When Schapiro’s Wine Company Ruled Rivington Street [PHOTOS]

Posted on: March 22nd, 2013 at 11:39 am by
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These days, Sugar Sweet Sunshine occupies the ground level of 126 Rivington Street, and is arguably one of the city’s best bake shops. Even Johnny Utah Keanu Reeves munches their cupcakes. But in the twentieth century the store offered a more intoxicating type of sweetness. Indeed, Schapiro Wine Company owned and occupied this building, calling it headquarters for nearly a century. Photos from their heyday on the Lower East Side are seemingly difficult to find. So we were totally stoked to connect with the founder’s great-grandson, Daniel Schapiro, who sent along these awesome archival black-and-whites (dated early 1950s-1960s).

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[Photo: Daniel Schapiro]Schapiro Wine Company was founded in 1899 by family patriarch Sam Schapiro, but under the unlikely namesake of California Valley Wine Company. Yet, wine was initially just a side business for a family restaurant on nearby Attorney Street. After a few years, however, Schapiro decided to focus on grapes full time, and relocated to 126 Rivington.

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[Photo: Daniel Schapiro]Grapes were pressed on-location in the block-long network of cellars below the street, and wine sold in the store upstairs. Their overly-sweet Concord Grape became a hit among the immigrant Jewish population in the neighborhood, and eventually the kosher winery transformed into one of the preeminent brands in the game (alongside Manaschewitz). Not even Prohibition affected them, as the city granted an exemption to sell “sacramental wines.” Onsite production ceased in 1967, and was exported to Monticello.

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[Photo: Daniel Schapiro]Schapiro’s Wine remained at 126 Rivington until 2000, when the family sold the property and relocated to Monticello. Norman ran the business during these twilight years until his death in 2007. The company shuttered shortly thereafter.

Great grandson Daniel Schapiro explained the pedigree as follows:

Norman ran the company until he passed away in 2007.  My great grandfather Sam Schapiro started the winery in 1899. His two sons, my grandfather Irving (Sonny) and his older brother Jack took over.  Jack passed away and then my grandfather and Norman (Jack’s son) ran the winery until my grandfather retired to Florida in the 70s.  The picture outside the winery of the four men is my grandfather (Irving), father (Edward) and two uncles (Sam, Michael) who grew up working in the winery (picture loading boxes is my grandfather, uncle and father).

What remains today of Schapiro’s is the badass ad mural that street artist Chico painted on the western exposure of 126 Rivington back in 1997. It’s one of the rare instances of neighborhood artwork surviving for such a long period of time. In recent years, however, a combination of weathering and a handful of extraneous tags have taken a toll.

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[Photo: Daniel Schapiro]And in an ironic twist of history, a new restaurant called Schapiro’s is opening right next door to the old winery at 122 Rivington.

And Ted Barron sends along this classic, shot in 1987:

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[Photo: Ted Barron]

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