Boundaries and Cultural Landscape
Straight Street defines the western terminus of the portion of the 21st Avenue area I studied. North and south, the area extends for just one block in either direction, to 20th Avenue on the north, and to 22nd Avenue on the south. For the purposes of this report, the study area extends to about East 24th Street in the east, then west across Madison Avenue, to State Street. Not much fieldwork was done north and south of the avenue.
A casual look at the 21st Avenue neighborhood reveals its commercial organization. Approaching from the west (from Straight Street), one encounters a series of mill buildings, gas stations, a diner, a salvage yard, insurance agencies, restaurants, and other business establishments. Across Beckwith Avenue are more mill buildings, as well as two old and established family businesses: Giannella's Bakery and Mennella's Poultry Company. They anchor the commercial strip; their business is relatively high-volume. Giannella's trade is mainly with walk-in customers; Mennella's has a walk-in base but also ships poultry far beyond the city and state. Both businesses have been family-owned for four generations.
From that point westward, small stores increasingly appear. Some are occupied by service establishments such as insurance and real estate agencies and law offices; others are given over to laundromats, restaurants, coffee shops, a hardware store, a pharmacy, and other retail businesses. Across Madison Avenue, the character of 21st Avenue changes almost palpably. East of Madison, there is a remarkably strong Hispanic presence — a Peruvian ice cream store, a large Hispanic grocery store, a hair and nail salon owned and operated by a Puerto Rican woman, and a string of restaurants (Cuban, Colombian, and Dominican) extending to about East 26th Street. Beyond that point, ethnic businesses and residences mix once again.
In general, then, the area west of Madison Avenue is characterized by Italian-owned businesses and shops, though there are exceptions (Elsa's, for example, a Hispanic-owned clothing store), while the area east of Madison Avenue is dominated by Hispanic-owned businesses (with important exceptions such as the tailor shop of an Italian, Joe Pizza, and Schagen's Shoe Store across the street from him, which is owned by a descendant of Dutch immigrants).
Looking north from State Street toward 21st Avenue. This frame depicts the Garden State Cutting Company building at the corner of State Street and 21st Avenue. Sandy Hill School (P.S. #15) is visible in the far background.