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Surveying decades of change on the Lower East Side’s bustling Orchard Street

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New developments are poised to bring big changes to this ever-evolving street

Toward the end of October, a store named CW Pencil Enterprise: Purveyors of Superior Graphite, Etc. opened on lower Orchard Street, decamping from sleepy Forsyth in pursuit of the sort of shopper eager to drop $25 for a dozen Blackwings.

The shop, which now also features a separate sticker emporium in the back, joins the likes of skater and sneaker boutiques, a "100% vegan and palm-oil-free" grocer, three novelty ice cream parlors, a shiny new Equinox gym, and 20 contemporary art galleries on Orchard, a street once famous for its discount goods. In what appears to be an early symptom of "high-rent blight," there are also 21 vacant storefronts and a half-dozen pop-ups on the eight-block stretch.

Not that Orchard Street hasn't undergone periods of drastic change before: running through the heart of Manhattan's Lower East Side, the retail and residential corridor has absorbed and catered to wave upon wave of immigrants and transplants over the past 150-plus years. And there are still holdouts to be found from previous eras, such as the Orchard Corset Center lingerie shop, or De Yong Xing Electronic Cash Registers.

But the current construction boom, which includes several new openings since 2015 and four big projects now underway, threatens to leave a more permanent mark than anything that's come before, as developers are replacing the street's iconic brick- and-fire-escape-fronted tenements with towers that are out of character and proportion with their low-slung neighbors.

Among the new buildings likely to have the most immediate impact on the feel of the street:

196 Orchard Street, a condo developed by Ben Shaoul.

Ben Shaoul's colossal 196 Orchard at the street's northern end. Closings on the 94 luxury condos, with prices hitting $4.85 million, are scheduled to begin by the end the first quarter next year. The Equinox is right across the street, and a Dr. Smood organic juice cafe--"release toxins, reset your system, reclaim your youth"--opened on the corner earlier this fall.

The landmarked Jarmulowsky Bank Building, currently under construction.

All the way to the south, plans to transform the landmarked Jarmulowsky Bank Building into a boutique hotel appear to be moving forward, complete with a new, 50-foot domed spire craned into place over the summer. Guests at the 12-story, 60,000-square-feet hotel, owned by DLJ Real Estate Capital Partners, will have plenty of Orchard Street dining options within steps of their lodging, including Jonathan Wu's superb Nom Wah Tu for dim sum, Kiki's Greek (which took over, and still bears the signage from, the old Y&H Printing storefront at 2 Orchard), and the excellent 1970s-looking slice joint Scarr's Pizza.

The so-called “Allen Street Hotel” at 139 Orchard Street.

Speaking of hotels, work began again last spring on the long-moribund "Allen Street Hotel" at 139 Orchard Street (it flew that "for sale" banner for years on the 16-story skeleton), after Morris Moinian of Fortuna Realty and Morry Kalimian of Elk Investors bought the beast for $30.75 million. There are claims of a Spring 2018 completion date on the site, but that seems optimistic. Whenever it's actually finished—ground broke in 2008—more than 100 rooms will disgorge visitors into the area.

Two other hotels opened in 2015 within two blocks of here: the skinny, graffiti-adorned Orchard Street Hotel at 163; and the Indio Hotel up near Houston, which has nearly 300 rooms to fill and also uses graffiti-themed decor in a bid for some gritty downtown street cred.

For 75 years, the northeast corner of Orchard and Delancey was home to the Moscot eyeglasses storefront/headquarters. By the end of next year, supposedly, the now-empty lot will have a 12-story, multi-terraced residence from Helm Equities to call its own. With only 24 apartments total, what the glassy building lacks in sheer population it makes up for square-footage-per-inhabitant, with floors nine through 12 planned as duplex-only.

Clothing boutiques like Alexander Olch, where a pocket square costs $60 and scarves run about $300, are settling in on a street once famous for its discount wares.

Filling a basket of "superior graphite" writing instruments at CW Pencil Enterprise at 15 Orchard Street.

Slice joint Scarr's and dim sum spot, Nom Wah Tu both attract a young, hip clientele.

Earlier this year a two-bedroom condo at 50 Orchard Street sold for $1.7 million.

A tour group outside the Tenement Museum. Some 7,000 immigrant families, from more than 20 different countries lived here at 97 Orchard Street between 1863 and 1935.

After more than a century serving Jewish appetizing specialties on East Houston Street, Russ & Daughters opened a wonderful (and extremely popular) cafe at 127 Orchard Street in 2014.

The brick facades of historic Orchard Street tenements, complete with iconic fire escapes.

Dr. Smood juice bar, which also offers "Oxygen-Infused Organic Detox Programs", opened this fall on the corner of Orchard and Houston.

Paris art dealers Galerie Perrotin opened a huge space in the Beckenstein Building at 130 Orchard Street last spring.

An Orchard Street classic at the corner of Broome. The fake Umbertos facade is for a Martin Scorsese-helmed Netflix original, The Irishman, that’s filming in the neighborhood.

"Punk" clothing boutique I Need More, from Trash and Vaudeville veteran Jimmy Webb, opened at 75 Orchard Street in October.

Lower Orchard Street vibes.