Revisiting 10 shops from 1979 Greenwich Village

Last month, Ephemeral New York ran a post featuring some never-before-seen downtown street photos taken in the summer of 1979.

They were taken by a Dutch sailor whose ship was docked in New York Bay.

Whenever he could take a day off and visit Manhattan, he brought along his camera, capturing the energy and excitement of a city he had no idea was at its supposed nadir, facing bankruptcy and with residents fleeing fast.

These photos are from the same collection. Rather than random street shots revealing glimpses of the magic and beauty of day-to-day life downtown, they focus on stores—the kind of small, local businesses that are becoming an endangered species in today’s Manhattan.

Some of these businesses still exist, like Rocco’s, still the best pastry shop on Bleecker Street.

Ottomanelli’s meat market also remains on Bleecker; you can see part of the old-school sign in the photo below (though unfortunately the antique store and children’s store next door are both kaput).

The other shops have vanished. Something Special Cakes and Pies? What looks like a charming bakery seems to have disappeared without a trace. Can anyone identify the block the little shop is on?

Joe’s Dairy, the wonderful Italian cheese store on Houston and Sullivan Streets, hung on until 2013. The workers behind this tiny store made the most heavenly balls of mozzarella. See the cheese hanging in the windows.

Greenwich Village still has plenty of antique stores, but not quite as homey as the Village Oaksmith.

Where was this antiques store? And for that matter, does anyone recognize this colorfully painted tenement with the former Bazaar shop on the ground floor?

According to the sign in the window, it had already gone out of business. I wish I knew what the landlord was asking in rent.

[All photos: copyright Peter van Wijk]

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49 Responses to “Revisiting 10 shops from 1979 Greenwich Village”

  1. ksbeth Says:

    how wonderful and full of life these are )

  2. Bobby Costa Says:

    Sorry……Great photo’s of a simpler time long gone. BUT………….As a New York Italian, those heavenly balls you say hanging in the window of “Joes” are not Mozzarella Balls. Never would be. But that’s OK, only a Italian would know that.

    • Zoe Says:

      Bob — please don’t leave us hanging w/ the cheese! (Pun intended).

      Mozzarella is a fresh cheese (Please remember to change the water every day Food Lovers) so wouldn’t hang in a window like this. But what is this one? If it is fake food window dressing we are off the hook. (Pun intended).

      Lastly: Italians are not the only ones that have this cheese (mozzarella). Armenians & we Lebanese (Syrians) have it also (the drier chewier wrapped kind) — by different names. (Romans in the Near East & North Africa… Phoenicians & Arabs & North Africans in Sicilia & Southern Italy etc…). I think there may be an Ethiopian one as well but laced w/ hot pepper. (Also the drier kind — sold wrapped vs. in water).

      Now you have made me hungry! Thankfully I have some fresh mozzarella in the fridge. (As you stated: Italian kind from ‘Antonio Mozzarella Factory’ in Jersey).

      • Mark L. Says:

        Zoe, Hanging is Joe’s was auricchio aged provolone. HTH

      • Zoe Says:

        Thanks Mark! I should have guessed that because of the round shape & it looks like smoked mozzarella I have had. The one in my fridge now tastes like water (from supermarket… not to viciously malign water…). I am going to go buy a proper version at the Italian place a few blocks from here… after reading this xxx

  3. chris wild Says:

    I love reading your articles each week , excellent stuff.
    Chris wild England.

  4. leonardfinger Says:

    The Village Oaksmith was on Hudson St. near W. 10. The owner developed a mysterious illness , closed the shop and returned to where he was born in California. And so began the AIDS epidemic in Greenwich Village…

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      That’s terrible, so tragic. Thank you for posting this. In 1979, no one in the Village knew what was about to hit them.

    • Rob C Says:

      Not sure if they/he had more than one location, but the picture showed looks like it’s 190 Bleecker street for the Village Oaksmith.

    • Zoe Says:

      That is so very sad Leonard. I lost two NYC friends to that horror. Still see them as young & beautiful in my mind. One was in the Gay Men’s Chorus. (That was the name no? For the one in the Village in the 80s). One was a downtown LES R&R singer & guitarist w/ computer graphics day job who later won a Golden Globe for best film title. (Knew him from when he was 14/15 & me 17). Memory eternal xxx

      • Zoe Says:

        *Sorry… & also my childhood friend’s brother & his wife passed on from this (after we lost contact years before).

