Shop Life

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Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson
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Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

By using this motion-sensitive counter, visitors can access a wealth of archival photographs and recordings that tell the stories of the families who made their livelihoods at this 97 Orchard Street storefront. “The whole idea is to get people to think about commerce and how that has shaped their community, and also the history of the neighborhoods they live in,” says Polland.

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Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson
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Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson
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Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson
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Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

When John and Caroline Schneider opened their saloon in 1864, the Lower East Side was called Kleindeutschland (“Little Germany”). It was home to the fifth-largest German-speaking population in the world at the time. By 1872, there were more than 700 saloons in the neighborhood.

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Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson
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Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson
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Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

The Schneiders’ saloon was a gathering place not just for the neighborhood’s German community, but for the multinational residents of 97 Orchard Street. People who lived in the apartments above would often enter via this back stairway (rebuilt by the Tenement Museum) that led directly into the bar area.

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Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

In order to entice patrons, 19th-century NYC saloon proprietors would offer a free lunch with the purchase of a drink. Using fake food, the Tenement Museum has re-created such a German buffet in convincing detail. “Clearly these were places not just where people got beer,” says Annie Polland, the museum’s vice president of programs and education. “The idea is that you can come, buy your mug of beer for 5¢, and then get a plate of food.”

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Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson
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Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson
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Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson
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Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson
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Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson
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Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson
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Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson
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Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson
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Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson
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Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

In this kitchen behind the front area, Caroline Schneider would prepare food for the saloon’s patrons. “Often in the German communities and many immigrant communities, the wives did just as much work to keep up the business as their husbands,” explains Polland.

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Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

Like many store owners of the day, the Schneiders’ saloon was also their residence. Their bedroom, large compared with others in the tenement, was located directly behind the bar’s back room.

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Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson
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Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson
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Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

Political groups and social clubs would often hold meetings in the saloon’s back room. This Native American club is a piece of ephemera from the Improved Order of Red Men, a fraternal organization whose local branch gathered there. “They played with the idea that playing Indian was the way of becoming American,” says Polland. “Whether you were an immigrant or native-born, they all were able to take up these made-up rituals that came from Americans.”

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Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson
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Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson
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Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson
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Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson
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Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

“You’re going to have a mix of languages in a space like this, and you can see that reflected in the newspapers we reproduced,” says Polland.

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Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson
Saturday March 9 2013 14:30
The first new permanent exhibition to open at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum since 2008 showcases the array of local businesses that have occupied the historic tenement at 97 Orchard St. Visitors are led through re-creations of those shops, including a 19th-century beer saloon, a kosher butcher shop from the 1890s, a 1930s auction house and an undergarment shop from the 1970s.
Event phone: 212-982-8420
Event website: http://tenement.org