Russ and Daughters Press

Travel + Leisure

October 1, 2009


"New York City's New Downtown"

By Peter Jon Lindberg

Photographed by Andrea Fazzari

 

 

... If novelty is one of the only constants in New York, there are also places whose constancy is the novelty. Places that have held on so long they might as well be preserved in vinegar. Places like Russ & Daughters, the Jewish “appetizing” shop that’s occupied the same Houston Street storefront since 1920. It’s the sort of spot where you might join a nonagenarian widow, a tattooed drummer, and Harvey Keitel in line for bagels and whitefish.

 

“All these hipsters who’ve settled in the neighborhood are now discovering us,” says Niki Russ Federman, the 31-year-old great-granddaughter of founder Joel Russ. “You’ll see them chatting with the grandmothers, sharing tips—‘Oh, you have to try the wasabi-roe and cream-cheese sandwich!’ ”

 

Federman remembers a wholly different neighborhood from her youth, when the Lower East Side was still dominated by working-class families. Its transformation into a trendsetters’ bastion is now complete, though traces of the Old World remain: in the cacophonous weekend marketplace on Orchard Street; in the discount underwear shops run by Orthodox Jews; in the brilliantly conceived Lower East Side Tenement Museum, which documents the era when this immigrants’ ghetto was the densest conurbation on earth.

 

Federman studied for an MBA at Yale and worked in international development and health care and as a yoga teacher until a few years ago, when she began to consider joining the family business. She got an unexpected boost from a Downtown icon. “I was at a friend’s party, and Lou Reed happened to be there,” she recalls. “I’d brought some hors d’oeuvres from Russ & Daughters, and Lou was hovering around the table, devouring the smoked salmon. Someone finally told him who I was. He marched right over and shook my hand and said ‘Niki, I just wanted to say—you’re New York royalty.’ Lou Reed! I almost dropped on the floor.”

 

And when Lou Reed speaks, Downtowners listen. Not long afterward she started work at the shop.

 

(Read the complete article here.)


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