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Lower East Side Jewish Historical Group Raises Cash for Gift Shop

LOWER EAST SIDE — What's a historical tour without a gift shop?

That's what the Lower East Side Jewish Conservancy is hoping to find out with a bid to raise $5,000 to fund a gift shop kiosk shaped like an old-fashioned pushcart for its visitor center at 400 Grand Street. 

The conservancy, an educational and cultural organization that seeks to create awareness of the neighborhood's Jewish identity, is working with hyperlocal funding and coupon site Lucky Ant to raise the money for the cart and stock it with souvenirs relevant to the Lower East Side’s Jewish roots, such as historical photographs and turn-of-the-century childrens' games.

"In this economic climate cultural organizations needs to paddle their own canoes," said Laurie Tobias Cohen, who has been at the helm of the conservancy as executive director for more than nine years. The conservancy began in 1988.

A new pushcart gift shop for Lower East Side Jewish Conservancy will sit in its visitor center at 400 Grand Street.
A new pushcart gift shop for Lower East Side Jewish Conservancy will sit in its visitor center at 400 Grand Street.
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DNAinfo/Serena Solomon

"A gift venue within our visitors' center will help to pay for things that need to be paid for," added Tobias Cohen.

The conservancy, best known for its walking tours that take visitors inside the area's myriad synagogues, has until July 15 to raise the funds online.

The gift shop cart plans to offer historic photographs taken and collected by the organization as well as CDs, DVDs and even children's games from the turn of the century such as ball and jack, and vintage paper dolls.

The group had raised more than $1,300 as of Friday afternoon.

"It is underway and this is the last push to make it happen," said Tobias Cohen, who said she hopes to build the cart by August.

Lori Weissman, director of touring, said the experience of crowdsourcing the organization's fundraisers online has been a new experience.

“We are new to this experience, new to blogs,” Weissman said.

Lucky Ant, which was launched on the Lower East Side by 23-year-old Jonathan Moyal last year, helps other small businesses bankroll projects in non-traditional ways, with customers and fans investing directly in small amounts.

"The project is something we particularly love because it stays true to the history (the pushcart), but it is forward thinking," Moyal wrote in an email to DNAinfo.com New York. “The hope is that having a successful gift shop will help them be more financially stable and that is important for this community."

Lucky Ant takes a portion of funding from each campaign it organizes, according to Moyal. The percentage is agreed upon project by project.

The conservancy is offering a range of rewards to donors. A $10 donation will earn you a spot on a walking tour, which normally costs $18 per ticket.

For $36, donors can take Challah baking classes, which are held regularly at the conservancy.

"The person who is going to be teaching this is a third generation Lower East Side resident," said Tobias Cohen. "She learned from her mother and she herself is teaching her ten-year-old daughter."

The Bialystoker Synagogue is at 7-11 Willett Street was organized in 1865.
The Bialystoker Synagogue is at 7-11 Willett Street was organized in 1865.
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DNAinfo/Serena Solomon

In working with Lucky Ant, a hyperlocal hybrid of the crowd-funding site Kickstarter and coupon site Groupon, the conservancy also hopes to gain exposure amongst a younger generation.

Tobias Cohen said the LES's rich historical past is a "magnet" for hipsters, young people and artists who are drawn to the neighborhood because it is "authentic."

"They don't want to live in a plastic place. I mean compare this to the suburbs," she said.