Volume 77 / Number 51 - May 21 - 27, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since

A Salute to Union Square
A special Villager supplement

Villager photo by Maggie Koopmans

Joseph Ades at work in Union Square, demonstrating his precision potato and carrot peelers.

He serves up potato peelers with a slice of style

By Kara Bloomgarden-Smoke 

On any given sunny spring day at the Union Square Greenmarket, a large crowd gathers around Joseph Ades. Known as the “Gentleman Peeler,” Ades wears classic tweed suits and silk ties, sits in a low crouch and demonstrates slicing and peeling potatoes and carrots with an ordinary-looking peeler. In addition to simple peeling and slicing, Ades demonstrates how to use the peeler to make “real, three-sided French fries,” slice carrots in flower shapes so that “your kids will eat their veggies,” and make easy, shredded carrots.

“Right-handed or left-handed — or, like a politician, underhanded — these peelers work,” says Ades, in his British-accented sales pitch. Ades boasts that he is the only person who sells the Swiss-made, stainless-steel tools.

“One for $5 or five for 20 — you can’t get anything else from Switzerland for $5! A Swiss army knife costs $70.” 
When I asked for an interview, Ades pointed to a laminated Vanity Fair article. 

“I’m spoken for, love,” he said. “[Vanity Fair writer] Howard Kaplan writes about me.”

“Five pages in Vanity Fair — Julia Roberts on the cover and me inside!” Ades told the crowd during his afternoon pitch. 

Ades was profiled in the May 2006 “Green issue” of the magazine. The profile describes his habit of drinking Veuve Cliquot Champagne at the Pierre, where he was a regular. When wealthy patrons of the Pierre inquired into Ades’s profession, he said he sold potato peelers. The patrons assumed he was joking until they saw him hawking his signature product on the street.

Ades, 74, came here from England more than 10 years ago. At age 15 in his hometown of Manchester, he learned the art of “grafting,” or selling and demonstrating products. He also learned never to underestimate a small amount of money.

Ades stores his inventory in the maid’s room of his Park Ave. apartment. According to an obituary in The New York Times, artist Estelle Pascoe, Ades’s wife, passed away last fall.

Ades can be found at the northwest corner of Union Square’s north plaza on most Greenmarket days, but he also sells his peelers on various corners around the city. Both New Yorkers and visitors photograph him and post the pictures on blogs as a way to convey an authentic New York experience. He has also been featured on fashion blogs for his dapper outfits.

During his pitch, he often dismisses the idea that his demonstration is simply a trick. “This is not Times Square, this is Union Square,” said Ades. “If this was a scam, I wouldn’t still be here.” 

After watching the Gentleman Peeler at work, I decided to buy a peeler myself.

“You convinced me,” I said. “Can I convince you to let me ask you a few questions?”

Ades agreed and told me to come back that evening at 6, but by 5:30, the only trace of him was a stray potato peel on the sidewalk.

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