Coming out of the Subway on 6th Avenue we immediately noticed this beauty:
Loving signage of all types, we were off to a good start. Crossing over 6th Avenue heading east we started by grabbing a coffee at Porto Rico Importers which still looks very much the same today. Here’s a shot from just over 10 years ago…
Porto Rico Importing Co. located on Bleecker Street by Sixth Avenue is a fourth generation family-owned business that was founded in 1907. We interviewed Peter Longo, third-generation owner of Porto Rico Importing Co. for our book STORE FRONT: The Disappearing Face of New York in 2001:
“The original location of the business was on 195 Bleecker Street and was founded in 1907 and sold coffee, tea, dried mushrooms, and olive oils to the many Italians who lived in the neighborhood. My grandfather bought the building at 201 Bleecker in 1895 and that’s where Porto Rico stands today. He opened a bakery on the ground floor alongside a shoemaker business before getting into the coffee business. My family has lived above the store ever since and my mother, who is in her 90’s still lives on the top floor. Years ago we used to roast our own coffees in the back of this store but because of stricter pollution codes we are no longer able to do that. We used to roast the beans and send the smoke into the street but now you have to have an after-burner so we do all our roasting at our warehouse in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.”
Next up, heading back across 6th Avenue, going west, is Joe’s Pizza…
Pino “Joe” Pozzuoli who immigrated from Naples, Italy in the 1950’s, opened Joe’s Pizza at the corner of Bleecker Street and Carmine Street in February 1975. After his long-term lease expired in 2005, the shop relocated 50 feet from their original location and continues to serve the same authentic New York-style pizza. Joe, owner of Joe’s Pizza explains: “We are no longer on the corner proper, but 3 doors down on Carmine Street. We wanted to stay but the landlord was completely unreasonable, demanding a 1.5 million dollar guarantee.”
We also like the shot because of the increasingly rare pay phone, complete with milk crate seating to sit and talk.
Here’s a quick snapshot of how it looks today, around the corner…
At the corner of Bleecker Street and Carmine is now a high-end gelato parlor called Grom, which occupies both the former Joe’s Pizza space and the spot where Vegetable Garden once stood. A small 2 flavored cone is $5.25, while a large “grom to go” gelato is $26.00.
Here’s a 2001 photo we took of Vegetable Garden…
The “Vegetable Garden” sign and the next store’s “Newspapers and Tobacco” sign are the type of signs that initially drove us to pursue our store front series. A two-story wood-frame house built in 1822 housed Vegetable Garden, a relic of Greengrocer’s Row.
This Magazine - Plus store is still on Bleecker with only a few changes. Each year it sticks out more and more as a kind of relic on the block. Magazine Plus has been in business since 1964. The storefront and sign are all original. The Coca Cola signs, given away free to business owners at one time, are always a favorite of ours.
Walking west is Beasty Feast, still a pet supply store but now renamed, and it still looks pretty much the same as it did in 2001 and is housed in what was originally a coach house from 1830. The structure is one of Lower Manhattan’s few remaining wood-frame buildings….
Traveling around the city we always have at least one of our dogs with us, and they can be seen in some of the photographs in the stores’ window reflection. (check out Tabasco’s reflection in the doorway of the older shot of Rocco’s Pastry down below) We remember getting our dog Tabasco (R.I.P.) a treat here the day we shot this. These long blocks sometimes had us waiting for hours in the cold or rain in order to get our shots, standing around waiting for delivery vans to pull away, or groups of tourists to move along. Tabasco would often get bored and this was a nice spot to get him a little something.
Next up is Bleecker Street Records, still on the block.
This is a more recent shot and we noticed a sign near the door that read “Visit our other location at Generation Records on Thompson Street.” We used to kill hours walking from record store to record store in the Village. We still remember long-gone spots like “Second Coming” on Sullivan Street and “Rocks in Your Head” near West Broadway. Flipping through the racks and shelves was always a great time.
Of course Bleecker Bob’s, once located on Bleecker Street, and now on West 3rd near MacDougal Street was also a frequent stop.
Here’s a nighttime shot of Bleecker Bob’s Records from our newly released book NEW YORK NIGHTS, which is a collection of how some of our favorite local businesses appear at night. The neon clocks in the window have always been a favorite of ours and at night help make the store stand out. (Look for a NYC Record shop post coming soon!)
Back on Bleecker, heading west toward Seventh Avenue, Green Village is another fresh produce casualty on the block.
Shot in 2001, Green Village stands in contrast to the spot today, which is empty.
We couldn’t help wanting to peak behind the “For Rent” sign and check the vintage sign underneath… maybe when the street is less crowded one night.
