In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, after power finally returned to much of the Lower East Side last Friday night, the Museum and many neighborhood businesses that had been shuttered for days were able to re-open. Here on Orchard Street, as we welcome the return to our daily lives, we’re humbly reminded of the neighborhood’s earliest residents, immigrants for whom working, sleeping, cooking, and taking care of their families without heat, running water, or electricity was daily life.
In addition, as we gear up for the opening of our new “Shop Life” exhibition, exploring the generations of merchants who occupied the retail spaces at 97 Orchard Street, we want to applaud our neighbors who are getting back to business. We checked in with a few of them on Monday.
Emily Fulgencio of Pop Karma (right next door to the Museum) said the power outage meant a fridge full of lost cheese and bacon for their flavored popcorn, but it felt good to open for business again. Like many local businesses across the city, Pop Karma is making donations to storm relief and community organizations, including CAAAV on Hester Street.
On Delancey Street, Happiness Deli heroically stayed open during the storm, and became a gathering place and one of the rare places to buy provisions. Deli staffer Salah Alsaedi said, “We were really worried when the wind was blowing, but we didn’t have any damage, and we kept things running on candles and flashlights. We sold water and snacks and made hot tea, coffee, and soup on a gas-powered camping stove.”
Down the block at the Moscot eyewear shop, optician Frank Buitrago said he evacuated his home on Grand Street to find safer ground with his two pets at his daughter’s home in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. He said, “At home I lost water as soon as I lost power, and the shop had to be closed all week. It’s good to be back.”
Yvette Ho, owner of Panade bakery and coffee shop on Eldridge Street, opened on Monday – a day she’s usually closed – to make up for lost business. She hunkered down at her home in Queens during the storm but when she returned to the Lower East Side on Saturday, she said, “The neighbors were all checking in on each other. My friends at the local police precinct came by to see me. We all shared our stories from the storm; we’re looking out for each other.”
Here at the Museum, we’re glad to see our neighbors and visitors again. After the storm, we received this e-mail from Lower East Side resident Pamela Brown: “I too am a resident of the LES and over the last few days I have looked to the museum for inspiration. I thought of the characters that the tours are based on. It is them I thought of as I carried water up 13 flights. I thought of them as I heated water on the stove and lived by dim lights. I no longer have to wash my hair in a bucket and am so thrilled to be back in the 21st Century!! And now I am looking forward to returning to the Museum for more talks and tours.”
It’s the residents and small businesses, as much as the streetlights, that keep the Lower East Side vibrant. Come support local merchants and explore the stories of their predecessors at 97 Orchard Street when “Shop Life” opens on December 3.
—Posted by Amanda Murray