Lower East Side Memory

May 16th, 2012 § 0 comments

Gone from the streets of the ever more trendy Lower East Side of Manhattan are the choppers. Permit HG to explain. HG does nor refer to people with cleavers. The “ch” in HG’s “choppers” is pronounced with a guttural, Yiddish “ch” as in “challah.” In Yiddish the word chop means “grab.” And, that’s what a chopper did. He grabbed you. When little HG accompanied his father on various Lower East Side errands, choppers were stationed outside of men’s clothing stores on East Broadway and Division Streets. They would grab the arm of HG’s father and try to drag him into a store. Meanwhile they offered a sales pitch in heavily accented English: “Come inside. Bargains. The finest materials. Beautiful suits, coats. Latest styles. Take a look. Prices you won’t believe. No harm in looking.” The chopper had a grip like an iron vise. It took real strength (possessed by HG’s father) to extricate oneself from a dedicated chopper.

All of this took place many, many decades ago in a simpler New York. Now geniuses like Wylie Dufresne turn out imaginative food in chic Lower East Side restaurants. Nary a knish or “chopper’ in sight.

SJ here. Allow me to make a brief interjection. True, the Lower East Side has transformed into a hipster playground of trendy bars, cafes, etc. But, like a ghost sign that bleeds through faded paint jobs, elements of the old Lower East Side are still with us. Orchard Street, while gussied up beyond recognition, still houses of number of old clothing stores and, surprise, surprise, an honest to god chopper. Yes, I was recently stopped in my tracks — the grip was that strong — by a middle aged Hasid who said, “Young man, you look like a fellow who could use a nice suit. We have suits, so good, so cheap, come inside…” A relic of the old days, the chopper still has the stuff…And when it comes to knishes!!! We have the best still in operation!!! Yes Yonah Schimmel Knishes is open right on Houston Street and serving up a delicious Knish — get the Kasha!!!

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