Life is like a cup of tea, it’s all in how you make it

sligo-bridgeSligo Town, County Sligo was one of the larger towns we visited on our trip and was the farthest north we ventured, very close to the border of Northern Ireland. It was drizzling rain and the cold wind forced us into asligo-bridge-3 pub to drink an Irish coffee for warmth. Lo and behold, when we left the pub, the sun was shining and it was a beautiful morning. It’s amazing what a little Irish whisky will do for your mood. We walked along the Rockwood Parade, taking pictures of the Garvoge River, the pedestrian bridges, sligo-streetand baskets of blooming flowers, making our way deeper into the shopping streets. The town centers in Ireland are mazelike with streets coming in at all angles and at the spot where several converge there is almost always a monument.sligo-clock In the bigger towns, there are several center points so it’s an adventure walking around to discover what kind of shops are on that street.

That’s how I found M. Cosgrove & Son market-sligoDelicatessen on Market Street. Like most other food shops, the front door was open, inviting me in to wonderland.  I loved this tiny shop. It was jam-packed with beautifulsligo-jellies provisions and I wanted to buy it all. There was a path down the middle with shelves and cases, floor to ceiling on either side filled with everything imaginable for any meal, a romantic dinner or picnic…cheeses, olives, sligo-candiesjams, cured meats, lovely salads, nuts, and sweets. There was also a wonderful selection of dry goods to stock a pantry…grains, beans, lentils, peas, tea, coffee, flours. (I’m swooning as I write)sligo-cheese

There are so many things that make Cosgrove’s my pick as favoritesligo-shop shop. It’s inviting, colorful, clean, crowded, well stocked, and family owned. We were on a tight schedule in Sligo and didn’t have much time to linger, which is the biggest drawback for joining a group tour, so I didn’t have time to talk to Michael Cosgrove, the third generation who is now managing the store. He was there; in his white smock stocking shelves and seemed not to mind me taking picture after picture and squealing every time I saw another item I wanted to buy. If I had more time, I could have stayed all morning sligo-dry-goodsasking him about his family and the history of the shop. The store was founded in 1898 by Michael’s grandfather and I wonder if there’s a fourth generation ready to take over someday. I surely hope so. This kind of business is what gives a community stability, deep roots for generations of Sligo shoppers, and a direct connection between consumer and provider. Visiting this shop gives me hope that, while the market culture may be struggling in Ireland, it’s alive and has an excellent chance of survival.sligo-deli

 

What butter and whiskey will not cure there’s no cure for

nd that’s two of the things I miss most about Ireland…a thick slab of butter on brown bread and a drinking a shot of Redbreast 15 year old sitting on a stool in the pub. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why Irish dairy tastes so good. Paddy, our bus driver, said it was the sweet Irish grass. The butter is the butteriest I’ve ever tasted and the yogurt is smooth and creamy with a subtle flavor that had me sneaking cartons from the breakfast table into my backpack for an afternoon snack.

Oh, and the ice cream…I can’t find the words to describe the rich eggy-vanilla custard that was the soft-serve treat. A thousand yums.

ice-cream-truck

Mind that child, but not a child in sight!

As for the whisky, I’ve never been a fan until I sampled the Redbreast. With a smooth, dark, rich flavor, this is a perfect ending to any meal. Our little group did several tastings during our pub crawl with Yellow Spot and Connemara as close runners up. A taste of a fineshops-and-pubs Irish whisky is an experience to be savored as the wee bit of fire rolls down your gullet warming your belly and then your nose as you exhale. Good memories.

So, back to the market discussion. The last post was all about the country market I visited. This time, I want to talk about my experience shopping in a more American style super market. It should be no surprise for me to tell you how much I love going to grocery stores. I went into a grocery store in Progreso, Mexico and spent an hour wandering up and down the aisles, sniffing things and trying to read labels. In Dingle, County Kerry,valu-sign I walked into a SuperValu which is a small grocery chain that is found only in Ireland. The stores are large, clean, well lit, and well stocked. Shoppers walk in the store and the first thing they see is a wall of valu4hand-made breads, pastries, and baked goods. Next is fresh produce, ready-made foods to take home or eat in the restaurant cafe, fresh meats, and seafood. Dry goods, paper goods, dairy, frozen foods, and a liquor store round out the products.

