Friday, January 9, 2015

Walter Kuhr & Main Squeeze

Walter Kuhr's Main Squeeze accordion shop opened on the Lower East Side in 1996. Sadly, we have gotten word that Walter died recently, and the shop will be closing after next weekend.

Walter's good friend Marianne DeMarco writes:

"I've got some devastating news: Main Squeeze Accordions on 19 Essex Street for two decades, will be closing after next weekend. It might very well be the last of 'Old Essex.' When it opened it was sandwiched between a yarmulke shop and 'Mama's Kosher Deli.'

The Lower East Side original and all-around amazing person Walter Kuhr passed away on Friday after fighting lymphoma for 7 years. His way-more-packed-than-standing-room-only memorial was Wednesday. But even without Walter's leaving us, Main Squeeze would have to close, as the landlady chose not to renew the lease.

Here's where it's different from most 'lost the lease' stories. The landlady (and her partners) have been absolutely astonishingly wonderful. They've been wonderful to Walter, and he to them, because over the years he had become a friend. It was impossible not to become Walter's friend once you met him.

I've read Vanishing NY for a while now, but I never thought I'd have to write in about Main Squeeze. I know everyone says that their favorite bar 'was a real community.' But ask around and folks will tell you the same thing. Main Squeeze was the real deal.

We're having a 'stoop sale' next Saturday and Sunday [1/17 & 1/18], more to give people a chance to pick up something to remember the shop by, than to just to make some bucks."

Paris Review

The New York Times has a detailed obit today for Mr. Kuhr, who "was for decades an evangelist of the instrument, as a performer, bandleader and owner of the Main Squeeze a shop on the Lower East Side that he founded, in the words of its website, to meet 'all your accordion needs.'"

When the shop first opened, the Times did a story on it, writing:

"It's been a while since a new accordion store has opened. The city's only other one, Accordion-O-Rama, has been in business for decades. But as a new crop of musicians began working the bellows over the last decade, the instrument has shed some of its 'Beer Barrel Polka' image. And the Lower East Side is home to old and new practitioners alike: the older Jews and Italians who play klezmer and Neapolitan love songs, and the younger accordionists who play world beat and avant-garde jazz at bars and nightclubs like the Knitting Factory."

At the time, Essex Street was filled with Judaica shops. There are none left today. In the span of only two or three years, all of the Judaica shops were pushed out, replaced by trendy coffee shops and juice bars. I suppose the same fate awaits Main Squeeze.

If you're looking for accordions, sales or repairs, try Alex Carozza's on what's left of 48th Street's Music Row.


Davey said...

This is a nice article. It supported and expanded on NPR's story on Walter. Thank you for the enlightenment.

MichaelS23 said...

According to the above story that aired over National Public Radio this morning, things were not quite so chipper between Walter and his landlord. Hoping there might be someone with more information out there to expand upon this topic.

Anonymous said...

I bought a little accordion for ten bucks and got a free cd too. Too bad some schuck robbed the 650 they raised on saturday.

Marianne DeMarco said...

Hi MichaelS23-

The piece on Weekend Edition was lovely, but it really did give the wrong idea about Walter's landlady. She was the greatest.

Unfortunately, when Walter's ex-wife said that his losing the lease "helped him pass" the edited soundbite made it seem like she was saying "losing the shop killed him."

What you didn't hear was her explaining what she meant-- she was referring to Walter's bizarre way with timing. She proceeded to tell other stories about Walter and his uncanny knack of showing up at just the right (or wrong) time to make a good story.

We all winced when we heard how it sounded edited.

We closed the shop forever on Thursday, and there were hugs and tears all around, including with the landlady.

Damn, I miss the place already.

MichaelS23 said...

Thanks for the clarification, and a shame when editing issues cause such misunderstanding. And so sorry that the location is no more.
Here's to Walter, mentsh and musician, squeezed in and squeezed it like no other on the lower east side, may he rest in peace.