  5. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Ah, thanks for the clarification, Bobby!

  6. Dymoon Says:

    wonderful… a trip down memory lane

  7. Greg Says:

    Ottomanelli’s must have moved, they aren’t on a corner now.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      I think Ottomanelli’s moved next door, where the antiques shop and children’s store are now.

  8. Timothy Grier Says:

    I grew up in the Lower East Side of Manhattan and 1979 was my last full year in the City. The second photo has one of those funky delivery bicycles (tricycles?) with one wheel in back and two in front with a cargo area between the front wheels. I used to see them every where in my youth. I’ve never seen them anywhere but NYC. Are they still in use today?

  9. Rob C Says:

    Something Special was on corner of MacDougal and Houston.

  10. Beth G Says:

    I worked at a record store DiscOrama that next door Rocco’s. Are there anymore photos of that street perhaps with the store in it? It was sold in ’79 or ’80 (there was a location on Union Sq East and later on w 4thst) and the name was changed but I don’t remember to what.

    • Zoe Says:

      Beth — I thought DiscOrama was on 8th Street (c.1980/81). Sort of midway near Macdougal (?) on north side of the street.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      I’ll check, but I don’t think so unfortunately.

    • Franco Says:

      You probably recommended and sold me lots of records back then! So many great record shops in those days – DiscOrama, Golden Disc, Subterranean on Cornelia, Venus Records on West 8th, Bleecker Bobs, even Crazy Eddie for my commercial music needs.

  11. Zoe Says:

    I love the name of this antique shop / furniture restorer & that he’s out on the street. I can smell the sawdust & turpentine. (My brother does this now upstate near Woodstock. Name of co. ‘Old Rocker’… because bass player for years in NYC in former life… Get it?).

    The other thing I love is the gent in the dark indigo Levis w/ the white skinny T-shirt & the Adidas Gazelles. (Or though not in this photo the other option for this NYC area uniform was Pumas). This was a thing then for my very early Gen X generation. I can even guess what music he was listening to in 79: Television / The Voidoids / Bowie / Eno / Lou Reed / Joy Division etc. All that’s missing are the mirrored aviators. (Which would have been difficult for this guy to wear over his glasses). If my brother’s jeans faded I think they went in the pile for working on his car… at which time they got holes in them again from the battery acid & then were alright to wear everywhere again… onstage etc. Also required was a very thin wheeled ten speed racing bike…

    I was 18 that year. We would have preferred imprisonment in our bedrooms & apartments rather than wearing faded jeans or flares (from 1974 onward).

  12. trilby1895 Says:

    I am still mourning the closing of my favorite Zito’s Bakery, also on Bleecker St. Many is the Friday I’d walk over on my lunch hour to treat myself to a loaf of their incomparable Italian bread still warm and fragrant from the old oven. Later, at home, I would enjoy slice after slice slathered with sweet butter as my day’s supper. That bread and butter was all I wanted to celebrate the end of the work week, beginning of the weekend. Every one of these wonderfully iconic Village shops breaks my heart a little more.

    • Zoe Says:

      Trilby

      Downtown Italian bakery real semolina bread was/is the BEST. It should have a very slight yellow hue from retaining the wheat germ vs. snow white (when made from not real semolina). I used to get the round loafs at that cheese shop on E.9th. (Not sure if it’s still there). The only thing equal to it I’ve ever had was in Palermo Sicily. (I foresee this may turn into a food thread).

      A lot of Little Italy family owned places moved to Jersey & are still in operation & sell to shops throughout the tri-state area… so all is not totally lost… aside from the neighbourhood spirit & scents & streetscape etc.

      A little family owned Italian deli blocks away from me here in CT carries a lot of these locally produced foods… along w/ of course foods from old Italian family establishments from New Haven & Bridgeport etc.

  13. Gem Says:

    Something special was on Sullivan street and just closed a year or two ago. They rented mailboxes and sold knick knacks. Very cool old shop from another time

  14. Suzanne Jenkins Says:

    Reblogged this on 2sheepinthecity's Blog.

  15. Jeff Conan Vargon Says:

    Sweet photos!

