Monday, November 11, 2013

Signs of Hasidic Williamsburg

Retail signage in Hasidic neighborhoods tends to be of a certain vintage, unchanged for decades. (See Crown Heights Signage.) Walking through these neighborhoods can feel, in more ways than one, like walking back in time. In Hasidic Williamsburg, Brooklyn, walking from Roebling and down the main thoroughfare of Lee Avenue, you'll pass many preserved signs.



There's Gottlieb's delicatessen, apparently a favorite of hipsters. Noted Christopher Glazek in N+1: "In a Wall Street Journal article examining hipster/Hasid commercial exchange, a 25-year-old motorcycle-racing trust funder explained that Gottlieb’s has 'everything — good food, good prices, irony.'"

Oy.



The hand-painted signs of clothing shops like Sylvia Strasser's and Circle Children's Wear & Dry Goods bring to mind the vanishing Lower East Side, like Orchard Street, rapidly being wiped out by pricey cafes and galleries. Here they remain untouched.





The Times once published a story about the man who sells hats to Jewish hat shops:

"For Wolf Greenbaum of Feltly Hats in Williamsburg, Mr. Lacorazza pulled out a homburg, which is favored by many Hasidim — 'pious ones,' in Hebrew. At first glance it looked like every other homburg, black and round. But Mr. Lacorazza had a surprise. 'You see this finish?' he asked, running his hands over the fuzzy rabbit fur. It was, he announced, his new, more textured finish — 'peach.'”

Feltly Hats is above a fish market. 



And then there's this guy, the old Bilt-Rite man, a rare sight in the city these days as cobbler shops are shuttered left and right to make room for vegan ice-cream shops and cupcake bakeries. But Lee Avenue feels removed from all that, like a virgin neighborhood. Walking there gives you the feeling that you've taken trip, into another city, far away from the new New York.

9 comments:

BrooksNYC said...

A couple of years ago, I spent an entire day wandering around Hasidic Williamsburg. In all my years in NYC, I'd never visited the neighborhood, having incorrectly assumed that it would feel like just another neighborhood in Brooklyn.

It didn't. In fact, it was one of the most interesting days I've ever spent in the five boroughs. Wandering in and out of stores, exchanging brief, if somewhat formal pleasantries with various shopkeepers, I understood -- really for the first time -- that the Hasidic community is a world apart, and that I was an outsider.

I loved everything about it: the classic old businesses, the vintage signage, and row houses unlike any I've ever seen in any other neighborhood. For me, it was a restorative escape from the homogenization that has neutered so much of our city.

laura r. said...

thankyou for reporting on UNvanished NYC. another area you may want to explore is boro park, bklyn. has not changed in 100yrs. i am not sure of the direction e.williamsburg is going. many residents are moving to upstate NY.

onemorefoldedsunset said...

These are lovely. In a similar vein, I've enjoyed walking around Borough Park, where I've felt like an almost invisible time traveler. It looks and feels so completely different - like being in a country of the distant past just a couple of miles from home. It's beautiful experiencing these mysteries.

Brendan said...

I was just going to suggest Borough Park too, especially 13th Ave. Lots of great signs there.

The Hasidic neighborhoods probably give you that time warp feeling the most, but I think you'd like a lot of southern Brooklyn generally.

Anonymous said...

It may not be a fair observation, especially considering how much I enjoy this blog, but I worry when I see the untouched portions of the city published here: I imagine there are developers plugged into this site, looking to peg these areas as the next ___ (insert pithy acronym) and pounce on them.

The reality is there's still a lot of the five boroughs that remain "untouched" but god help us when the laser beam of capital gets wind of a good deal...

I say this in fear-inspired half-jest: maybe there's a way to show this stuff without describing in any way where it is, as those biologists who hid the location of the ivory-headed woodpecker sighting a few years ago? The last thing we'd want is for these neighborhoods to go the way of Manhattan...

Jeremiah Moss said...

Believe me, the developers know about this place. I suspect the Hasidim are so tightly knit, they won't be letting any of those developers even close.

Anonymous said...

Jeremiah's right, but the Hasidim own most of their buildings anyway. They pool their money and buy them up a block at a time to create enclaves.

They are not going anywhere.

laura r. said...

my grand father was a tailor in boro park. they moved from 14st/2nd, in NYC. he made the clothes for the hasids (the black coats & the ladies clothes), he made clothes for me, i am spoiled as i had demi couture from 7th grade on. he had a great eye. we would visit them occasionally, i remember his sewing machine. also the smell from all that jewish food. my parents lived there in boro pk too, when they first married 1939. later on around 1999, my friend moved there. i spent time again right near my mothers old apt. & grandfathers building. i stayed in boro pk through 2003, visiting every few weeks. the jews own all of it, they wont change the neighborhood. believe me its not all good, one rabbi bought 2 old beautiful homes on 55st near 13th ave, demolished them to build a new ugly yeshiva. whats cool about the area is that everything is in yiddish. its safe too, many people out on friday night but its quiet. saturday nights after sundown are really lively as its a eat fest. the resturants are filled, all along 16ave. no crime @ all.

noah ora said...

I'm sorry, I lived here for half my life, if you visit the residential part of the neighborhood it is the ugliest thing in sight. Poor maintenance makes the area look dirty and grimy. The shops are great though, I will not deny that.