Monday, November 22, 2010

From Russia with Love: A 1st Generation Cobbler and a 3rd Generation Educator

Erik Shoemaker spends most of his day behind the counter of his tiny shop on Grand Street, surrounded by boxes of shoes, jars of polish, hammers, buffers, and every tool needed to fix shoes no matter how tattered and broken. Erik moved to New York City from Russia when he was a teenager, and he quickly learned his family's trade. When he opened Erik Shoe Repair twenty-four years ago, he became a third-generation cobbler.
Erik repairing shoes at his Lower East Side store.
Erik and his family decided to leave Russia with a simple goal: to have a better life. After staying in Israel, they arrived in New York City in the 1980s. For him, the adjustment was fairly easy, because he could practice Judaism.

"You go freely to pray and wear a yarmulke without worrying," he says, comparing the US to his homeland. "It was the time of communism in Russia," and most religious practices were banned.

His faith is what brought him to the Lower East Side. When he first arrived in New York City, he learned to repair shoes with his brother-in-law on Fourteenth Street. He decided to open his shop further downtown because it was a predominately Jewish neighborhood at the time. He was able to speak Hebrew while he was learning English.

Erik has seen the Lower East Side change frequently and suddenly over the years. His Jewish community started moving to Queens and Long Island. Then there was a larger wave of Chinese immigrants. Lately, his customers have been mainly Americans and Europeans from the East Village, who he calls "the village people" with a slight smile. Despite all the changes, Erik still likes working in the neighborhood. "It's quiet," he says.

And Erik is certainly well known around here. In 2007, New York Magazine named him the best shoe repair shop in the Lower East Side. His award is proudly displayed on his door. He says he won because he's "fast, and I do a good job." How fast? The article says that Erik once did a reheeling job while a taxi idled on the sidewalk.

Back at the museum, Kathryn Lloyd, an educator who has led all of the Tenement Museum's building and neighborhood tours, also has a history deeply rooted in Eastern Europe and the Lower East Side, though hers begins with her great grandparents. Listen as she discusses how her family directly influenced her career as an educator and the way in which she approaches the hardships of immigration, past and present.

Want to know more about Russian and other Eastern European immigrants on the Lower East Side? Get the details on The Moores: An Irish Family in America, in which the title family is compared to the Russian-Jewish Katz family, or the tour Kathryn says is closest to her own family's history - Piecing It Together - here.

- Article by Kiley Edgley and Joe Klarl

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.