The Times They Are A Changing: The Lower East Side’s Cultural Cleansing

By Kelsey Garcia

ImageThe air is thick with baking dough as Alan Adler surveys his legendary operation and braces himself for Passover: Adler is co-owner of the historic Streit’s Matzo factory located in the heart of New York’s Lower East Side—now located on Rivington Street.

Adler’s grandfather, Aron Streit, made his foray into the matzo business after manufacturing neon signs in the Catskills. Since opening the first factory on Pitt Street, Streit’s matzo has won multiple taste tests and has received widespread news coverage. According to Adler, it wasn’t all glamorous.

“When I first came here, there was crack violence on the street, your radio would be stolen. Now the worst thing are the 20-something, good looking kids coming out after-hours,” said Adler. Such is the rapid transformation of the Lower East Side from crime-ridden immigrant neighborhood to a hip nighttime hotspot. Yet, Streit’s still stands, along with fellow historic business Katz’s Delicatessen.


Katz’s Deli is rife with nostalgic signs that read “Send salami to your boy in the army,” a little over 750 photos of the deli’s celebrity customers, and dimming vintage beer advertisements. Like Adler, owner Jake Dell, who’s grandfather partnered with Willy Katz, has taken up the family business after leaving behind his pre-med ambitions. Quite literally, Dell made the transfer from surgeries to salami. “It’s the least I could do to help out for a year or two…I ended up falling in love with it. Everything about it makes me love it,” said Dell.

The storied eatery has been open for 125 years, and originally opened on Houston and Ludlow Street. Around World War I, a budding Yiddish theatre opened up in the area that drew in Jewish residents. “They [the actors] were the equivalent of celebrities at the time,” said Dell. Since then, Katz’s has been featured in a Frank Sinatra movie and When Harry Met Sally—if one is familiar with the film, then the deli scene is very memorable.

Both Dell and Adler have a connection with their businesses that are deeper than just a monetary dependence. Adler loving glanced near the window where two men are sectioning off the matzo bread. “I came here when I was a little kid,” added Adler. “Right here. Nothing has changed.” Similarly, Dell celebrated his Bar Mitzvah at the family deli.


Unfortunately, these sentimental locations aren’t immune to the area’s changing tides. One prime representation of this withering history is Guss’ Pickles, the Polish store in the neighborhood’s “pickle district,” also portrayed in Crossing Delancey. However, Guss’ Pickles differs from the two other businesses: it has since relocated from its Orchard Street location to Brooklyn’s Dekalb and Classon Avenues under the new name Clinton Hill Pickles.

Owner Patricia Fairhurst, who also owned the Lower East Side location, expressed her dealing with the move. Optimistically, the pickle seller said that despite a change in name and location, the pickles continue to be equally loved and coveted.

A similar optimism was noted when Dell said, “Being in business in the city is not just about the business. It’s about taking care of the neighborhood,” he added, “Any problems that happen we can figure out, we can get through it…and food always helps.”

The old Guss’ Pickles location on Orchard Street is now an upscale cigar bar.


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