Late Summer Scene: At the New York Bakery in Murray Hill

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Patrons at the New York Bakery in Murray Hill, Queens, on August 22. (Pola Lem/NY City Lens)

 

It’s a Friday morning at the Murray Hill LIRR station in Queens. Only two blocks from Northern Boulevard, the square is quiet and suburban; there are no commuters leaving the station. Three gray-haired, long-skirted women sit on a bench.

They are chatting in Korean. If you approach, the lady in the middle will hand you a small rectangular pamphlet entitled, “Where can we find answers to life’s big questions?” The back reads, “Jehova’s Witnesses will be happy to discuss the Bible with you.” However, none of these women speak English, and only the one in the center appears to understand it. But they smile a lot, showing several gold teeth.

Behind them, the three-story residential block contains nine Korean restaurants, a place called The Chinese Kitchen, the Korean Senior Citizens’ Center, an AT&T store, and two delis with faded yellow awnings and red lettering with the words “Corner Deli,” only one of which is located on an actual corner.

On the other corner, a woman in a leopard-print cloche shuffles out of New York Bakery, pulling a red shopping cart behind her. It’s the busiest place on the block.

Inside, a dozen people chat in Korean, and a female pop singer’s voice mingles with the refrigerator’s buzz. The bakery’s patrons, seated in twos and fours, are all elderly. Seated behind coffee cups, they punctuate their conversation with emphatic hand gestures and the occasional cane.

The stainless steel shelves are long and mostly empty. Clear plastic baggies contain red bean buns, challah bread, “banana bread” (a bag with two crescent-shaped cookies whose ingredients do not include bananas), and rolls labeled “castella,” “big manju,” and “ninetine.” Along the wall hangs a banner that divides the space in two. The young woman behind the counter, Jane, says the bakery used to be larger; the space is under construction, soon to be subdivided.

Just then, a white truck with baked goods pulls up. As it turns out, New York Bakery gets its items delivered from New Jersey. A man balancing a large white box opens the door, and Jane hurries to help him.

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