Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Scofflaws and "Scarfs": a Sign of the Past at 103 Orchard

While most of the Tenement Museum’s soon-to-open Visitor and Education Center at 103 Orchard Street will look and feel brand new, traces of its former, historic incarnations remain and will be visible throughout the space.

For example, we discovered a hand-painted, vertical sign that covers the northern-side of one of the building’s steel support beams during demolition in April of last year. The sign speaks to the presence of generations of shopkeepers who sold a vast variety of goods from the storefront space that will soon house the new Center.

The “scarfs” and handkerchiefs advertised here were once sold by Zwaifler and Co. Handkerchiefs, a manufacturer and wholesaler who occupied the southern storefront of the building between 1920 and 1956. Its proprietor was Morris Zwaifler, a Romanian Jewish immigrant who had arrived in New York in 1900 and settled on Lower East Side. By 1930, the Zwaifler family had moved to Brooklyn, and his second daughter, Minnie, appears to have been employed as the bookkeeper for the family business.

Mid-1930s Photo of M. Zwaifler & Co Handkerchiefs. Collection of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.

According to the New York Times, in May of 1944 the federal Office of Price Administration (OPA) fined M. Zwaifler and Co. nearly $10,000  for charging its customers more that the ceiling price it had set for handkerchiefs. Established at the onset of World War II by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the OPA was tasked with both rationing and setting price limits for goods made scarce by the war. But Zwaifler was not alone: oral history interviews conducted by Museum researchers have indicated that many Lower East Side businesses survived the war by selling goods that were restricted in some way.
Excerpt from the New York Times

Zwaifler's handkerchief sign will remain as we found it in the new Center, reminding us of the building's long and interesting history. We'll continue to uncover more of its stories in the months and years to come.
--Posted by David Favaloro, Director of Curatorial Affairs

1 comment:

  1. This is all so fascinting as so much of our history is tied into the Lower East Side. My mother was born on Christie street in a long gone tenement. I was born in Flushing Hospital, first lived in Jackson Heights, then Flushing and then "the Island." I've found that many of my generation followed a similar path (I'm not saying exact). My gneration's parents went from either the lower east side or perhaps another part of Manhattan to the Bronx or Brooklyn, then to Queens and then to LI.


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