Great Reads, Postcards from the Lower East Side

A Small Town on Orchard Street

May 22, 2020


Orchard Street is a small town in a big city. A length of sidewalk where not everybody necessarily knows your name, but they know you anyway. Walking back and forth with visitors to 97 Orchard Street; standing outside in snow squalls; looking up during an eclipse or looking at one another while occasional minor chaos erupts on the street we share. There are the dogs whose names we do know, and they in turn know exactly where we keep the treats. There are the smells of local restaurants, garlic frying in oil which anoints Orchard street in the late afternoons, as Congee Village prepares its food. There are the people whom you worry about, because they’re part of the tapestry — woven into your daily routine as much as they’re woven into the Lower East Side. 

People often ask us at the Museum, before or after their tours, which direction is better to walk? But there’s history everywhere you look. Suddenly, I’m Oz’s Scarecrow pointing them one way, then the other until we’re at a comical impasse at the length and suitable direction of Orchard Street. Inevitably I can assure them either direction will be an interesting one. They nod, willing if somewhat skeptical. How else could New York acquire as many love songs as it does? 

There are days when the only caffeine that will do is Roasting Plant. The only broth is An Choi’s and the cookie is Davidovich’s rugelach from their location in the Blue Moon Hotel. The evenings when the neighborhood is loud and alive, littered with people. The weekend mornings when it’s very quiet and the sidewalks are empty, littered only with remnants of the night before.   

Then there’s Orchard Grocer. A piece of old New York made new. Where the lox is made of carrots, the reuben of seitan. Where you can find all sorts of people with all sorts of diets. Where, miraculously, they do know my name — and what I’ll order. Through the pandemic, Orchard Grocer has been doing grocery deliveries all over New York City. The old adage is that you can’t go home again, but perhaps home, wherever it is, whatever it may look like, can find you.

If things were normal right now, and someone at work was looking for me, the first place they’d look is Orchard Grocer, a grocery store that also sells delicious plant-based versions of all New York deli sandwiches I’ve missed since cutting meat from my diet. In the morning, you’d find me grabbing a coffee, in the afternoon grabbing lunch. Sometimes I just like to say hello. Often there can be a wait, I don’t mind. It’s the community and the people who work there, as well as the food, that make me come every day. 

Orchard Street shares visitors and traffic. Moments of incredulity and excitement. Bad weather, great light, odd pipe bursts and long days. I can’t wait until I’m once again looking up and down Orchard Street, knowing that my destination is set towards the museum, but that each block and intersection has something wonderful to experience.

That being said, you’ll still most likely find me at Orchard Grocer.  

Written by:

Arabella Friedland has been a member of the Tenement Museum Shop staff since 2015. She is a visual artist and writer, inspired by New York and all its complexities.