Figuring that Gertel's Bakery would be mobbed tomorrow—the Lower East Side kosher shop's last day in retail business and last pre-Shabbat customer rush—I decided to make my final visit to the 93-year-old business in the early hours of Thursday.
Word has gotten out that the end is near. There was a sizable line, and businessmen in yarmulkes were taking pictures of themselves outside the store. Boxes of challah were stacked high and labeled for recipients such as Central Synagogue and H & H (bagels, I assume). The item most frequently being ordered was Gertel's famous rugelach—chocolate, raspberry and apricot. Some orders sandwiches, but it appears Gertel's ability to deliver on lunch has all but ceased. (Goodbye, egg and tuna roll.)
As ever, the Gertel's staff was sullenly bemused that anyone should take any interest whatsoever in their iconic business. The counter women patiently answered my questions with a half smile. As has been reported, the business will remain as a wholesale affair located in Williamsburg. My main concern was what was going to happen to the absolutely great neon sign. (I say neon, even though I have never seen it lit, Gertel's being a daytime operation.) They didn't know, so they went in the back to ask the owner. The answer came that the owner was going to keep the sign at his home. Must be a big home.
I ordered a half a pound of rugelach, assorted; a challah; and a bag of challah rolls. Then I discovered that the Gertel's baseball caps the servers and bakers were wearing were being sold off, and for the cheapo price of $5! I asked for one. Again, the countergirl was amused that I should care. A thin, bearded, dyspeptic young man came out from the kitchen, hat in hand. "Is it one size fits all?" I asked. "I could take your head measurement if you like?" he answered.
One more day. The sun goes down late this time of year, so it could be a late one. I wouldn't be surprised if they sold out of everything at an early hour, though.