During the late 1800s and early 1900s, millions of new immigrants flooded the Lower East Side of New York. Pushcart peddling became one of the most popular lines of work (second only to the most popular profession of garment industry) with reports of over 6,000 independent vendors selling their wares in the streets of the neighborhood. The Department of Public Market’s Annual Report in 1937 described pushcarts as “unsanitary… a fire hazard, a health peril, a street traffic problem, a real estate blight, and a source of great additional cost to the sanitation department.” In the late 1930’s, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia vowed to clear the congested streets of “pushcart evil” by building a network of indoor public markets throughout the city.
By 1939, three of what would eventually be nine enclosed public retail markets in New York City were completed, the Park Avenue Enclosed Retail Market in East Harlem (1937), the First Avenue Enclosed Market (1938), and the Thirteenth Avenue Retail Market (1939) in Borough Park, Brooklyn. The Essex Street Market, which opened in 1940, became the fourth. Currently located on Essex Street between Delancey and Rivington Streets, the buildings originally housed 475 vendors. Today, it is the oldest existing indoor market created by Mayor LaGuardia and one of only four remaining indoor public markets that still exist. The other three markets are the Arthur Avenue Market in the “Little Italy” section of the Bronx, The Moore Street Market in Brooklyn, and the La Marqueta in the Spanish Harlem section of Harlem.
Sometime this year, the Essex Street Market will be moving to a new home in the newly constructed Essex Crossing development project, located on the opposite side of Delancey Street. The New York City Economic Development Fund (NYCEDC), which assumed direct control of Essex Market in 1995, is handling leasing at the new location. While this move will offer a more modern take on the indoor market experience, with plenty of space for additional vendors and restaurants, one more piece of Lower East Side history will be no more. There is still time to visit the original location at 120 Essex Street; a red brick building with a colorful 200-foot long mural created by Brooklyn-based artist Gera Lozano in 2016, that runs along the exterior of the building.
Current Essex Street Market Merchant List: http://www.essexstreetmarket.com/merchant-directory/
New Vendors (after move to Essex Crossing): http://www.essexstreetmarket.com/explore-new-vendors
While you are there, take a walk down memory lane and visit a few more of my personal favorites: Kossar’s Bialys (founded in 1936), currently located at 367 Grand Street (and Essex Street), for the best bialys in the city; Russ and Daughters (originally a pushcart operation established in 1914) now located at 179 East Houston Street, for the best smoked fish; Katz’s Deli (established in 1888) currently located at 205 East Houston Street, for humongous corned beef and pastrami sandwiches (need I say more) and Economy Candy (founded in 1937 and the oldest candy store in NYC) located at 108 Rivington Street.
More articles about the history of pushcarts and the Essex Street Market on the Lower East Side:
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