CITY SKETCHES: A walk on Orchard Street

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By Sunday, Feb 18 Viewpoints  1 Comment
Orchard Street in New York City.

New York — Recently, my wife and I attended a screening of an American indie film at an art theater that offers imaginative and sometimes arcane programming – the Metrograph. It’s a wonderful addition to the New York film scene that is located on the Lower East Side — Ludlow off Canal. After the film ended we decided to walk home, which is close to two miles.

But what was once a walk I could do easily without any exertion had turned into something more arduous and self-conscious. However, that evening I felt buoyant because I sensed I would be able to walk the two miles without my feet hurting or feeling like lead weights, and I would only have to sit down once or twice along the way. Aging has changed much about my life — my body has faltered, but still my will to live as fully as possible hasn’t disappeared.

To walk home we decided to take Orchard Street straight down to Houston. We hadn’t been on this slice of Orchard Street for years. I knew it had changed, but the number of art galleries that had opened amid tenements and luxury condominiums, boutique hotels, and upscale restaurants stunned me.

We stopped at one handsome gallery, McKenzie Fine Art, and had a brief chat with the owner, who had left the Chelsea art scene 10 years ago. She said that there was a greater feeling of neighborhood on Orchard Street than in Chelsea despite its growing gentrification. And she claimed the move hadn’t hurt finding interested buyers for the paintings she sold.

Galerie Perrotin on Orchard Street.

She was right that a feeling of neighborhood still existed, though five or six more luxury buildings and the area would soon tip and become another Williamsburg. Still, as we walked you could still see small, shabby Chinese take-outs, clothing and luggage stores, and Dominican tailor shops. The architecture was varied and so were the stores. And the nature of its street life was much more attention-grabbing than Chelsea’s sterile gallery, luxury tower dominated streets.

Before reaching Houston Street we stopped at another very large gallery, Galerie Perrotin (a Paris-based contemporary art gallery). The gallery currently occupies two floors of the historic Beckenstein fabric building with its classic red-white-and-yellow exterior signage. The impressive gallery space is the size of a small museum, and it also contains a bookshop and a garden.

I still can remember an Orchard Street of the ‘40s and ‘50s where my mother took me, a resentful 12 year old, shopping. It was crowded with people from all over the city and suburbs avidly looking for bargains, and filled with stalls and shops selling discounted clothes. Few of them are left, and there is no way to resurrect what once was. I no longer lament their loss — for it’s inherent in a city’s changing nature. But I keep on wondering how many more years are left that I am capable of taking these walks that have always given me so much pleasure.

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  1. Steve Farina says:

    Leonard, I hope you are able to take many, many more of these walks. I appreciate your descriptive sharing of a city I have never really wanted to spend time in. You allow me to see the charm of living there and the reasons why others would want to. What jumps out at me in this story, though I don’t know what Williamsburg is, is the effect of gentrification anticipated and the parallel to the changes we are seeing in Great Barrington. Hopefully, we will not experience the loss of the feeling of neighborhood here as well.

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