Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Essex Street Judaica

Recently, Tablet magazine reported on the struggles of West Side Judaica, an 80-year-old shop swamped by the Upper West Side's rising rents and increase in chain stores.

It makes me wonder what I sometimes wonder: What happened to the Jewish supply stores of Essex Street? I keep walking down there, trying to find them--to find just one of them--but they all vanished, and in just a few years.


All photos taken in 2007--all have since vanished

It seems impossible. For decades, the street between Grand and Canal was full of them. Their signs swung out over the sidewalk, announcing Sefer Torahs, Mezuzos, Tallises, Bar Mitzvah Sets.



Customers roamed the shops, checking out the wares, buying everyday things and important items for special occasions.



Walking by, even in the late 2000s, you felt like you were in a Berenice Abbott photo. You know, that feeling. Especially at Zelig Blumenthal's, with the old writing painted on the window. It had been there for 60 years.

And then a big change came, all at once.



Blumenthal shuttered in 2010. The shop was gutted and given over to Cafe Grumpy, with high-priced apartments above. A neighboring shop, also 60 years old, followed in 2011.

One by one, in the span of only two or three years, all of the Judaica shops were pushed out by neighborhood changes, high rents, and pushy landlords. Deep history annihilated in an instant.



Today it's all cafes, bars, galleries. Something called "The Juicery." Everything new. Everything for the new population. I keep walking up and down, thinking I'll find one Judaica store, one sign, a lone survivor, but I haven't found one yet.






15 comments:

C.L. Rogers said...

I left NYC almost five years ago and they were still there, at least a few of them. Sad to here of their demise.

marjorie said...

Lovely piece, Jeremiah.

When I was a kid growing up in RI my synagogue used to take yearly trips to visit "the Jewish Lower East Side." We'd go into a few of those stores -- there were zillions -- and talk to Torah scribes and amateur historians, and everyone would buy Bar and Bat Mitzvah gifts -- mezuzot, candlesticks, Star of David necklaces, kiddush cups.

There's still a sign up for a monuments/gravestone engraving business (I believe on Stanton) but that's the only evidence remaining of this whole world, I think.

Mitch said...

The article claims there are just two Judaica stores in Manhattan, and the other one is on 30th St. Hence, none are left on the LES.

Sad.

onemorefoldedsunset said...

I walked by Israel's Wholesale in early 2012 when they were having an Everything Must Go 50% off sale, and have a couple of pictures. Very sad.

Anonymous said...

Buildings are prob. owned by the same Jewish owners who had the shops maybe?

laura r. said...

they have online businesses now. too bad.

Anonymous said...

Jeremiah, thanks for this sad and important piece. I live in the East Village, so I loved going to Ben Ari on lower Avenue A for my Judaica needs. The store closed in the past 12-18 months, I think. That was bad enough, but J. Antonio nearby still sold judaica, and Jesse there had some Ben Ari items on consignment to sell, and said the owner of B.A. decided to retire. But now J. Antonio is going to close! Time to say a kaddish I suppose.

John Yohalem said...

Well, there aren't any Jews left. I mean, Orthodox Jews who have any use for that stuff. Really. We've all assimilated. For that kind of goods, you go to Crown Heights. You'll find such shops there, I imagine.

It's New York. Change is New York.

Anonymous said...

Go to Monsey, or Crown Heights, or even Sharon, MA and you will find shops like that. Businesses follow their clientele and a lot of clientele has bugged out of Manhattan.

Jimmy Higgins said...

Maybe you missed it because their front gate was down when you walked along Essex, but Hebrew Religious Articles at 45 Essex is still alive and doing business. It's actually the store (up the set of stairs) pictured in the first photo in your post. The Weisberg family, which has run the business for at least two generations, also owns that building (and others in the neighborhood -- they're my landlords elsewhere on Essex), so I expect they'll be the last ones standing.

Jeremiah Moss said...

Thanks Jimmy, I missed that one. Glad to know there's still someone there. I'll check it out.

Anonymous said...

I lived in Rockland as a kid. There is a town called New Square. 100% hasidic.
Lots of them commute on buses to NYC. Lots of stores there. Plus lots of room and cheaper housing.

Gojira said...

There used to be a large wall ad painted on the side of a building on Allen Street, if I remember correctly; it depicted a prayer shawl and the slogan "Pray With Dignity in a Zion Tallis". I don't know when it disappeared but it's been decades; if anyone has a photo I would love to see it again. In the late 70s-early 80s a number of the street's iron staircases leading to upper floor shops still had Hebrew lettering on the risers. God, who thought it would all vanish. I certainly never did.

Anonymous said...

Jeremiah, I'm wondering whether you saw this interesting editorial about the Lowline project by a representative from Two Bridges Neighborhood Council.

http://www.thelodownny.com/leslog/2014/10/oped-is-the-lowline-a-community-driven-park-or-a-trojan-horse.html

Anonymous said...

Please stop by Silver Monuments on Stanton Street. Mr. Silver is the nicest man.