For our regular feature spotlighting the people who live and work on the Lower East Side, we talked with longtime local resident and merchant Frank Arroyo of Frank’s Bike Shop on Grand Street. (This story was first published in the May 2013 edition of The Lo-Down’s print magazine.)
How long have you lived on the Lower East Side?
Why did you move here, or if you were born here, why did you stay?
I was born in upper Manhattan. My family moved to 120 Columbia St. when I was 9 years old and then we moved into the East River co-ops about twenty years after that. I like it here, it’s convenient. My friends and family are all here. One of my sons lives here in the co-ops, too.
What do you do?
I own and manage Frank’s Bike Shop at 553 Grand St. We opened on May 18, 1976.
Tell us about your apartment: the good, the bad and the ugly.
I love it. I have a nice view looking at the [Williamsburg] bridge and the river. It’s something to look at. You can hear the trains but I don’t mind. I have nice neighbors. They’ve all been here a long time. During the blackout and the storms, everyone looked out for each other. It’s one of the best deals around. People don’t realize how good they have it here.
What’s your favorite spot on the LES and why?
I love to go for a ride along the East River path. I like to sit and look out at the water. Riding down to Battery Park City on a hot summer night and sitting by the water makes me feel like I’m not even in the city.
Favorite cheap eats?
I like El Castillo on Grand Street. I like their shrimp with rice. I used to go see Miguel [the owner] on Rivington Street all the time, but now that he opened here, why go all the way over there?
How have you seen the neighborhood change?
Everything is cleaner and there are fewer of the problem people around. It seems to be getting friendlier. People seem to relate better to each other now. The park is more desirable. Some of the younger people moving in seem to be able to afford [the co-ops and the area] easier than the people on fixed incomes.
What do you miss from the old LES?
I miss my view of the old World Trade Center. I watched it being built. Going back, though, I miss the old Garden Cafeteria, Ratner’s, the Delancey Lowe’s movie theater. The Apollo Theater on Clinton Street, south of Delancey, by the old Seventh Precinct (where the SPURA parking lot is now). The old precinct building looked like a stone castle. I remember running upstairs to the Police Athletic League after school and getting a pass to go to the movies. We’d go watch Abbott and Costello on Saturday morning. We had a lot of of theaters here in the ’50s. There was the Windsor on Avenue B, the Essex theater on Essex Street…
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen on the LES?
There was a ship that blew up under the Williamsburg Bridge. They were doing construction on the bridge and the guys were cutting off rivets, and one of them fell into the tanker’s steam pipe and it exploded. The fire department got it to the Brooklyn side and hosed it down. Luckily no one was hurt (at least I don’t think anyone was). More recently, seeing the river come up over the streets during Sandy was really strange.
Who’s the best neighborhood character you’ve met and why?
We’ve got a million characters around here. That’s what keeps it interesting.
Tell us your best LES memory.
Fixing up the windows for Christmas and watching the kids come by and smile. [He installs an elaborate toy town with a full train track in his storefront windows every year]. If you can bring a little joy to those kids at that time of year, it’s really special.