The other day we stopped by the Corner Grocer at 140 Orchard Street to talk with owner/operators Pratik and Raj Shah, eight months after they opened for business on one of the neighborhood’s fastest changing blocks. As the old leather goods shops fade away between Rivington and Delancey streets, new businesses such as Melt Bakery and Mexican restaurant Mi Case es Su Casa are popping up on Orchard. The Corner Grocer — the fanciest bodega on the Lower East Side — is part of the new wave.
The Shah family, originally from Bombay, India, has been in New York for 25 years. They run a half dozen or so bodegas, including locations in the East Village, Brooklyn and Long Island. Pratik was 14 when he started working in the family’s first store, East Village Farm on 2nd Avenue near East 4th Street. These days, they try to open a new business every couple of years, focusing on neighborhoods with a lot of young people in search of fresh, organic food choices.
Pratik first spotted the Orchard Street location when he brought his wife to the Lower East Side on Valentine’s Day 2011. He actually tried to buy the building from the previous owner, an elderly woman who was frequently seen sitting outside 140 Orchard Street. The deal didn’t quite work out, but Pratik ended up leasing the conspicuous corner spot anyway, which had been vacant for 50 years. Having watched the LES (below East Houston Street) change over the years, the Shah family believes it’s a ideally suited for their business model. The menu features all the bodega classics but also a big selection of vegan sandwiches and burgers, as well as salads. They’re also adding to a pretty sizable selection of “craft beers.” At the same time, there’s still demand for specialty ethnic items; those products make up a sizable portion of the Orchard Street grovery’s sales.
What about the threat from chains such as Dunkin’ Donuts and 7-Eleven, which recently opened a short distance away on Delancey Street? Pratik says he’s not worried because the big corporate stores don’t “get” New York City. “We offer a little bit of everything. They’re very limited as far as what you can really buy there,” he explains. The Shah family is definitely thinking in terms of opening more businesses in the neighborhood. New groceries are a possibility. But right now, they’re looking for a space to launch a “wine and cheese concept.”
Ben Landy, a commercial real estate broker and lifelong LES resident, is helping Pratik and Rah locate the right storefront. Landy also happens to be a member of Community Board 3 and serves on the economic development committee, which has been searching for ways to diversify retail on the Lower East Side beyond nightlife establishments. “The store is 24 hours and makes the block safer,” Landy says, adding that it’s a big plus to have new small businesses in the neighborhood focused on hiring locally.
There haven’t been many complications in the first few months of operation, unless you count a bizarre incident a few weeks ago in which a car jumped the sidewalk and plowed into one of the bodega’s glass doors. Fortunately the damage was pretty minimal, and after more than two decades in business in New York City, not much phases the Shah family. “We’re just looking forward to growing with the neighborhood,” Pratik says.