Orchard Street Makeover Stars Truffle Popcorn, Art, Condo

Orchard Street Makeover
Jodamo men's fashion store on the corner of Orchard and Grand street. Italian suits are sold for $300 with tailoring included. Photographer: Katya Kazakina/Bloomberg

For years, the ground floor at 60 Orchard Street housed a hosiery store, one of numerous small retail and wholesale businesses lining the Lower East Side stretch between East Houston and Division streets.

Now 60 Orchard is the site of a nine-story residential building where a full-floor condo recently sold for $1.4 million.

Occupying its ground floor and basement is Poppington Art, a multidisciplinary space run by former hip-hop entrepreneur Damon Dash. Cartoonish paintings by rapper Victor “Kool A.D.” Vazquez hang in the gallery; downstairs graphic designers work on T-shirts and labels for jazz CDs and motor oil.

Orchard Street’s easy accommodation of boutiques, trendy restaurants and art galleries is at the heart of the Lower East Side transformation.

“This used to be a discount area,” said Samuel Gluck, 59, whose family’s Global International Men’s Clothiers has been at 62 Orchard Street since 1968. “Now it’s changed. Young people arrive from all over the world. The street has a European touch.”

Pop Karma offers a “shot” of gluten-free, white-truffle-cheddar-flavored popcorn for $2.25. Bloomberg restaurant critic Ryan Sutton ranked Danny Bowien’s Mission Chinese the top eatery of 2012, praising its sizzling, affordable menu.

The vegan-owned Moo Shoes sells cruelty-free footwear and $38 T-shirts with the words “Only Kale Can Save Us Now.” At Christine Chin, a 90-minute microdermabrasion session starts at $180 and facials at $120.

Main Artery

Since 2008, Orchard Street has become the main art artery on the Lower East Side, with at least 25 galleries, including Miguel Abreu, On Stellar Rays and Rachel Uffner. Untitled gallery is celebrating the area’s cultural heritage with a summer group show titled “Jew York.”

The street traces its name to an orchard that was part of the 340-acre estate of New York State Lieutenant Governor James De Lancey in the mid-1700s, according to “Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898.” “Orchard Street was cut through the governor’s fine stand of fruit trees,” wrote authors Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace.

The estate was confiscated after the Revolutionary War, said David Favaloro, director of curatorial affairs at the Tenement Museum, also on Orchard Street.

Shop Life

The museum’s current exhibition, “Shop Life,” traces the transformation of the street through various businesses that had occupied one of the museum’s several buildings, 97 Orchard Street: a German saloon, a kosher butcher and an undergarments seller.

“It has been shaped by generations of newcomers, starting in the mid-19th century until the end of World War II,” Favaloro said. “During the first part of the 20th century, this area of the Lower East Side was the most populated place in the entire world. The residential density is compared to today in Mumbai.”

In the postwar period, the street became known as the discount district. A rare exception to the state’s blue laws, Orchard Street’s Jewish merchants kept their doors open while other retailers were closed.

“It was the only place where you could go shopping on Sunday,” said Sion Misrahi, a real estate broker who started out at his father’s leather goods store on Orchard Street in the early 1960s. “All the merchants were Jewish. The street was closed on Saturdays for Shabbat and open on Sundays. The police never bothered them.”

Crossing Delancey

The stores between Delancey and Canal streets were wholesalers, Misrahi said, while retailers occupied the three-block stretch north of Delancey.

“My father would cross Delancey, buy leather wholesale, and then sell it at retail prices at his store,” he said.

“People used to stay in line to buy here,” said Gluck, of Global International Men’s Clothiers. “Ten people go out, ten people come in. It was crazy.”

By the early 1990s, many of the street’s ground-floor spaces between Houston and Rivington were vacant, Misrahi said. He approached the owners with a plan to “merchandise the street,” he said. “The first thing we did was to bring the bars. The bars brought in the hipsters, the hipsters brought the clothing stores and the service businesses followed.”

These days, the rates for ground-floor spaces range from $80 to $125 a square foot, Misrahi said, up from $50 a square foot in the early 1990s.

For some businesses, the street is becoming too expensive. There’s a “For Rent” sign in the window of Bridge Gallery. One of the first galleries on the street, it has occupied the storefront at 98 Orchard Street for the past seven years.

“My rent is going to double,” said gallery owner Marilyn Garber. “I am looking for a new home.”

Muse highlights include Laurie Muchnick on books, Lili Rosboch on art.

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