Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The 200-Year Old Grocery Store at No. 329 Bleecker Street

Thirty years after the Revolutionary War the tiny village of Greenwich was sparsely populated.  It would be two decades before the outbreaks of cholera and yellow fever in the crowded city to the south forced New Yorkers to seek refuge here.  An old road, renamed Christopher Street in 1799, ran along the southern boundary of Vice Admiral Sir Peter Warren’s country estate and here, around 1802, a two-and-a-half story wood fronted building was erected. 

A similar house sat next door at the corner of Herring Road.  In March 1807 a three-member commission composed of Gouveneur Morris, surveyor Simeon De Sitt and attorney John Rutherfurd, was appointed to plot a comprehensive street plan for Manhattan–decades before most citizens could imagine the city engulfing the island.  The three men met in the tiny corner structure.

Civil engineer John Randel, Jr., advised the commission and years later he reminisced about the village at that time.  “In going from the city to our office in 1808 and 1809, I generally crossed a ditch cut through Lispenard’s salt meadow, now a culvert under Canal Street, on a plank laid across it.  From this place I followed a well beaten path leading to the then village of Greenwich, passing over open and partly fenced lots and fields, not at that time under cultivation, and remote from any dwelling house, now remembered by me, except Col. Aaron Burr’s former country seat on elevated ground called Richmond Hill and was then occupied as a place of refreshment for gentlemen taking a drive from the city.”

Randel mentioned another country estate.  “I continued along this path to a branch diverging from it to the east south of Manetta water, now Minetta Street, which path I followed to Herring Street passing on my way there, from about two hundred to two hundred and fifth yards west, the country residence of Col. Richard Varick, called Tusculum, the site of which is now Varick Place on Sullivan Street between Bleecker and Houston Street.”

At the time there were only about three other homes along Herring Street–later renamed Bleecker Street–in one of which Thomas Paine boarded.

The glint of historical importance for the little corner building was over in 1809 when the commissioners finalized their visionary street plan which would be published two years later.  Things returned to normal on the corner of Christopher and Herring Streets.

Until 1828.

By now Greenwich Village was experiencing a building boom as Federal-style brick homes and businesses filled the streets.  Herring Street was widened that year, taking away the corner building and the wall that had separated it from its neighbor at 93 Christopher Street.

No. 93 got a new brick exterior side wall.  Flanking the central, arched window below the cornice were two quarter-round windows, mimicking those that would be found below a traditional Federal-style pitched roof fashionable at the time.  When Herring Street was renamed the following year, the corner property got a new address as well:  329 Bleecker Street.
Behind No. 329 in 1925 a row of buildings constructed after the 1828 widening of Bleecker Street remain.  Trolley tracks run down the middle of Christopher Street and awnings protect produce from the summer sun.  -- photo New York Public Library Collection

David McAllister and John N. Moore ran their small dry goods store, McAllister & Moore, until the partnership encountered problems.  On February 1, 1843 the New York Daily Tribune announced that the business was “dissolved by mutual consent.”

Richard Barrick lived here in 1871, and most likely ran his business here.  The man had a bad day on October 6 when he got into what The New York Times called “an affray” with John Cunningham on West 10th Street near Bleecker.   The newspaper reported that Cunningham “thrust the end of a rake-handle into the eye of Richard Barrick…and destroyed it.”
The little store continues business as a turn-of-the-century apartment building has risen next door and, across Bleecker, a 1930s behemoth replaced earlier structures. -- photo New York Public Library Collection

At the turn of the century Nicola M. La Rocca ran his fruit stand from here and for nearly a century the corner store would continue as a grocery.

In 1922 Sam Ribyat, president of Ribyat Brothers, owned the store.  He commissioned architect Thomas Williams to do renovations.  Subsequent photographs show no cosmetic improvements of the Christopher Street façade; so it was probably at this time that the supporting tie rods on the Bleecker Street elevation, with their decorative iron star-shaped masonry supports, were installed.
On June 18, 1936 famed photographer Berenice Abbott captured the corner store.  A boy, dressed with a tie for school, sits on the cut-stone curb while a woman stretches to drop a letter in the mailbox.  Christopher Street is a one-way street -- going the opposite direction it does today -- photo New York Public Library Collection

At some point the Christopher Street front was raised to a full three stories and the decrepit clapboards were stuccoed over.  For decades the Bleecker Street Grocery's metal sign “FANCY FRUITS DAIRY” was a familiar landmark for Villagers.

But as trendy shops and restaurants invaded the quiet, twisting streets of Greenwich Village so did high rents.  The corner grocery was replaced by a rapid-fire succession of business—among them Bronca Pizza, Goodfellas Kitchen and Bleecker’s Corner, a fast-food deli.
After decades in the same spot, the Bleecker St. Grocery was no more in 1997.  The sign in the window portends the coming pizza parlor. 

Today the 200-year old store is sand-blasted and manicured; home to the UK-based chain store, Accessorize that sells glittery jewelry, belts, hair pieces, bags and cosmetics—far removed from the humble structure that sat on a dirt road in the first decade of the 1800s. 

non-credited photograph taken by the author


  1. For a good while, this was also the location of Hercule's Fine Groceries, the fine beer emporium just recently lost from Bedford and Seventh.

    Mmmmmm...Young's Oatmeal Stout...

  2. My 5x great-grandfather Robert W Glassford ran a fancy goods store here (329 Bleeker) in the late 1840s and lived nearby at 339 Bleeker. He died during the Cholera outbreak in 1849 and his wife Frances took over running the store until at least 1852. I did not know the history of the building until finding your story. Wonder if he took over the store from McAllister & Moore.

  3. My grandfather, Constantino Graziano, operated a fruit store at 331 Bleecker Street in 1918. Would that have been adjacent? There doesn't appear to be a 331 Bleecker today.

    1. The entire Bleecker Street blockfront opposite this building was demolished for the widening of Bleecker Street around 1930

  4. Hi Tom, all of the odd numbers of buildings are on the east side of bleecker though... this one at 329, then the next building beside it is 331, then 333, etc. Is it possible that 329-331 was the same building? Seems that was more common then. He owned his store at 331 Bleecker Street.

    1. You're absolutely right. The Dept of Bldgs shows that this building has three addresses--329-331 Bleecker and 93 Christopher. Sorry about my first response, I was focused on the widening of Bleecker.

  5. Thanks so much, Tom! That is so helpful. Is there any place to see who owned the building in 1918?

  6. John Randel Jr is the 4th great grandfather of my children. I am trying to find out where you got the information on him so I can read your sources. Thank you

    1. Much of the Randel information came from Sam Roberts's article in The New York Times on March 20, 2011.

  7. Hi. My grandfather lived in NY in 20s and 30s, and come back to spain where he died early. It seems that opposite to Monarch Theater, under Johnson's Drug Store had a shoe you have some information about this? The name of my grandfather was Salvador and changed to Sam in NY. Sam Matas. Very thanks