 

value-veg-delivery

Carrot and parsnip delivery

Much of the produce is from local farms, valu-deliprices are fair, and the employees are friendly and helpful. SuperValu provides a needed, “locally” owned one-stop grocery option and seems to get along with the small, specialty food shop owners in the neighborhood. I wanted to put everything in my basket but, following my mantra of “get what I can’t get at home” settled on a custard tart, a beef and potato pie, a can of grilled steak flavored Pringles (we so need these in the US), and a bag valu-2of toffees. Bonus score was a red and brown burlap shopping bag with the store logo on the front. Larger groceries like this are needed to support communities financially and to give shoppers the option of purchasing everything they need in one stop. Mind, this is not a mega store, shoppers won’t find clothing, auto parts, or hardware here.

 

Meet Nora. I’m sorry I don’t have a picture of her but she wouldn’t consent. Here is her shop, Murphy Grocers in murphys-door-2Kinsale, County Cork on Pearse Street not far from the marina. murphy-door-2I gave her my card with this website address, told her about my graduate study, and promised not to post anything on Facebook, but still she said no. Mores the pity, she was delightfully opinionated. We talked for about thirty minutes about markets and the changes that have come, forcing many small grocers out of business.

murphys-cheese

Locally sourced cheese, just 2 Euro

She told me so many had closed and she feared that, in the not too distant future, the rest would be gone. When I asked her what happened to the old shops she was quick to answer: big box supermarkets had moved in and were killing locally owned food shops in small towns. She was quick to name Lidl and Aldi as the offenders. They buy in huge quantity and sell at deeply discounted prices. Small shop owners can’t compete with this kind of bulk buying and many consumers go for the low prices even if it means giving up better quality. Nora said they were moving in to small towns all over Ireland and seemed to be searching out markets with no other traditional grocery stores.

I had heard of Lidl from Michael Gannon but was surprised to hear about Aldi. I know that Aldi is an international chain but only thought of it as a small, bag your own items, discount grocery with limited choices available. I saw a large Aldi store near the city center in Donegal and regret not going in to take a look around. Many of the US stores have recently undergone remodels. The prices are unbelievably low especially on staple items, canned goods, and dairy. I must admit to being an Aldi shopper and am feeling some guilt whenever I shop there now. After meeting Nora, I feel like I should refuse to spend my food dollars there, as I do Walmart, because of their predatory tactics. I hope Murphy’s Grocers makes it. I didn’t ask how long they had been doing business but I would imagine it’s been a while, and Nora is a gem. In the few minutes we talked she paused several times to greet well known shoppers as they walked down the sidewalk. One older lady picked out a bagful of plums and asked Nora to hold them until she had finished her other

dearie-murphy-shopper

This lady smiled and called me “dearie” how could I not love that?

business in town. She didn’t want to lose out on the best plum pick and Nora accommodated her. Now I ask you, would a large chain store do that for a customer?

 

There was another small grocer next door to Murphy’s called The Market Garden market-gardenand a large SuperValu at the far end of the shopping district. They all seem to work well together to provide service to customers. Nora said every townmarket-garden-2 needs options and SuperValu is apparently willing to work alongside smaller vendors rather than try to drive them out of business. I enjoyed my time talking with Nora, another city center vendor with experience and knowledge caring for her customers. My take away from this is that communities who partner with businesses for common goals create more success and happier citizens. I do wonder sometimes why this is such a difficult concept for urban planners to master.

valu-message

Words of wisdom from my lunch bag.

Soft words butter no parsnips but they won’t harden the heart of a cabbage either

bannerI was so excited planning my time in Ireland. For a market junkie/foodie like me, the opportunity to study market culture in a foreign country was like winning the lottery. I had made some assumptions from my research last spring about what I would find. I thought there would be open air markets around every corner laden with beautiful produce and open seven days a week. That’s not quite what I found but I thought food shopping in Ireland was pretty amazing.

