The Lower East Side of New York
Jewish Life in America

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From The New-York Tribune, April 22, 1900.

Benjamin Reich, in the annual report of the University Settlement, which has just been published, tells about the candy store as a factor in East Side life, as follows:

To the boy home from work in the office or factory and to the schoolboy with nothing to do in the evening, the candy store serves as a clubhouse where he can meet old friends and make new ones, as well as a haven of refuge and a safe retreat from the persecution of the corner policeman. Here he finds what is lacking in his stuffy little home of two or three rooms - boys whose friendship he desires to cultivate because he sees in them traits which appear to him to be in keeping with his own notions of American ideas and ideals. Altogether, he finds in the candy store an agreeable change from his usual surroundings during the day. Not only are the candy stores used by individuals or groups but likewise, the members of some social or pleasure club meeting in a little room above a dance hall once a week, discuss or wrangle over club business, the remainder of the week, play cards in some favorite candy store nightly, smoke cigarettes, and manage to pass a pleasant evening.

The entire East Side is pretty well dotted with these stores. A careful census of the Tenth Ward alone, shows the existence of fully fifty of them, nearly all of which have more or less of a clientele of these youngsters. Quite a number of these stores - some, true enough, not literally candy stores (they may be cigar stores or small lunch rooms ) - are used as meeting places for clubs. It may be interesting to note by way of illustration that in one store alone - a cigar store - as many as eleven clubs have their meeting place. It is not at all unusual to see from twenty-five to fifty young men and boys loafing about this place in the evening.


The candy stores, however, are the true social centers. A counter along the length of the store decked with cheap candles and perhaps with cigars, some shelving behind filled with cigar and cigarette boxes, and invariably a soda water fountain make up the entire furniture of the store, if we except a few cigarette pictures on the wall. Usually the proprietor lives with his family in the rear of the store. Some stores, making a pretense to stylishness, have partitioned off a little room from the store to which they give the elegant name of "ice cream parlor," a sign over the door to that effect apprising you of its existence. One or two bare tables and a few chairs furnish the "ice cream parlor."

But this little room is very useful as a meeting place for a small club for boys or as a general lounging room. Occasionally a dozen or more youngsters are entertained here by a team of aspiring amateur comedians of the ages of sixteen or seventeen, whose sole ambition is to shine on the stage of some Bowery theater. The comedian or comedians will try their new "hits" on their critical audiences (and a more critical one cannot be found), dance, jig, and tell the jokes heard by them in the continuous performances at vaudeville theaters.

It must be borne in mind, however, that the privileges accorded the boys are not given out of the goodness of the proprietor's heart. He exacts a small sum for the use of his cards, and if they play for money (as they often do) he must come in for his share of the winnings; the boys must also liberally patronize his goods and stand all the curses and kicks he chooses to inflict upon them. He is practically the tyrant of the place, and woe betide the person who gains his displeasure. It is no more than fair to state, however, that many candy store proprietors do not seek the patronage of the class of boys here referred to, for they must be constantly on guard that no mischief is done.


From the above somewhat short and meager description the candy store may not appear to be an evil, but there is no question that it has in a large number of cases led to evil effects. The boys who congregate in these stores are of an age to be susceptible to either good or evil influences. They are under no restraining or uplifting influence whatever; as a matter of fact, the proprietors, in many instances, if not indifferent to what is going on in their presence, encourage extravagance and viciousness so long as it does not interfere with their trade and custom.

 Unless there are some outside factors at work to counteract the preponderating evil that the candy store exerts, the boy is bound to succumb to it. As he grows older and earns more money, the candy store ceases to fascinate him, it loses its attraction, and, to use his own words, he finds it "too slow." The invitation of the barker of the Bowery concert hall to "come right in, a free show's going on" meets with a ready response. He is enchanted with the cheerfulness and brightness about him, and with his friends he finds the show more pleasing over a glass of beer than was ever the amateur performance over a glass of soda. He commences to frequent poolrooms and other more or less questionable resorts, stays out all night, and in the end makes the beer saloon or the poolroom his nightly headquarters.

Of course, it would be hardly fair to say that the candy stores are entirely responsible for this condition; but there is no doubt in the writer's mind that if the boys were given better and healthier moral surroundings and better places to meet in than are afforded by the candy stores, much of the evil would disappear. It is a fact, to the writer's own knowledge, that the work of the Settlement and kindred institutions in this direction, and the extension of the evening school and lecture system by the Board of Education, have perceptibly diminished the use of the candy stores for the purposes mentioned in this paper.







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