Shopping with the Kids
December 10, 2013

“What were the lights made out of?” “What does this barrel hold?” “Are those pretzels real?”

Kids can be some of the most observant visitors we have at the Tenement Museum, and beginning this winter, they can now see the Museum from a whole new perspective.

The Museum serves over 40,000 kids a year with our education programs for schoolchildren at local public schools and special tours for English language learners.  We’re grateful to visitors and donors for helping us continue to tell stories of American immigration that mean so much to our city and our country. If you have enjoyed our educational programs or any other program at the Tenement Museum, please consider making a contribution to support the Museum’s work.  Click here to make a donation or here to become a Friend to Museum.

Students from Central Queens Academy stand outside our historic tenement at 97 Orchard Street.

Students are now experiencing our newest exhibit: Shop Life. The program debuted with a visit of sixty 5thGrade students from Central Queens Academy. They came to uncover the relationship between stores and immigrant community life. During their visit, they learned about Schneider’s 1870’s German saloon, the Lustgarten’s turn-of-the-century kosher butcher shop, and the 1970’s Sidney’s Undergarments, just three of the 30+ stores housed in 97 Orchard Street over last 150 years.

Raised hands means engaged students!

Students explored independently, collecting clues about the stores through our immersive space and Potion Design technology. Like historians, they investigated artifacts, photographs, drawings, and oral histories. They took notes, wrote about objects, and even took on the role of customers using role-play to help understand the perspectives of customers in the past.  They then shared with each other their findings and worked collaboratively to construct the stories of the businesses. The saloon, an ordinary 1860s establishment, became a community space where German kids might find someone to help them with their homework. The butcher shop came to light as a place where William Lustgarten, a kid nearly their age, helped his parents by making deliveries through the neighborhood. The underwear store (cue the flurry of giggles) became an oasis for Batya Helpern, the Meda’s teenage granddaughter, a place for her to get excited about her photography hobby.

Museum Educator Emily leads the kids of Central Queen Academy on a walking tour of the neighborhood.

By viewing these three stores through the eyes of the kids who worked and spent time there, students were able to connect the dots from the businesses at 97 Orchard Street to ones in their own neighborhoods. A student mentioned that her family used to travel from Queens to Staten Island to a particular restaurant to eat a meal from her mom’s country in Africa, just like German immigrants came to Schneider’s for a taste of home. The teacher shared that she goes to a certain Dominican bakery because of the cheap coffee and valuable comradery. Another student chimed in that his favorite restaurant, McDonald’s, seemed nothing like Schneider’s restaurant. Yet where did that Big Mac get its beginning in America? Right there on Caroline Schneider’s free lunch table. These connections and questions lead to more conversation and a deeper understanding of how stores have changed over time and have impacted their customers lives.

Emily uses an 1890's photograph to show students how department stores used to look over a century ago.

Exploring the historic stores featured in Shop Life helped students to understand the role of contemporary stores in their own neighborhoods.  Which is exactly where we hope they will continue their investigations. There, they can identify clues when they go for their next deli sandwich, find the history in their corner street vendor, and take an active role in their community shops.

– Posted by Miriam Bader, Kathryn Lloyd, and Lib Tietjen