My immigrant great grandparents ran a small grocery on the Lower East Side. It was essential that my Grandma Mary drop out of school at age sixteen to help in the store so the family could save money on staff. Her educational sacrifice paid off in helping “the boys,” her brothers, go on to college.
Since then, all of the siblings’ future generations, male and female, have graduated from fine colleges and universities. And the Lower East Side has morphed into a chic destination that contains expensive condos, craft cocktail bars and artisanal ice cream shops. The pushcart past has pretty much disappeared but can be glimpsed in a visit to The Tenement Museum on Orchard Street or during a historic walking tour of the old neighborhood.
My brilliant grandmother went on to educate herself through wide reading and concert-going. She was highly self-disciplined and aspirational and always rued her lack of higher education. One of the many things she did out of pride was train herself to pronounce “th” and “r” properly. Others might say “toity-toid” (Thirty-third) Street, but not her.
I can only imagine how she might have loved this trendy CornerGrocers at Delancey and Rivington that looks like a home refrigerator on the lam. Whoever stocks it has a keen eye for display—it’s organic street art. And best of all, perhaps the convenience of the self-service aspect (though you have to pay inside), has allowed future Marys to stay in school.