For our regular feature spotlighting the people who live and work on the Lower East Side, we talked with lifelong Lower East Side resident Nancy Ortiz.
How long have you lived on the Lower East Side?
My entire life. My grandparents came over from Puerto Rico, so I’m a third-generation Lower East Sider.
Why did you move here, or (if you were born here) why did you stay?
The LES has always been a unique and diversified place to live.
What do you do?
I am retired. I’ve been the tenant (resident) association president at Vladeck Houses for 12 years. I was also involved in the P.S. 137 PTA, as a community school board member until it was disbanded in 2004. And I was just appointed to Community Board 3.
Tell us about your apartment—the good, the bad and the ugly.
I love my apartment. It has so many memories good and sad. My apartment is great. (I have never really had any major issues other than the basic maintenance.)
What’s your favorite spot on the LES and why?
I love to get egg creams and Belgian fries from Ray’s place [Ray’s Candy Store] on Ave. A, between 7th and 8th Street.
Favorite cheap eats?
Leshkos’ (which is closed now) and Odessa’s perogies.
Favorite place for a special night?
I go to many different places, but I like Spain Restaurant on 13th St. for authentic Spaniard food and the Knickerbocker Steak House, a classic!
How have you seen the neighborhood change?
Sadly, a lot of the mom-and-pop places are gone; the butcher who knew your name and how you liked your cuts is gone, the record shop where everyone knew each other and talked music is gone. The personal, family business flavor is gone.
What do you miss from the old LES?
I miss the community feeling like a family, how everyone knew each other. There was the smell of King Pine cleaner throughout the hallways every Saturday when I was growing up (Saturday was cleaning day and we got up early to finish our chores so we could go outside and play), all the kids playing in front of the building, the community officer knew every kid’s name and who their family was…. how the street light was our cue to go home.
We were a true family; every adult looked out for all the kids, all the kids knew each other, spent time in each others’ apartments, babysat for each other. And last but not least: the food. We knew who was cooking what by the smell radiating throughout the hallways. That’s when we would suddenly have to go get something or do homework at that particular apartment! Even outside you could smell the home cooking.
As a community we respected where we lived. We were taught to keep our area clean, we respected our neighbors and never played loud music after 6 p.m. If you were having a party, you invited your neighbors. It was a time that is unexplainable.
Is there a new arrival you love?
Yes, Forgtmenot—the best steak and egg I ever had, and the service is pretty good too.
What drives you crazy about the neighborhood?
The disregard for quality of life, and the disrespect for the elders.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen on the LES?
Nothing was strange if you grew up in the LES. Everything strange was considered unique and normal—that’s what makes the LES so diversified.
Who’s the best neighborhood character you’ve met and why?
Louie Guzman is an old friend. He was funny, silly and goofy, and he turned out just fine. I see him all the time on the screen. You go, Louie!
Tell us your best LES memory.
There are so many: Playing on the lawn, Bullrush, Johnny on the Pony, Punch Ball, and either Scooter, Bruce or Al (the community police officers) chasing us off the grass. We dressed up to go to school. Sunday church services—after services we would get hot bread from the bakery on Rivington Street. Hanging out on “The Ave” (which was avenues C and D—Avenue A was considered Alphabet City). Jamming in the parks and JHS 22. All the teens would get together from all over and just listen to music and dance.