The fallacy in my assumptions was that I would find open-air farmers markets with local producers similar to the kind found in many US communities. They are there, just not every day. The advertisements I read told me that they were generally held one or two days per week in the morning. Unfortunately, I was usually in the wrong place at the wrong time to attend but did happen to find the Westport Country Market locatedmarket-dishes in the St. Anne’s Boxing Club in Westport, County Mayo. I walked in soon after the doors opened and was surprised to find so few shoppers. Small booths lined the walls of the gym selling homemade breads, pastries, jams, cheese, and prepared foods. There were also handmade knitted goods, wooden puzzles, photography, flowers, and beautiful produce. The vendors were welcoming and warm and willing to talk to me.jelly-jars I was a bit of a mystery to the vendors, though, this odd American with a Mickey Mouse backpack taking pictures and asking dozens of questions. I bought a chunk of cheese to eat for lunch, a colorful wooden puzzle for my grandson, and a beautiful photograph of Crough Patrick. I struck up a conversation market-lady-2with Michael Gannon, the photographer. I explained about my graduate research and my blog site and gave him one of my cards. I asked him about the state of small town Ireland and support of small, local vendors. His answers were very surprising.

When I walked around the cities I visited, I saw vibrant center city shopping districts. I was delighted to find no super stores or mega groceries. There was a wide variety of shops and they all were specialized; how lovely to walk into a shop that carries exactly what I need and not have to walk for miles searching through a thousand displays to find what I am looking for. market-ladyShopping may take a bit longer, moving from shop to shop but imagine having the shop keepers know you by name and supporting local business owners. Michael told me the shopping areas were growing smaller and many vendors were struggling to compete with big box stores like Lidl, a German owned discount grocery chain with more than 10,000 stores across Europe. I checked out their website, and it looks like an all too familiar Walmart situation.

We spoke a bit about the loss of American small town shopping districts to the one-stop mega stores sitting just outside of town, close to the interstate.imag0764 It was sad for me to think I had found the town squares in Ireland to be alive and well only to learn that they are waning. I told Michael about Findlay Market in Cincinnati and other similar city revitalization efforts across the US. Hopefully, people like Michael, and the other country market vendors across Ireland, can band together to slow Lidl’s progress. My concern is the people who live in these towns won’t realize what they have until it’s gone.

I’m thinking a call to the Project for Public Spaces is in order…bring in professionals to give advice and recommendations to bolster the markets and local vendors and let the movement spread before it’s lost. Hey, I’ll help. I can’t imagine a better way to use my master’s degree and, as a bonus, get to go back to Ireland. Michael Gannon, let’s talk!michael-gannon

To market, to market

 

 

Union Square Beer WEB

No Farms, No Beer!

On Friday afternoon we walked a few blocks to Union Square Greenmarket. Established in 1976, Grow NYC/Greenmarket is a consortium of 52 producer markets, meaning that all goods sold are either grown or produced by the seller, no third party selling allowed. This is a traditional, bustling, outdoor market filling the park with people and selling everything from seasonal produce to fresh baked goods and beer. I’d give this one a 8/10. We didn’t have much time to look around so I saw only about half of the vendors and the ones I spoke with weren’t overly chatty. Items were clearly marked with the price. Definitely would be a great place to run through on the way to or from work and is open four days a week year around.

Union Square Green Market BreadWEB

Union Square

Saturday was an early start, touring six markets. First stop was UrbanSpace Vanderbilt, just a block from Grand Central Station. UrbanSpace is considered a food hall, everything sold is prepared food ready to eat. The vendors here rotate through on a regular basis, using the space as a springboard  to bring a proven food concept to a larger audience in preparation for the next move, possibly into a storefront. Considering my definition of a market, I don’t think this one qualifies but it’s a fabulous concept for presenting a wide variety new food ideas. I went back the next day and bought a sushi HAI Urban SpaceWEBburrito from Hai Street Kitchen; anxious for this to hit Cincinnati. I’m rating this one a 9/10. Great food, reasonably priced, nice atmosphere, and friendly vendors.

