Orchard Street: How the Other Half Lives

Once the heart of tenement New York, it's now home to million-dollar condos for a very different kind of settler.

So I go outside and stroll south on Orchard, half-heartedly gazing in the windows of Majestic Lingerie, in business since 1945, and A.W. Kaufman, hanging on since 1924 (they have Wolford!), and realize this street must once have been an underwear district. I pass the ghost of the circa-1870 E.S. Ridley department store, now broken into two buildings and barely recognizable. (How do I know this? Because when I walk around the city maligning all the hideous changes, I am armed with a printout from NYSonglines.com, whose prodigious research into the shifting landscape of Manhattan is indispensable.)

And then suddenly I find myself outside the stunningly undistinguished exterior of 50 Orchard, which the real-estate company Prudential Douglas Elliman describes thusly: "50 Orchard Street is a new, two-phase condominium, bringing a high level of sophistication to one of New York's most historic neighborhoods." Though it's next to a boutique whose services are described succinctly as "Nails" and "Wax" and directly across from a pair of restaurant-supply depots, the apartments at 50 Orchard, two-bedrooms all, begin at well over a million dollars.

Suddenly, I'm dying to see one. I ask a guy outside the building if there's a model apartment, and of course there is. He calls out to a woman a few feet away who is chatting with a guy who has a pit bull on a leash, and asks her if she can show me the model. She moseys over and shakes her head: No, I have to make an appointment. Oh well, I shrug, two bedrooms is too big for me anyway.

A denim sweatshop? Nope, it's Earnest Sewn!
Josh Farley

A denim sweatshop? Nope, it's Earnest Sewn!

What I don't say is: Are you nuts? If I had more than a million bucks to spend, I wouldn't want pit bulls! I'd want a huge veranda with twinkly lights and an Art Deco lobby out of a Fred Astaire movie! I'd want brass and marble and white gloves—not nail salons and pots and pans.

Oh, well. At least the bathroom isn't down the hall.

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