Tracing the Lower East Side Roots of Beckenstein’s [HISTORY]

Posted on: May 27th, 2015 at 9:10 am by
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[Photo: Picsamerica]Manhattan’s Lower East Side has been called many things, but never a fashion center. Yet it is fashion in the form of inexpensive fabrics that lures shoppers to this neighborhood better known for blintzes than ball gowns. -New York Times; June 5, 1961.

Between the ghost advertising and left-for-dead store signage, its remnants continue to define the charming tone of the block. Even though Beckenstein’s is long gone, its presence is still felt, likely contributing to soaring real estate prices on the block.

Twelve years. It’s been twelve years since the legendary S. Beckenstein fabric company relocated from Orchard Street to the garment district on 39th Street. Leather and hat vendors then took up residence beneath the awesome brick advertisement that pretty much defines the old-world nature of the block.

Like so many other Lower East Side success stories, this company was one born of immigrant toil. Polish patriarch Samuel Beckenstein started the business in 1919 with naught but a pushcart and eventually jumped into a retail store. Business flourished during the Depression years when the company provided custom trousers when they became too threadbare to wear. According to the official website, this service ultimately became the inspiration behind the 1932 song “Sam, You Made the Pants Too Long,” later popularized by Barbra Streisand. The store would later occupy two addresses on Orchard, one for menswear yardage, the other for remnants.

These days, Beckenstein operates under a slightly modified namesake that includes “Fabric Czar.” However, the business remains a family endeavor, currently under the auspices of fourth generation ownership – grandsons Neal Boyarsky, President and CEO of the firm, and his son Jonathan.

Running a recent errand for shmata found us inside the midtown digs. The space is well broken-in, featuring plenty of random old-world ephemera, including newspaper clippings, old-school cash register, boxing gloves, and vintage NBA jerseys. It’s worth heading up there for a look…

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