Urban Space Variety WEB

Urban Space

Oreo Sigm WEB

 

 

 

 

 

Next was the Chelsea Market which is located on the first floor of the old Nabisco factory where Oreos used to be made. The Food Network studios are upstairs. This is a high-end market and an excellent example of commercial gentrification. Developers created an upscale neighborhood, with befitting shopping available, in what used to be New York’s meat packing district. It’s adjacent to the High Line but there is no entry from one to the other, poor planning on both ends for that. It’s a beautiful building with lots of shopping options but has a mall-like feeling, not like a market at all. There’s a section with prepared foods, a grocery store, a bakery with the kitchen behind glass walls so you can watch everything being made, and the best seafood market I’ve ever seen. I had to take a picture of the 30-pound lobster and the extra jumbo fresh water prawns. Lobster WEBThere’s nothing wrong with Chelsea, it’s really great to see the transformation but it’s a sharp contrast to the Greenmarkets. I’d give this one a 4/10 for the overly-hip, too clean, pretend market feeling. I’m glad I got to visit but I  wouldn’t seek it out on another trip.

Greem Market Mushrooms WEBIt was a long trip through the city and across the Manhattan Bridge to Brooklyn and the Ft. Greene Park Greenmarket. It’s another of the Grow NYC Greenmarkets only on a much smaller scale. I don’t know if it was because I visited on a sunny day or if I like small markets, but fell in love with this one. The vendors were lined up along the sidewalk on the edge of the park and each stall was bursting with beautiful produce, baked goods, and flowers. The vendors were talkative and helpful, prices were clearly marked, and I wanted to take all of it home with me. I especially liked the mushroom vendor and the display of Hen-of-the-Woods. At the corner of the block the vendor tents continued down the intersecting street.  Placed around the corner space were compost bins where residents can bring food scraps to be turned into lovely soil. I’m not sure if Greenmarkets sell the compost or if they use it in their gardening programs, but what a wonderful idea. This one was a favorite and rates a 10/10.

Compost WEB

Composting!

 

Brooklyn ROw HouseWEB  The walk to Brooklyn Flea was fun. The neighborhood is block after block of brownstone row houses and mature trees, it looks so much like what I think about when I think of New York. It was interesting to see all the signs advertising “Stoop Sales!!” City living certainly limits the yards and garages available for getting rid of unwanted stuff. The flea market is located in the parking lot of Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School. Bring a cold drink and a fan because walking on the black asphalt in the sun is hot, hot, hot. This is the place to find used furniture, vintage clothing, and old B Flea Bags WEBrecord albums. There are quite a few stalls with handmade jewelry, scarves, and art but I thought it was leaning to the expensive side. Again, fun, but not a market to me. They did, however, have an amazing array of local food producers. This is one of New York’s largest markets and is open on Saturdays only. It’s obviously a community anchor with hundreds of people shopping and plenty of families sitting on the school steps and the curb of the sidewalk eating lunch. I give it a 4/10 because there was no shade, tables, or places to take a rest. It’s definitely a flea market but bargains are hard to find. Like Chelsea, I’m glad for the experience but wouldn’t make a return visit.

B Flea Food WEB

Brooklyn Flea

 

 

After a restful trip back to Manhattan in the lovely air-Essex Market Vendor WEBconditioned bus, we stopped at Essex Street Market. In the late 1930’s Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia banned the push cart markets because of unsanitary conditions. He built four indoor markets, one of them the Essex Street Market. Today, the market occupies only the center building of the original three that had been built. It’s open seven days a week and, to me, is an authentic market serving the neighborhood the way a market should. The current population in the neighborhood is primarily Asian and Latin American and Essex Street reflects that in their vendors and the items they sell. Over the years, they have adapted to the changing needs of their shoppers and that resilience has helped them keep the doors open for more than 70 years. There are plans to relocate Essex Market about a half block away to a mixed use development that is under construction. I’m sad for the move as surely, the market will lose the character of the crowded aisles and shelves, the curious twists and turns around the seller’s stalls, the old tile floor, and the spirit of tens of thousands of Lower East Side residents who have shopped there over the years.

