Thursday 8 January 2015

End of an era on New York's Lower East Side - Streit's to close its doors

One of the highlights of my 2012 trip to New York was a walking tour of the Jewish Lower East Side in the company of Jared Goldstein, alias Jared the tour guide. The Lower East Side is a rapidly changing area and has lost much of its former Jewish flavour but Jared was able to show me the still significant remains of what was once one of the largest Jewish communities in the world. 

Amongst many other things, he explained that since many Jews have now left this part of the city, a number of the remaining long established Jewish businesses and trades are staffed and sustained by people from the Hispanic community. A particular example of this was Streit's, the matzo factory in Rivington Street that still produces 40% of matzos originating in the USA and is the only remaining family owned matzo bakery in the country.

In 1897 Aron and Nettie Streit came to New York from Austria and in partnership with one Rabbi Weinberger, began making matzos by hand in 1910 in a small bakery in Pitt Street, under strict kosher supervision. In the 1920's the Streit's two sons, Jack and Irvine came into the business, purchasing machinery with which to produce matzos and opening the bakery in its current Rivington Street location. Aron died in 1937 and his sons Jack and Irvine died in 1982 and 1998 respectively. The business remains in the hands of the Streit family and the matzos are made using a process that has changed little in the 90 years since the bakery opened.

Sadly, it seems that Streit's is to join the long list of Jewish family owned businesses to leave the Lower East Side. It was announced this week that following this year's Passover baking, the factory and adjacent store will close forever, the family having finally given in to the constant stream of developers wanting to acquire this valuable piece of Rivington Street real estate. There are plans to find a new location for the business but this will almost certainly be outside of the city. One more Lower East Side landmark will disappear and another New York story will come to an end. Not quite the same thing, but it reminds me that all big cities go through periods of major change and my own city, London is no exception as we prepare to lose the Curzon Cinema in Soho to the needs of the new Crossrail railway. Crossrail has claimed a number of much loved buildings already including the former Astoria, site of many a good night out for Londoners over several decades. Let's hope that its worth it.

Matzo being made at Streit's…but not for much longer.

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