  16. Lee Bona Says:

    Your picture of the Village Oaksmith made me smile. They were still at 190 Bleecker St in 1982 when I bought some beautiful furniture pieces from them. I still have the furniture and the purchase receipts!

  17. Edward Says:

    Notice the complete lack of irony, and people are actually communicating with one another and not staring at some damn iPhone. Man, I miss NYC when it was real.

    • Zoe Says:

      Brilliant about the iPhones Edward! It’s sad that so many people don’t want to drink in the City & its people. (Unlike the man who took these photos in 79). What’s left of it re. your “irony” comment. (I try to leave my phone at home & always have it turned off & buried in my bag when it’s w/ me).

      The self-consciousness (the opposite of “real” you referred to) is happening everywhere. The CT Shore an hour from Manhattan is becoming a pretentiously realised concept of ‘New England’: fake Victorian style street lamps (there were no street lamps here then in small towns & villages!) & supposed ‘New England picket fences’ etc. Someone suggested a ‘New England picket fence’ be put around a 9/11 memorial on the beach here. Because some people — not locals — were freaked out by the “geese poop”. She was not a local either. I pointed out that the fences we are known for are fieldstone (piled stones) & picket fences are rare & that the traditional fences around memorials are iron & that those are not normally found on beaches & that the Hollywood concept of New England people have been recreating here lately is not accurate.

      Beautiful mid-20th c. modernist houses by well known architects are torn down along w/ 17th & 18th century antiques to be replaced by film set looking ‘New England character’ McMansions. An *actual* 18th c. house is not ‘New England’ enough.

    • trilby1895 Says:

      I guess I must be a throwback since I do not own an “IPhone” nor do I intend to. My little old plain clam shell “cell phone” is used only when I travel a long distance otherwise my land-line at home is all I need, all I want. I do not want to be at the beck-and-call of everyone all the time. If I’m not home, callers can leave a message which I will retrieve and to which I will respond, if I want to. Laptop remains home since any and all e-mails can wait until which time I’m home to read/respond, if I want to. Gadgets do not control me or my time. I control them to my own liking. There’s too much of interest here in New York to occupy my time and attention

  18. Rob C Says:

    Not sure any of the other readers care so much, but the longer I look at the Bazaar photo the more I think it has to be located in what is now Soho. There doesn’t appear to be any trees on the block, the narrow fire escape matches one on Mercer street (#29, but not #46 like the shop sign says), the slightly arched window design matches that of 29 Mercer, the fire escape is white like a lot of other soho escapes, and the pavement appears to be very narrow. Anyone got a lead on it?

  19. Ted Poppe Jr Says:

    Something Special Bakery…where was that? Looks like the corner of McDougal and Houston where Arturo’s was originally from St Anthony’s School.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Arturo’s location now on the north side of Houston is not its original spot? When did they move?

      • Rob C Says:

        I had no idea about this either, but checking ACRIS shows that La Casa Di Arturo’s Inc held their principle place of business at 51 Macdougal: https://a836-acris.nyc.gov/DS/DocumentSearch/DocumentImageView?doc_id=FT_1810005656781 Looks like they opened there in 1957 before moving to the corner of Thompson and W. Houston in 1970. That is fascinating.

      • ephemeralnewyork Says:

        That is fascinating. My mother was a waitress there for a brief time around 1968, and she never mentioned that the current Arturo’s wasn’t the one she worked in!

      • Zoe Says:

        That’s so funny Ephemeral. Maybe she forgot! And I love that your mom was a waitress there in 68. Some 1968 GV stories from your mom please…

      • ephemeralnewyork Says:

        She has told her story of being an early settler in Soho on ENY, but she didn’t want to be identified. Old-school New Yorkers prize their privacy….

  20. MCJ Says:

    Amazing colors and themes!

  21. RM Says:

    I ate at Rocco’s nearly every day as a kid. Yes, I was fat. But it was sooooo frickin good.

    I miss that little vegetable store too, they sold Portuguese bread too. One thing that stands out is how alive the neighborhood was. There were kids running around, good inexpensive food – families. Now it’s a soulless wasteland of closed storefronts and rich snobs.

  22. David Lippman Says:

    I grew up in the Village at the time, so I remember that scenery.

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