Mt. Airy native William “Bill” Markloff was a kind, gentle soul who hired and mentored countless young students at the Top of the Hill Market and Cafe on East Evergreen Ave., which he oversaw for 30 years until selling it in 2019.
He and his wife, Barbara Hanson Markloff, left Chestnut Hill in 2020 and moved to Island Heights, a Jersey seashore town, to begin working for a retirement home in that area, Brandywine Living. Bill and Barbara had been staying in Island Heights part-time for six years before making it their permanent residence.
On Oct. 12, Markloff, at the age of 64, died suddenly in his home.
“It was a complete shock, out of the blue,” Barbara told the Local last week. “We had just had friends over. Our dog, Josie, started barking upstairs. I went upstairs, and Bill was there on the floor. It was apparently cardiac arrest. There was no warning.”
Barbara said their final years together had been very happy.
“He loved being next to the water. He loved the life – boating, fishing and crabbing. It was what he worked for all those years,” she said. “Bill did not have an enemy in the world.”
The couple had a long history in Chestnut Hill. With her father, Lyman Hanson, now 98, she owned and ran The Post Light, a lamp and light fixture store in the building where Primo Hoagies is now located, just below the intersection of Germantown Avenue and Bethlehem Pike. Previous to that it had been Stagerwalt's Shoe Store.
Bill, who was also a passionate fan of Philadelphia sports teams and a crossword puzzle buff, grew up in a house at Wayne and Westview Streets in West Mt. Airy. His father Raymond was a salesman.
I first met Bill many years ago when he and his best friend, Stewart McConaghy, were selling fruits and vegetables at a summer stand at the Walnut Lane Circle, close to the entrance of the Walnut Lane Bridge that connects Mt. Airy to Roxborough.
“Bill was the original farm-to-table guy before it was a thing,” said Barbara. “I grew up in Whitemarsh, and most people did not have a vegetable garden. I met Bill buying tomatoes from him, and he thought I was cute.”
After that, she said, “I ate a whole lot of tomatoes.”
Eventually, he opened his market on Evergreen Avenue, and it became a community meeting place.
“So many neighborhood kids worked for him,” she said.
When the couple moved to New Jersey, they weren’t ready to give up their growing and rented a $20 community garden plot.
“My dad wanted to make sure I had good work habits,” Bill told me several years ago at his Top of the Hill Market. “He told me that if you start out young selling to the public, the habits you develop will stand you in good stead for the rest of your life, no matter what field you go into. And he was right. That's why I hire these young kids from the neighborhood. I want them to learn the habits I did.”
Bill’s daughter, Charlotte Nicely, who lives and works in the TV business in Santa Monica, California with her husband, Joe, was once one of those teens.
“Bill was an amazing, supportive father … He and my mother provided a loving home for me and a second home for so many of my friends who valued his compassion, generosity and humor,” she said. “I worked for him at the Top of the Hill Market as a teenager and loved working for the family business. Bill really did treat his staff and customers as family. It was a wonderful atmosphere and community to grow up in.”
When Bill was just a pre-teen, his father would drive to New Jersey in the spring and summer to purchase large quantities of fresh corn, tomatoes and other produce and bring them back to Bill and Stewart to sell from their stand. “Bill and Stew said that selling corn and tomatoes was easier than mowing lawns,” said Barbara.
After a few years at the Walnut Lane Circle, Bill, who later graduated from William Penn Charter High School and Temple University, moved his produce stand to a location near the Chestnut Hill Library and then to the corner of Evergreen and Germantown Avenues and eventually to his final destination at 186 E. Evergreen Ave.
In 2011, he sold the market to his long-time colleague Andrew Peszka, who now owns Captain Andy's Market in Wyndmoor, but kept the cafe,which was located in the building across the courtyard.
In addition to his wife and daughter, Markloff is survived by brothers and sisters, Ellen Williams, John and Teddy Markloff, Suzanne Markloff and Mary Beatty. A celebration of Bill's life was held at the Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting on Friday, Oct. 21. In lieu of flowers, the family is asking friends and admirers of Bill to donate to a cause near Bill's heart, Brookline Lab Rescue, brooklinelabrescue.org
Len Lear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org