Moscot Family Orchard St
In 1895, Sol Moscot’s father came to America, and at the beginning he sold ready made eyeglasses, trinkets, and costume jewelry on Orchard Street. Times were difficult and in those days even children worked hard. Sol began by helping his father, later he rented a store, and eventually he became the earliest optical dealer on the Lower East Side.
Today, the Moscot sign has become a landmark on Orchard Street. This is a painting of the business and of the area around it. The man with his back turned going to the door is Sol Moscot. Next to the building holding a broom is Tony Silvia. To the right side of the painting, under the blue and yellow umbrella of his hot dog stand, is Jimmy Rose.I loved doing this painting. Before the street would become busy, before most of the stores would open, I’d put up my easel and begin. United Woolens would pull out it’s orange stands, United Woolens unlocked the grating around the door, and Sol Moscot and I would greet each other from across the street. The first shoppers would come and by 10 am the street was filled. But on Sundays when there were no cars, the street was mobbed at all times.The first days of work were so pleasant. I would paint according to the weather. On cloudy days, I scarcely rested. On other days, I worked until noon when the heat would become unbearable. I would go to Galishoff’s around the corner on Rivington Street and have cheese bagels and coffee until the air conditioning took the weariness away. I would watch the people walk in and out. One day, I saw a small bearded man standing at the counter. When I began to paint again I the afternoon, I placed him in the middle of the street. He’s walking toward the front of the picture, holding material on his arm.To do Jimmy, I had to work at odd moments. His hot dogs are delicious, and he was often surrounded by customers. So I would work on the stand and the umbrella until he was alone again and I could see him.The shapes were blocked out on the canvas, the lights, the darks, the middle tones were laid out, but to the people passing by it was a large, loud mess. There were mostly polite words like, “I paint too” and “Oh, how nice to see someone painting”, but since I understand Yiddish and some Spanish, I could also understand what else they said.When I had worked on my first painting of Orchard Street next to the Moscot building, Tony had always asked me what I was doing and explained to the people who would stop to watch. As the painting progressed, he knew every step which I had done or was about to do and he became my spokesman. In turn, he’d tell me what people had said. But now at the beginning of the painting, after having basked in the comments of“Look, she’s doing that window!”“Look, she’s doing that man over there!”“Look, that’s Orchard Street!” it was impossible to come down to “My God, what’s that red spot?”He didn’t desert me. He would painstakingly explain everything and since I still cringe when I hear the comments, at least I wasn’t alone. Tony cringed also. New York City became temperamental and the heat stuck. The air lay hot and oppressive and the mornings lost their gentleness. The street shimmered and the city dust blew thick and hot. Orchard Street became a furnace, and one morning when I arrived it was to find the street torn open and heavy machinery waiting to be used for drilling. The pipes underneath the street were being repaired and the dry and dusty earth blew on the open stands and on my paints.Perhaps on a different street I might have weakened. But here no one gave in. Sol Moscot was still there before me, no matter how early I came. Tony was as cheerful as ever and life went on. So I kept on working and drank more cold soda at Jimmy’s stand.Jimmy had come to New York City in 1966from South Carolina. At the beginning he only worked here on weekends and when his regular job became slow he worked here every day.His work isn’t easy. The days became hotter, the shoppers fewer, and since their carts were not allowed to be on this street, the summons from the police against all vendors of pretzels, ices, and hot dogs were plentiful. But when you asked Jimmy or the others why they continued to come here the answer always was,“What can you do? It’s still the best place to get customers.”The bearded Hasidic with the briefcase and his wife with the brown wig, the two well dressed women with shopping bags, the young woman with the baby, the businessmen, the shoppers...they are only a few of the many that passed by. So many stopped and told me stories- the lady from England who came back to see the street where she grew up:“I remember how my father and I would leave the house when everyone was sleeping and we’d go to buy fresh bagels and we would go past the open pickle barrels...I can still recall the smell.”The old Italian man:“We used to come from Little Italy just a few blocks away to buy pants. We’d pick what we liked and walk away and the owner would run after us and lower the price. Our kids just go in to a store and pay. They’ll never know the fun shopping was on this street...it used to be like a party to go shopping!”But my favorite stories were told by Sol Moscot. He talked about the Bible and things he believed in. He talked about Orchard Street and about his past. I wish that I were a writer and could write them as they should be written. But what he made me feel about the street and the people’s lives has gone into the Orchard Street paintings instead.