Sunday, 27 January 2013

Picture Post 15 - Schapiro's Wine Stores, New York City

New York by Yekkes

I took this photograph on a visit to New York in April last year during a guided walk of the Lower East Side with the excellent tour guide - Jared Goldstein. This piece of advertising is a reminder of the old Lower East Side and one that is fast disappearing.

Sam Schapiro, an immigrant from Galicia in the old Austro-Hungarian Empire established his kosher wine store in Rivington Street in 1907.  Before this, he had owned a restaurant catering to recent arrivals from Europe, but as his great-grandson John said in an interview in 1996 "I guess if his food was any good, we'd be in the food business today".  The wine store proved more enduring, even managing to operate throughout the period of Prohibition when Schapiro's products were permitted for sale as they were deemed "sacred". It is said that Schapiro also continued to sell liquor at the back door!

Made with grapes from upstate New York that were crushed and missed with sugar water, Schapiro's wine was sold under the slogan of "wine you could almost cut with a knife". Interestingly the most popular Pesach (Passover) seller was Concord, a name which strikes fear into the heart of British wine lovers (rather than lovers of British wine). But this is not the same as the old British Concord stuff that came with its screw top bottle and "unusual" flavour. The key thing with Schapiro's wine was that it fulfilled all of the requirements necessary for it to be deemed kosher. Some people didn't understand this, illustrated by another Schapiro quip. When asked what vintage his wine was, Norman Schapiro, former president of the company,  replied "Thursday".

Schapiro's was a key part of the old Jewish lower east side, especially for former residents who returned and bought their Pesach matzos from Streit's, they bought their pickles from Gus, ate lunch at Ratners and stocked up on wine from Schapiro's. The store closed a few years ago, but for the moment this wonderful visual memory remains.

For more pictures of New York, including the Lower East Side, click here and to read more about the old Lower East Side click here.

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