A “Shop Life” Anniversary
November 12, 2012

Today, we’re thrilled to begin public preview tours of “Shop Life”the first new exhibit at 97 Orchard Street since 2008!

November 12 is a special date in our building’s history. Here’s an 1864 ad from the German newspaper, Staats Zeitung, produced in New York City and marketed to German-speaking immigrants:

The ad reads:

The undersigned makes announcement to his fine friends and acquaintances as well as the honorable musicians, that he has taken over by purchase the saloon of Mr. Schurlein, 97 Orchard Street. Invited to the opening, Saturday, November 12th, with a superb lunch, respectfully

John Schneider, 97 Orchard

On November 12, 1864, German immigrants John and Caroline Schneider opened a beer saloon at 97 Orchard Street. This saloon has been recreated as a central feature of our “Shop Life” exhibit, which tells the story of the Schneiders and other merchants who occupied 97 Orchard Street over more than a century.

By 1860, a quarter (and growing fast) of New York City’s population was German, and the Lower East Side was known as Kleindeutschland, or “Little Germany.” But because these immigrants hailed from numerous regions of a not-yet-unified nation—Prussia, Bavaria, Württemberg, Hanover—life could still be quite confusing for a newly arrived German immigrant. The clientele at the Schneiders’ saloon were unified not so much by their place of birth, but rather by their decision to leave their place of birth. In the hundreds of beer saloons that dotted Kleindeutschland by 1870, a new German American identity was forged.

A peek inside the recreated Schneider Saloon at 97 Orchard Street

John Schneider left Bavaria in 1842 at age 12, and Caroline Dietman left Prussia in 1849 at age 14.  They met and married in New York City. Saloon-keeping might have been in John Schneider’s blood: his older brother George ran a saloon on Broome Street and the Bowery, as did their brother-in-law. John came to Kleindeutschland to create a social space that, like other saloons throughout the city, helped usher immigrants through the process of becoming American.

And what of the “superb lunch” mentioned in the opening-day advertisement? On November 12, the Schneiders likely provided a substantial spread of pretzels, sausages, pigs’ feet, and sauerkraut (these foods are lovingly recreated in the exhibit). By the 1870s, free lunches were a staple of saloon culture.

In our “Shop Life” exhibit, guided tours through the restored, historic space will expand upon the immigration experience, business roles, and larger community shared by John and Caroline Schneider. Tickets for the “Shop Life” preview tour are available on our website here. The full schedule of tours will begin on our official opening day, December 3. We look forward to seeing you!

—Posted by Amanda Murray