Rocco’s Pastry, up next, has under gone a dramatic facelift since we shot it in 2001…
Rocco’s Pasticceria is a second-generation family-owned Italian pastry and espresso café which has been in business since 1974. Rocco Generoso, a young Italian immigrant, founded the shop after apprenticing as a pastry chef. Rocco’s is best-known for their fresh cannoli, which are filled by hand with cannoli cream only when ordered to ensure that the shell remains crisp. They also specialize in making traditional Italian pastries, cakes, cookies, gelato and Italian ices, all of which are made on premises using only the freshest ingredients.
Here is a shot of the updated front:
Walking west, next up is Pasticceria Bruno, now gone…
The Gelateria, shot around Easter time in 2001 always seemed busy and we recall it being difficult to shoot without anyone in front. Today, the space is occupied by Scali Caffé.
We already mentioned our love of record shops and Triton Music is another long-gone store. Between record shops and the once numerous vintage clothing shops we had plenty to keep us busy on walks through the Village.
Here’s a 2001 shot of Triton Music along with it’s neighbor Village Art Gallery which is also gone.
Today the art gallery has been replaced by the store O & Co. selling specialty olive oils, truffle oil and other gourmet items, and the Triton Music store is replaced by the chain store L’Occitane en Provence, selling high end skin care products. Interestingly, these 2 upscale retail outlets are owned by the same parent company.
Here’s a look back at the block so far with two panoramas:
Crossing Cornelia Street and heading west we arrive at the former location of Murray’s Cheese Shop, now located across the street in a larger space. Here’s Murray’s in 2001:
Murray’s Cheese Shop on Bleecker Street at the corner of Cornelia Street was founded in 1940 by Murray Greenberg. The original Murray’s was located around the corner on Cornelia Street and primarily sold milk, eggs, and butter. Murray’s later added pasta, olive oil, Parmesan cheese, and provolone cheese to serve its many Italian neighborhood customers. In 1990, Robert Kaufelt bought the store, moved around the corner where he expanded its cheese offerings and continued to run the business until 2004 when he moved to an even larger location directly across the street. Mr. Kaufelt even constructed masonry caves in the basement of the store in which to store and age cheese. These unique caves can be viewed from outside through a glass panel in the sidewalk and are the only ones in the country precisely modeled after ancient cheese caves in France. The store also supplies cheese to many of the leading restaurants in the City and its wholesale division accounts for half of its yearly business. Murray’s Cheese carries more than 250 different kinds of cheese from countries all over the world and sells between 10,000 to 12,000 lbs of cheese per week.
Here’s also a shot of the space we took recently, under construction:
Past Murray’s Cheese Shop was once Universal Art Gallery, selling posters and framed panoramic prints, but has since been replaced by a few different businesses, the most recent being an eyeglass store.
Zito & Sons Bakery is up next and here is a 2001 photo…
Zito & Sons Bakery was open for 80 years and was the longest continuously occupied store on Bleecker Street until its closure in 2004. Antonino Zito, who emigrated from Sicily with his wife, opened their first bakery on West Broadway in 1919 and then moved to Bleecker Street in 1924. The family lived in an apartment behind the bakery and raised three sons, who took over the business when Antonino died in 1963. At the time of its closure, Antonino’s son Julio and grandson, Anthony managed the bakery. The closing was prompted by a combination of rising costs including energy and supplies. The price of coal for their coal-fired ovens doubled, flour prices rose, and gasoline and insurance costs for their delivery trucks increased. The popular low carbohydrate diet also hurt their retail and wholesale business. Once the bakery closed the spot remained vacant for a long time. Here’s a shot of the forlorn looking, empty space…
And here is the location today, taken over by the chain Pizza Roma:
From the companies website:
“Pizza Roma Chain Project aims to expand its activities both in the U.S., from New York and around the world. Our mission is to export the pizza through Roman the opening of stores by careful design and elegant in the world. A concept for a product high-level economic, healthy and tasty, 100% Made in Italy.”
Interestingly, First Gift, shot in 2001, is pretty much the same today…
It’s now called Unique Gift and Souvenirs:
Even the postcard rack on the left is in pretty much the same spot after 10 years.
Walking west, what was once Greenwood Leather Goods and Gifts (seen in the following panoramic shot), is now occupied by the clothing store Toosh , originally further back along the block. Toosh has 3 locations all fairly close by.
Universal Art Gallery had another spot west on Bleecker in 2001 and was next door to Village Body Arts Tattoo…
The spaces are now occupied by the chain stores Phileo Yogurt and So Good Jewelry…
Continuing west along Bleecker, towards Seventh Avenue we arrive at Neighborhood Church, again shot in 2001, which is still in the same location.
Neighborhood Church is located in an 1833 Federal-style building and has always struck us as interesting. Beside the churches’ own website with it’s mission statement, we could not find much information on the seemingly out of place store front church.
Next up is Bleecker St. Cafe…
The space, after changing hands a few times, now houses Kesté Pizza & Vino…
Up next is Matt Umanov guitars, shot here in 2001..
