Your Civic Duty: Save the City Reliquary Museum

City Reliquary Seltzer

Seltzer Bottles at City Reliquary: It Might Be Our Favorite Museum, and Possibly the City’s Smallest.

Chances are most of you haven’t even heard of the tiny museum called City Reliquary–it’s way out at 370 Metropolitan Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn–but believe it or not, this is where the original “2nd Ave.” from the 2nd Ave. Deli sign now lives, alongside an ode to the 100-year-old bottled coffee beverage called Manhattan Special and an original Bowery newsstand called Petrella’s Point–comic books, candy and all.

But this sweet space for quirky city posterity needs you to help save it: To keep its doors open and pay its rent, the mini-museum–literally, it’s storefront-sized–needs to raise $20,000 by March 21st and $60,000 by the end of the year, says president and museum master Dave Herman, who likes to refer to the space as “a civic organization.”

We agree: The not-for-profit place, which opened in 2006, curates a motley collection of city artifacts that likely wouldn’t find a home anywhere else in the city–subway tokens and maps from every era, various New York City tap waters, various New York City soils, a crumbled piece from the Flatiron building, a few hunks of the city’s old wooden sidewalks, a roller skate from Brooklyn’s rink-crazed disco era, and our favorite exhibit, “a really old shovel.” (Trust us, it was worth saving.)

Far more importantly, much of their collection is food-related, and well worth a trip for the Edible-minded Manhattan adventurer: There’s a collection of NYC seltzer bottles (they make egg creams for guided tours); some of the city’s first Piel Bros., Schaefer’s and Rheingold beer cans and coasters; a display cake from a semi-famous Puerto Rican Williamsburg cake shop called La Vallita, and of course, the sign from the original 2nd Ave. Deli.

The latter was procured, says Herman, when a friend-of-a-friend was driving past in his mini-van as the demolition crew was tossing it in the dumpster while the original location was closing down. The reason he only has two of three words in the name, says Herman, is because “he could only fit the first two words in his mini-van.”

The museum, says Herman, had procured a few grants to help keep them afloat to display these kinds of finds, along with what they make from admissions (pay what you like on weekends) and the gift shop, which is just as eclectic as the exhibits. But the grant money hasn’t yet come through, and last week Herman sent out an appeal to help the organization raise at least a few thousand dollars by the end of March.

“We’re treading water,” says Herman, who’s had to cut off City Reliquary phone service for a few weeks, “but we’re just gonna drown,” he says of fundraising, “if we don’t find a way that’s more immediate.”

The museum’s “Plan B,” says Herman, is to do three-month rotating exhibits where they can find space or partner with a local library. But the hope is that a membership drive and donations — you can give or join here, or below — plus a few upcoming fundraisers will help keep the doors of the place open every weekend. Those include a NYC Firefighter Date Auction on February 18th and a St. Pat’s concert on March 17th, both at the Knitting Factory, which is just across the street from the museum.

Also in the works (with help from Brooklyn Kitchen and the cafe Saltie, both neighbors) is a food history event in April, hopefully with lectures on city food history prepared in conjunction with themed dinners. We’ll of course keep you posted once details on that emerge, but in the meantime, check out the museum this weekend, or check out the link below to watch a video on the Reliquary and give a few bucks to help save the civic organization that’s literally saving the city.

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Rachel Wharton is the former deputy editor of Edible Brooklyn and Edible Manhattan. She won a 2010 James Beard food journalism award, holds a master’s degree in Food Studies from New York University, and has more than 15 years of experience as a writer, editor and reporter. A North Carolina native and a former features food reporter for the New York Daily News, she edited the Edible Brooklyn cookbook and was the co-author of both Handheld Pies and DiPalo's Guide to the Essential Foods of Italy. Her work also appears in publications such as The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Saveur.