Our survey of every single building in the East Village has left us questioning some of the neighborhood folklore we’ve always taken for granted. For instance, the building at 105-107 Third Avenue, most people assume, has been home to Kiehl’s Since 1851 since, well, 1851. But the building is clearly styled in a late 19th-century fashion. Could it actually have been there since 1851, when the original shop opened?
To solve this mystery, we’ve dug deep into the archives to uncover some of the little-known history of Kiehls Since 1851, which actually had its roots in Kleindeutschland, the late-19th/early 20th century German-American neighborhood which covered much of what is now known as the East Village, and which in some form or another has been a staple at East 13th Street and Third Avenue for 150 years.
Founder John Kiehl started out not as the creator of the store (as most people believe), but rather as an employee at Englehardt & Huber Apothecary on the corner of Third Avenue & East 13th Street in the 1880s. Englehardt & Huber were actually the store’s second owners; they had purchased it from a German immigrant named Louis Brunswick who started selling herbs & oils at his Brunswick Apotheke in 1851. Brunswick owned the store on Third Avenue for roughly thirty years before selling it to Englehardt and Huber. John Kiehl, who was born around 1868 and was a first generation American from a German family, began working for the apothecary when he was approximately 20 years old.
In 1921, Kiehl’s apprentice Irving Moskovitz took over the store. The Russian Jewish Moskovitz family had immigrated to the country after World War I adopting the surname “Morse.” In 1959, during Morse’s operation of the store, Kiehl’s was moved next door to 109 Third Avenue. While Morse ran Kiehl’s pharmacy, he also owned his own drug store and lab still located on the corner of Third Avenue and East 13th Street.
Irving Morse’s son Aaron Morse began operating Kiehl’s in 1961, revamping the brand to include skin and hair products. Aaron’s large motorcycle collection and even more colossal personality earned him local celebrity status. It was he who concocted the brand’s infamous blue astringent, occasionally delivering it to in-need customers from his limo with his pet chimp. He was also the man who encouraged the sales associates to give out samples in abundance – his very own style of marketing. Aaron transferred the business to his daughter Jami Mose in 1988, who then expanded Kiehl’s in 1990 from 109 Third Avenue to the corner, its original location, where it remains today. In 2000, Jami sold the company to L’Oreal.
This company history, fascinating as it may be, revealed little to us about the mysterious corner building. But fortunately for us, this corner was famously the site of the Stuyvesant Pear Tree, which means there are a handful of archival photos depicting this location. Two photos from the New York Public Library show the original building, which looks much different in these photos than it does today and in the ca. 1940 tax photo above.
We scoured tax assessment records for the site and it turns out that 105-107 Third Avenue was actually constructed in 1878. It’s possible that the apothecary temporarily closed during the period when the old building was torn down and the new one was constructed, though we don’t know for sure. If any readers have additional insight into this mystery, please leave a comment!
It’s uncommon for a tiny East Village corner shop to achieve such a large and global presence. GVSHP is continuing to work hard to ensure that less prominent but no-less-important small businesses that are so integral to the character of our neighborhoods continue to thrive.
Further reading on Kiehl’s Since 1851:
Her Hair Turned Green, NY Times, Dec. 25, 1900
About New York, NY Times, Jan. 7, 1959
NEIGHBORHOOD REPORT: Farewell to the Man Behind Kiehl’s, NY Times, May 7, 1995
Kiehl’s Cosmetics Company Bought by France’s L’Oreal, NY Times, April 18, 2000