Even the Mayor Didn’t Care About the Departure of Streit’s Matzo from the Lower East Side [VIDEO]

Posted on: April 22nd, 2016 at 11:37 am by
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Streit’s: Matzo and the American Dream, filmmaker Michael Levine’s documentary about the venerable family-owned matzo company that called the Lower East Side home for 90 years until 2015, arrived in theaters this week. Just in time for Passover. The film secured a week-long residency here at Film Forum, and is already racking up accolades (e.g. Village Voice, LA Times).

Matzo and the American Dream details the struggle the fifth-generation matzo business faced in ultimately deciding to leave 148-152 Rivington Street (their new factory will open in Rockland County, 30 miles outside of the city, in late 2016).

The family has often spoken about the challenges that led to the move: aging machinery, competition from more modern factories, and the challenges of manufacturing in a city that is not particularly friendly to such an enterprise.

But during a Q&A session with the Film Forum audience last night, co-owner Aron Yagoda relayed a story that cuts to the heart of what many struggling, longtime mom-and-pops must feel in the face of a city that offers little protection:

About two years ago, I was standing outside the factory on Rivington Street, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, when Mayor de Blasio’s entourage came walking by, touring the neighborhood. I approached them and got de Blasio’s attention and said, ‘Mr. Mayor! Would you like to have a look at one of the oldest family businesses in the city? We’ve been right here for 90 years.’ He told me he was very busy and kept walking. I told him ‘you know, someday we’re not going be here anymore and you’re going to be sad you passed us by.’ He didn’t respond and he and his entourage went off down the block.

For me, that was the moment I finally felt at peace with the decision we had to make to leave the city.”

Honestly, it likely wouldn’t have made a difference in the family’s decision had de Blasio agreed to a brief tour of the Streit’s Matzo factory. But for a family that gave so much of themselves to a community for so long, being passed over, even by a mayor who had sworn to protect businesses like theirs, this was the moment that signaled the time was right to move on.

“I know this was not meant to be a knock personally at Mayor de Blasio,” Levine noted after the screening. “I’m sure he did have schedule to keep, which is understandable. And personally I believe he’s shown far more interest in protecting family businesses than his predecessor. Still, I think the moment is emblematic of the fact that no recent administration has been able to pass legislation or offer incentives strong enough to stem the ebb of neighborhood institutions from the Lower East Side and other communities in the city. It’s not merely a matter of changing tastes. Policy plays an important part.”

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Now, in its place, a seven-story condo will rise, forever obliterating the matzo factory.

We end with this: To understand what staying on the Lower East Side truly meant to Yagoda and his family, you need only watch this clip from the film, as he explores the contents of his grandfather, Jack Streit, desk, whose drawers he had left untouched since Jack’s passing in 1998.

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