed with a crease sharp enough to cut somebody! And Bill Griffin could deliver. It is said that people came from other towns to get their jeans and shirts pressed at Griffin’s.
In addition to owning two-coin operated laundromats, his was the first Black-owned doughnut shop, in addition to the Red Rooster Restaurant and the Waverly Hotel, one of two black-owned hotels on the Westside. These establishments were listed in the Green Book, a publication dedicated to helping Black travelers find lodging. He also owned rental properties on the Westside for many years.
Mrs. Griffin recalls, “Bill truly enjoyed all the years he spent as a Black businessman on Springwood Avenue. After the riots in 1969, many of the businesses never re-opened or returned but Griffin’s business continued to operate.”
Actually, I recall Griffins began to carry African garments in the 70s. Bill Griffin knew how to move with the times.
His life certainly involved more than business. Perhaps the biggest single event occurred on July 21, 1973 when Bill Griffin married Marilyn Davis and hosted more than 300 guests at an elaborate poolside wedding that splashed across the front page of the Asbury Park Press. Bill and Marilyn enjoyed 49 years of marriage, but hopes to make it 50 were cut short by his untimely death in June.
The Griffins, both veterans, enjoyed travel immensely. They traveled to all seven continents. Not only did Mr. Griffin drive across the continental United States, he also raved about driving along the Alaska highway. It was in 2018 that the Griffins made the journey to Antarctica, fulfilling their goal of visiting all seven continents. Bill also loved jazz, whether at the Cape May Jazz Festival or in New Orleans.
And he loved his New York Giants. He was inducted into the Giants Hall of Fame as one of the oldest and long-standing season ticket holders. Bill also attended several Giants Super Bowl games.
On Sunday night, September 10, the Giants will open their first game of the season by ringing the traditional bell in honor of Bill Griffin.
Locally, Bill took day trips to Atlantic City with the Midtown Seniors, Belmar Seniors, Golden Girls, as well as the Meridian Hospital Group. He also took trips with Josephine Hammary and Wesley White, where he always claimed the front seat.
Marilyn remembers the ways that her husband gave to his community, like decorating the school building where she was a teacher. He was a member of S.T.A.R.S. a group of local residents who were involved with the City’s redevelopment efforts on the Westside. He was also a member of The Monmouth Housing Alliance. Kids from a few decades ago would sometimes receive dollar bills for the A’s and B’s on their report cards.
Born on Springwood Avenue almost 100 years ago, Bill Griffin remembered fondly and proudly the street that once was. The street that he knew and loved never returned to the glory days that he knew. He didn’t give up hope that it could happen, and it looked like he was going to stay on the Ave, as he called it to see the change come, but at age 93 his wife and family members convinced him to let the business go. So, he watched and hoped from his car, taking in the new sites as he drove past them.
Bill Griffin didn’t receive many honors in his lifetime, but there’s one we can share in as we remember him. Drop into Macro Bites, a Springwood Avenue eatery where you can find the Griffins Burger.
Bill leaves behind his widow Marilyn, their furry, four-legged girl, Tre, a brother Frank, a sister-in-law Janet Griffin, and a host of cousins, nieces and nephews.