Matt Umanov Guitars on Bleecker Street by Jones Street has been in business since 1965. The store sells only guitars, new, used, and vintage as well as parts and accessories. They also specialize in guitar repairs. They have had many famous customers over the years, including Patti Smith, who calls Matt Umanov’s Guitars her second home in New York. In 2006, Matt Umanov sold a vintage Stratocaster that once belonged to Bob Dylan for $75,000. Around 2005, Matt Umanov and Porto Rico Importing’s Peter Longo joined us for a sold-out talk at The Greenwich Village Society For Historic Preservation. Topics included the struggles and rewards of running a business and the motivation behind our book STORE FRONT. During the discussion the owners talked about, among many topics, the technical aspects of the gold lettering seen on the guitar stores window. As always, fans of our graffiti photography studied the tagged up door on the left.
Here’s a shot of Matt Umanov Guitars employees looking at their store in our book STORE FRONT: The Disappearing Face Of New York. They were excited to see what guitars were in the window in our photo from 2001, and could easily name where each one ended up…
Continuing west, Cucina Stagionale Italian Restaurant is up next…
Greenwich Village was at one time a large Italian settlement. According to Peter Longo of Bleecker Street’s Porto Rico Importing:
“Greenwich Village has really changed tremendously over the years. The rents are much, much higher and many of the artists and musicians have moved out of the area. But the biggest change that I see is that when I was growing up in the 1950’s, Greenwich Village was a huge Italian community. It was a vibrant family neighborhood and the social life centered around the churches in the area. The churches were always packed and the Catholic schools and public schools in the neighborhood were packed full of students because Italians typically had very large families. Everything except church was closed on Sundays and it gave a rhythm to the week. Monday through Friday I went to school. Saturday was a day for chores and Sunday was church day and was very quiet. The streets were very pleasant to walk around and cars were even allowed to park on all the streets with no restrictions. As the years went by, most of the Italians moved out of the neighborhood and NYU replaced the Italian community. Stores are no longer closed on Sunday, everything stays open late and the streets are continuously busy. Most of the specialty stores, which catered to Italian customers, have gone out of business and the whole Village has lost its ethnicity and character.”
The restaurant is now occupied by the chain store David’s Tea:
The Village Escape internet cafe once occupied the corner of Bleecker Street and Jones Street…
The storefront is now empty…
Crossing Jones Street, and nearing Seventh Avenue we arrive at O. Ottomanelli & Sons Prime Meat Market…
O. Ottomanelli & Sons Prime Meat Market on Bleecker Street by Seventh Avenue South is a family-owned business. Ononfrio Ottomanelli founded the meat market in 1935 and it is now run by his 4 sons, Jerry, Frank, Peter, and Joe. The store specializes in prime meats, wild game, and fancy birds. Here’s a excerpt from our interview with Peter Ottomanelli, second-generation co-owner of O. Ottomanelli & Sons Prime Meat Market for our book Store Front:
“I learned everything I know about the meat business from my father and uncle and my older brothers. My father was a butcher in Bari, Italy before he came here and settled in this neighborhood. My brothers and I all started working for my father when we were young boys. My brother Frank was cutting meat in the store by the time he was 14 years old. But my father wouldn’t ever let any of us use the machines to cut the meat. He wanted us to cut everything by hand before he would let us use the machines you see here. Because that’s how you learn…it’s the only way you can really feel the meat! We had to learn how to cut every different piece of meat by hand. All of us worked together and we all had a different job to do but we all learned from the bottom up. At first we were only allowed to sweep and clean the floors and wash everything down and clean the knives and equipment. We also helped with the meat deliveries to customers. Years ago, this was mostly an Italian neighborhood and we catered to them, offering things like our own Italian pork and lamb sausages. Nobody else around here knew how to make the sausages like my family did, and even today, nobody can make them like my brother Frank! But the secret to the longevity of our business is that we do most of the buying of the meat ourselves and we break it down ourselves and age it here in house in our meat lockers downstairs. When you buy meat from here, you are not just buying a piece of meat…it’s been hand-selected by us and aged properly to bring out the best flavor. We also help our customers by giving them recipes and tips in preparing the meat they purchase. Many of our long-time customers do not live in the neighborhood anymore but make a special trip into the City just to buy their meat here.”
Here’s an interior shot of the meat market:
At one time we had thought to include interiors in our book, but it was decided by our editor, wisely, that it would disrupt the flow of the work. Looking back we have to agree, but still have a nice collection of some of the shops interiors.
Here’s also a shot of the four brothers in the shop…
And finally, reaching Seventh Ave we were struck by one more gem…an unoccupied doorway with some beautiful mosaic and glass work…
Here’s a look back at Bleecker starting from Cornelia Street:
Standing on the corner of Seventh we realized we had only covered the north side of Bleecker Street… we’ll have to go back and look at how the south side has been aging soon.
Leave your memories of Bleecker Street here: