Daily Archives: November 21, 2013

The Lower East Side Tenement Museum: “Shop Life” Tour

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When my friend Ham’s told me about checking out The Lower East Side Tenement Museum, whilst in NYC; I wasn’t sure what I was going to walk into.  I left checking out The Lower East Side Tenement Museum,  until the end of my trip so I could square away as much as the ‘must sees’ as possible. I should have known better.

I trekked out to the Lower East Side one afternoon after visiting the World Trade Centre.  At first, not easy to find – I asked a local and he pointed me in the right direction.  I walked past bustling Chinatown shops and made a quick left on a side street taking me up to Orchard Street.

I was greeted by a welcoming glass entrance to the The Lower East Side Tenement Museum.  Initially I was going to check out the “Hard Times” tour but then made a quick edit to the “Shop Life” Tour.  I’m glad I did.

The Lower East Side Tenement Museum, founded in 1988, preserves and interprets the history of immigration through the personal experiences of the generations of newcomers who settled in and built lives on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, America’s iconic immigrant neighborhood; forges emotional connections between visitors and immigrants past and present; and enhances appreciation for the profound role immigration has played and continues to play in shaping America’s evolving national identity.

Since you and I can not merely walk into the spaces, The Lower East Side Tenement Museum offers 4 amazing ways you can check out 97 Orchard Street.

Tenement Tours

Inside 97 Orchard, visitors take guided tours of apartments that recreate immigrant life in the 19th and 20th centuries. Along with a glimpse of the past, tours offer insights into current debates about immigration and public health.


Visitors go beyond the walls of 97 Orchard Street to explore the neighborhood and continue the immigrant story. In combination with tenement tours, walking tours explore how life was for immigrants on the Lower East Side and how the neighborhood changed.

Teaching Immigrant Experiences

Each year, 44,000 students visit the Museum to learn about immigration and New York City. We also run ESOL workshops that use tenement history to teach English to today’s immigrants.

Tenement Talks

Tenement Talks has free readings, discussions, performances and screenings about New York’s history, people and culture. Tenement Talks are hosted at the Museum Shop (103 Orchard).

On the “Shop Life “tour, visitors will discover surprising chapters of the City’s history and the stories of businesses housed in the Museum’s historic Tenement for more than a century. Upon arriving, visitors are immersed in a lamp-lit recreation of a 19th century beer saloon, once run by German immigrants John and Caroline Schneider.  The stories of other businesses once located in the building—including a kosher butcher, a depression-era auction house, and a discount undergarment store—come to life through an interactive touch-screen “sales counter”, where each visitor creates a self-guided experience, exploring history through images, audio and video clips.

The facilitator of the tour was friendly and fielded a lot of curious questions from the participants in our tour group with ease.  I enjoyed that we were able to sit and take in a space where America’s first immigrants, worked, played and adjusted to their life in a new country.   The Lower East Side Tenement Museum has done a wonderful job by using period photo’s and historical artifacts to re-create such an authentic space.  I was swooning.

I immediately felt in my belly that there were so many similarities in the stories being told to that of Canada’s new immigrants and how their struggle even in modern day to assimilate to Canadian customs and lifestyle while also still trying to maintain familial traditions for themselves and their children.  It was a powerful moment.

I’d love to see The Lower East Side Tenement Museum idea in Toronto one day.  I know we have a Pioneer Village but who goes up there anymore?  A Toronto city space dedicated to a similar idea would provide an amazing educational tool for adults and our next generations.

The “Shop Life” tour had a fantastic interactive media element which was unexpected.  We were allowed to play around with different groups of people we were introduced to during the tour and examine further their role in The Lower East Side culturally and financially in history.  It was a great way to keep the tour participants engaged after a 90 minute tour.  And you thought working with kids was tough!  You really do get your monies worth and more.

Leave a lot of time for The Lower East Side Tenement Museum on your NYC trip and book your tickets in advance.  They tend to sell out quite quickly.