I felt those spirits as I walked around and around this market, shoulders bumping, heavy baskets cradled in the crooks of elbows, and children tagging along hoping for a treat. I spoke with several of the vendors here and, for the most part, they are looking forward to the new location. There is more opportunity there, a chance for expansion and the

Arancini Bros Sign WEB

Wisdom from Jonas at Arancini Brothers Sicilian Rice Balls in Essex Street Market

addition of more vendors. Most of all, the hope is that this move will bring in more shoppers to keep the market operating another 70 years. I still find it sad. This was my overall favorite, I’m going up to eleven on this one.

 

Turning left and walking three long blocks down Essex Street to Seward Park we found Hester Street Fair. Open only on

Hester Street People WEB

Hester Street Fair

Saturdays it is a lovely art fair, small but has lots of vendors selling handmade goods. There was soap, honey, jewelry, wallets made out of comic book pages, and sunglasses. Meet the House of Correia. Sunglass Girls WEB These young women have mad sales skills. I had been searching for days for just the right thing to take home to my daughters and I paused at their stall. They had handbags with dinosaurs closures and sunglasses decorated with repurposed costume jewelry. The next thing I knew, I had swiped my card to pay for four pair of the best sunglasses ever. The good news is, if my girls don’t like them, I have four new pair of sunnys. Check them out at vendor fairs around NYC and on Etsy.

I’d give Hester Street a 7/10 for great vendors, good vibe, and plenty of seating with shade. It’s a fun stop if you’re in the neighborhood but again, for me, doesn’t meet the definition of a community centered market. I’d love to shop there for gifts but not someplace I’d go every week.

I was able to get a bonus visit to Grand Central Market which is located closest to the Grand Central MArket Sign WEBLexington Avenue entrance in between the Lexington and Graybar Passages in Grand Central Station. This market is open seven days a week and covers commuters coming home from work on weekdays, staying open until 9:00pm. It’s a small shop, just a single row with vendors on either side but offers a wide variety of fresh fish, meats, cheeses, baked goods, produce, spices, and sweets. I felt like I had come to a great playground with so many interesting things to touch and consider for purchase. Several vendors have some convenience food, too, ready to take home and finish. This is definitely a high-end market but feels more homey than Chelsea.

Spices Grand Central MArket WEB

Spices and Tease at Grand Central

It is crowded and the vendors will pitch to shoppers for the sale. It made me feel very hip, moving from stall to stall trying to choose what to buy. I wondered if people could tell I was an out-of towner or if I blended in with the local New Yorkers? I hope I blended, that would be so much better. Grand Central scores an 10/10 for being visually gorgeous, colorful, friendly, having a wide variety of items, and convenience. It was pricey, but for anyone who can afford to live in Midtown Manhattan, not outrageous.

So many markets! Stay tuned for story about people I met and places I found, mostly when I was lost and wandering the streets around Midtown and the Lower East Side.

Fish Grand Central Market WEB

Pescatore Seafood CO. at Grand Central

 

 

How to create successful public markets

OK, so this the official reason I came to New York. I am a graduate student studying history and culture with an emphasis on urban planning and how public markets create and define community. Marketplaces have been neighborhood centers in cities all over the world

She WOlfWEB

She Wolf Bakery at Fort Greene Park Greenmarket

since time began. In the city of Cincinnati, around the time of the Civil War, there were nine markets in operation. As the city grew, incline railways were installed to provide an easy way to navigate the hills surrounding the outskirts of town. With this new form of transportation, people migrated out of the inner-city to live in the “suburbs” of the time. As the population became less dense and methods of transportation became easier to navigate, there was less need for so many markets. Most residents didn’t have the need of a market place to be within walking distance of home. Refrigeration became more dependable, so food could be stored at home rather than purchased fresh every day. Luckily, my beloved Findlay Market in Over the Rhine made it through the lean years and has remained in continuous operation since it opened in 1852.

