In 2014, Village Preservation conducted an oral history interview with Veselka owner and Village Preservation Trustee Tom Birchard. Tom is the son-in-law of Veselka’s original owner, who in 1954 bought a candy shop from a retiring Italian couple. It became a destination for the growing Ukrainian population, serving them homemade traditional Eastern European dishes and other items and news from the old country. Tom took over in 1974, experiencing some difficulties until his business model and expanded menu found success starting in the early 1980s. Since then, Veselka has expanded several times, and recently celebrated its 60th anniversary. We are lucky to have several old photos of Veselka in our expanding Historic Image Archive.
The East Village of the 1970s and 80s was a different place than today. Tom’s oral history (and the rest of our Oral History Collection) cover these different times that we often view through rose-tinted glasses – the constant threat of muggings, the drug abuse and accompanying dirt and violence, the buildings that would have been worth tens of millions of dollars now but were destroyed for the insurance money because they weren’t worth their rent rolls. And of course, they include the aspects of those times we rightfully romanticize- the artists, hippies, and immigrants that called this neighborhood home.
Here’s a snippet from Tom’s oral history, talking about how Veselka has changed:
Back in those days, there was no American menu, if you were English-speaking. Veselka, especially when it came to the food, it was really intimidating to come, virtually impossible to come in and order something and get your food delivered to you accurately. I came in 66; the place had been there for twelve years before I got there, but even when I arrived in ‘66 there was really no written menu. There was a thing up on the wall…
Please let us know if you have old images of the Village that you wish to preserve and share. Contact us firstname.lastname@example.org or 212-475-9585 ext. 39. Read more about Tom Birchard here. Read more about Veselka here.