I was shuffling about the Upper East Side a few years ago when I spotted this extraordinarily painted building front in red, white and blue on 3rd Avenue between East 88th and 89th Streets. I could have gotten a shot from closer in, and I tried for one, but that enormous tour bus ruined the picture. It’s really two identical buildings side by side, with Wankel’s Hardware occupying the ground floors of both buildings. The sign seems to be made of plastic or wooden letters — I’m not sure which. There’s also a large sidewalk shingle, the likes of which are disappearing in NYC, though they’re still common in other locales such as Philadelphia.
I had never heard of Wankel’s but they’re a neighborhood institution and have occupied their building since 1896. I consulted the bible in these matters, Ellen Williams and Steve Redlauer’s Historic Shops & Restaurants of New York, which states that the company was founded by musician Bernhart Wankel and his wife Elizabeth; a relative was Felix Wankel, who invented the Wankel rotary engine. Among their most popular early items were growlers, or wood buckets that were taken to local taverns to facilitate deliveries (as shown on their website). The founders’ great-granddaughter now runs the business.
Williams and Redlauer also make prominent mention that Wankel’s proudly hires physically and mentally challenged, as well as former homeless and refugees from repressive countries.