HerbsWEB The Project for Public Spaces is a non-profit organization which opened in 1975 to help people who want to create more livable cities. Every summer and fall they host a conference and invite anyone to attend who is interested in preserving, growing, or building a successful market. The conference in June had attendees from California, Oregon, Texas, North Carolina, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Washington, Colorado, Idaho, Louisiana, Mexico, Portugal, Canada, Australia, Ecuador, and Bermuda. It was an amazing two days of learning and conversation with people who have the same goal: to create and maintain a successful public market that will provide jobs, healthy food, and a community anchor in their cities. My goal was a bit different in that I was collecting information to build

Radishes WEB

Fort Greene Park Greenmarket

a base of evidence for my thesis research.

The opportunity to visit seven iconic New York City markets and speak “market-ese” for two days was a dream come true. From the first few moments together everyone was talking, sharing stories, offering advice, asking questions, showing pictures, comparing demographics…all in all just the friendliest bunch of people ever. Then again, these are market people, when have you ever met a grump at a public market?  The plus for me was that I learned so much about the structure of a successful market, how to create a good mix of vendors and how to manage the

Hester Street People WEB

Hester Street Fair

vendors and encourage them to have an attractive, selling stall. We talked about how to create welcoming public space and how to control quality growth. So many new concepts to ponder and so many confirmations that my thesis proposal is solid. My mind was in overload mode for days after the conference concluded.

Next up…pictures and mini-critiques of Market Saturday.

My uncle thought he was St. Jerome…

Library Lion WEBAh, Ghostbusters is one of my all-time favorite movies. I was walking along 5th Avenue Saturday evening, in the pouring rain on my way to dinner, when I peeked from under my umbrella and saw the iconic lions, Patience and Fortitude, who guard the entrance to the main branch of the New York Public Library. I stopped for a moment and looked at them and could hear Peter Venkman interrogating Alice, the librarian. I laughed out loud and decided to go there Sunday afternoon.

This main branch of the library opened in 1911 at a cost of 9 millions dollars. Without getting into a complicated telling of New York history, the building was funded with money from the estates of Samuel Tilden, John Jacob Astor, and James Lenox. Say what you will about these ultra-wealthy men and the way they earned their money. They understood that there was a great need for a place to create culture and community. They bequeathed money from their estates to build a grand institution whose purpose was to educate, inform, and improve the lives of the American public. For free. It has always been a place of great beauty and inspiration that costs nothing to use. Library Front Door WEBGenerations of families, scholars, and researchers have walked past those lions and through the doors into the great hall, seeking knowledge or respite or entertainment.

I walked through the hallways, peeking into rooms and staring at the architecture in awe of the beauty. Unfortunately, the Rose Main Reading Room was closed for refurbishment. But, even in looking at pictures I could feel the splendor and imagine the thrill that people must feel when they sit there, at a table, to read.NY Piblic Library Hall WEB

I went to the third floor and on display was a Gutenberg Bible. I stood in front of it and felt a great emotion wash over me, thinking how lucky I was to be there, witnessing such history, such beauty. I waited for a moment but didn’t take a picture. I felt somehow it was wrong to click away with my phone in such a reverent place.

I walked down the stairs and back into the grey of the overcast Sunday. Imagine what the people of New York must have felt the first time they walked into that building. Maybe like anything was possible.

My good luck as an immigrant in New York

Union Square Park 1st dayWEB

Union Square Park

My first day was a whirlwind of meeting New York City head on. I stored my luggage at the front desk of the hotel and took off down Madison Avenue heading for the Lower East Side and the Tenement Museum. The traffic, the noise, the people and general commotion of a large city made it easy for me to hide in the middle of it all. I wasn’t afraid but there was some apprehension about getting lost in the maze of unfamiliar streets. Even though I had addresses of what I was looking for on Google Maps, I still got lost several times every day. That wasn’t a completely bad thing, though, because every time I got lost I discovered wonderful bits of the city.

