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Rubin Family Orchard St

There is a large building on the corner of Orchard Street and Rivington Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Some of it’s window frames have beautiful decorations made of cement. On the rest of the windows only the broken remnants of the decorations are left. Sam Finkelstein has the deed of the land on which the building stands. It states that no animal could ever be slaughtered on that property and he assumes that is because a “shoichet” (ritual slaughter) was once nearby and that he wanted to eliminate competition.

When Sam first came to Orchard Street in 1945, there were wooden planks in front of the store. Periodically they rotted away and Sam decided to replace them with a cement sidewalk. When the planks were removed, the workers found a wooden staircase underneath them. It went down into a vault in which the remains of a restaurant still existed. There were big ovens and empty syrup jugs were scattered on the floor. According to Izzi Galishoff- who was a child at that time and whose father had started a dairy restaurant on Rivington Street- it was probably a kosher restaurant for immigrants.Originally, A & B was a drug store with phone booths. Around the turn of the century, the landlord had the booths removed and the tiny space now houses a wig store. Before that it was rented to Mr. Kaplan, who bought it from Becky Rothman, who had been there for thirty years. Mr. Kaplan sold pickles and was there for forty three years.There are tenants still living in the building who moved in fifty years ago.In the early morning when the stores are closed and there is no sunlight strong enough to cut through the shadows of the street, the building is simply dark and massive and the bricks are a dull and faded red. But towards noon, when the sun hits,they glow with orange and cadmium reds, and it was that time of day in which I decided to set the painting.Whenever I went to the East Side to paint, I would arrive before the stores opened. The building would just be coming to life. First Kim, the wig store owner, would unlock his door and carry out the circular wig stands. The janitor would bring the garbage cans after the dump trucks from the sanitation department had passed...children came out of the building on their way to school...and around 9 A.M. the Finkelstein store opened.I used to sit at the table next to the window at Galishoff’s and watch as they pulled out the green stands and brought out the merchandise. Chris Dolandis- who had just bought the restaurant- let me sit there and paint. The largest part of this work was done at that table.I loved sitting there and watching what was happening inside and outside of the restaurant. One day I got up the courage and asked Chris if I could paint next to the window and he told me that he’d reserve the spot for me for life. I didn’t take him up on that for long, but I did spend a beautiful winter there. Outside, it was bitterly cold and the wind blew, and inside there were cheese bagels and lots of great company. I’ve never done a street painting in such luxury before or since. In the painting, Sam Finkelstein stands at the entrance of his store, wearing a red jacket. In May 1943, his father came to borrow $100 dollars from him- there was a store for rent on Orchard Street.“It’ll cost $20 dollars to open the electricity, $40 dollars for two months rent, and $40 dollars for security.”At that time, Sam was working for General Motors. His job was to pull hot metal bearings from the furnace. Before that- from 1933 to 1935- he had worked 80 hours a week (for an $8 dollar salary) wielding a pick and shovel. Besides, he was just about to go into the army, and his wife, Dotty, was doing secretarial work and earning $20 dollars a week. At that time, $100 dollars was a very large sum.But he did lend the money to his father, and when Sam left the service after the war he also joined the business. In 1957, his father retired and sold his half to Sam. Today, he is part owner of the whole building.Paul Finkelstein came to work at the store a year after Sam did, and stayed on for 27 and a half years. He married and has two daughters. In the painting, he stands on the left side of the store, wearing a black jacket and a dark hat.Both Sam and Paul were gold mines of information. They were deeply interested in history and politics and through them I was able to see the patterns of the immigrations and the cultural changes of the area. It was as fascinating to listen to them as it was to do the painting.When Sam first came to Orchard Street, the stores were open longer. Families came to shop in the evenings and the streets were filled with lights and with noise. Now the street begins to empty after 5 P.M. We once drove through in the evening, and the street and the sidewalks were deserted. Not even the children of the area play outside at night.In the last few years, the streets of the East Side have become dangerous. Only yesterday two old employees of a nearby store were beaten and robbed. When the stores close at night, so do the streets.The painting of Sam’s business was finished about a year before I had time to write this story. At that time, Sam had decided to sell. Today, his store is owned by a man from Seoul, South Korea, who sells handbags.Two years ago,Kaplan’s pickle store was sold to the Kims, who changed it into a wig store. Bending over the counter is Mrs. Kim. She and her husband came to America in 1973. He arrived first, she arrived about a year later, and their two young sons stayed behind until the Kims could earn the money to pay for the children’s passage to America.South Koreans like the Kims, come from a highly developed culture. Those whom I met here are a gentle, hardworking, and very intelligent people. Their culture will affect the Lower East Side and the Lower East Side will affect their culture. How much and in what ways only the years will tell.Today, when I went down to start on a new painting, Mrs. Kim told me that their children had arrived in America.

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