An enduring narrative of an early Jewish Lower East Side small business.
As the grandson of the founder of J. Russ Cut Rate Appetizing (the name changed to Russ & Daughters in 1935), Federman tells a remarkable story of family foresight and resiliency. A former New York City lawyer who returned to run the family’s smoked-fish and candy store at 179 East Houston Street from 1978 until 2009, when he sold it formally to his daughter and nephew, the author has collected the story of the business’s early founding from many of the old-timers still around to lend their memories. Originally from a Yiddish-speaking shtetl in Galicia, between Poland and Ukraine, Joel Russ was sponsored to come to America in 1907 by his older sister, who needed help running her busy herring stand on Hester Street. Russ opened his “appetizing” store on Orchard Street in 1914, before moving to the present location in 1923. An appetizing store is less strictly kosher than a deli; it sells a mix of dairy and meat and also nonkosher fish such as sturgeon. Federman gives fascinating details of early life among the squalid, teeming, narrow streets of the Lower East Side in the first decades of the century, chockablock with family-run shops and clogged with pushcarts. Russ did so well he was able to move his increasing family out to Brooklyn, until the Depression forced them back to the old neighborhood. Not exactly a feminist, Russ recognized that changing the name was a good marketing ploy, and his pretty, grown daughters, Hattie, Ida and Anne, had helped him grow his business and prosper. Including precious pictures and recipes, this work offers a savory wealth of social history.
A century of change on the Lower East Side as viewed from the neighborhood fishmonger, told humorously and endearingly.