 

The nearly 3 mile walk to the Tenement Museum took almost two hours. I stopped every couple of blocks to look in storefronts or down open cellar doors to watch the activity going on. I picked up lunch along the way and decided to stop in Union Square Park to eat and people watch. This park is about three blocks long and one block wide, not huge but big enough for a couple thousand people to be there playing, walking, sitting, talking, eating, and just hanging out. It was crowded and busy and an interesting spot to people-watch. The first thing I had to do was decide where I wanted to sit and rest. Along the Park Avenue side there were lots of benches, many with open seating. I didn’t feel comfortable stopping there, though. I noticed it was men who had claimed those seats. No particular age group or ethnicity, just all men. It made me think about one of my readings last week that studied how interactions happen in public spaces and how groups tend to congregate in “their spot” every time they visit any space where they claim ownership. I didn’t want to seem like I was trying in invade anyone’s spot even though I had no way of knowing if this was indeed “their spot” or not. So, on I went until I saw a woman about my age sitting along a wall facing a wide walkway. I sat down a couple of feet away from her and started to eat my lunch. The wall wasn’t very comfortable but did give me a sense of safety in that there was someone else, very similar to me in that she was a middle-aged woman, resting in a patch of bright sunlight. It was very interesting to witness what I have been studying play out in this park with groups naturally segregating themselves into like-minded clusters and me walking until I found a spot next to someone I felt a possible bond with, even though we never spoke or acknowledged that the other was there.

So, on I walked to the corner of Delancey and Orchard Streets and into the Tenement 97 Orchard DoorWEBMuseum. This museum is a fascinating study of life in the Lower East Side from 1863-1935. 97 Orchard Street housed a storefront business in the lowest floor with 20 apartments above, four on each of five floors, two forward and two in the back. There were four privies and one water spigot in the courtyard behind the building. Each apartment had three rooms: a bedroom, kitchen, and parlor for a total of about 350 square feet. In the 70 years this particular building housed families, there had been over 7000 people who had called it home. The tours are an intriguing look into family and community life in the most densely populated neighborhood in the United States at the turn of the 20th century. The people who lived there were dependent upon their community for survival as many had left their extended families behind in their home countries. They were dependent on community to find familiar language and customs, to ease the feelings of loss of their homeland, and to have people 97 Orchard Fire Escape WEBwith which to create new familial bonds. The neighborhood changed and adapted over the years as waves of new immigrants came to New York. What started as a mostly German enclave next became home to Eastern European Jewish families and then home to Italian immigrants.

I took three tours, two in the 97 Orchard Street building and the last called “Tenement Tastings” which was an eight course tasting menu of traditional ethnic foods that could be found in the Lower East Side. After a long day of travel, walking, and touring I was exhausted by the end of the meal. It was then that I had the great luck of meeting my first official NYC friends. They were three sisters and the mom, all talking at once, laughing, eye-rolling, teasing, and sharing the meal. They reminded me so much of evenings out with my daughters, it was fun to watch them and wonder what people thought about us when we were out. I asked them for help finding the subway back to my hotel. I told them I knew there was a train somewhere near but was completely lost as to finding it and purchasing a ticket. The oldest daughter immediately said I could ride back with her as she was going to take the exact train I needed. The rest of the family agreed that I should come along and so I did. There I was, a newcomer in Manhattan, taken in by this lovely family who helped me find the station, purchase my ticket, and taught me how to navigate the subway system. We were together for only about thirty minutes but in that short time we compared the price of rent and groceries where we lived, shared stories about our travel and families, and found similarities among ourselves even though we live very different lifestyles. We parted ways at 42nd and Madison with smiles and handshakes and wishes to have a good night. They are a lovely family and I hope they will check in on this site. I have a terrible memory so wrote down their names then promptly lost track of the paper I wrote them on.  Here is their picture. They gave me the best welcome I’ve ever had and I hope I will meet them again someday. What a coincidence that the sisters lined up in age order just like mine do.

Family Pic 1 WEB

Maya, Molly, Alice, and Chloe! I heard from both Alice and Molly…thank you for your help, I am honored that you took such good care of me!