A New Place for Street Vendors
Essex Street Market began in 1940 as part an effort by Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia to find a new place for street merchants to do business. At the time, pushcarts and vendors crowded the city streets, making it difficult for police and fire vehicles to easily pass. To ease congestion, Mayor LaGuardia created the Essex Street Market and several other indoor retail markets throughout the city.
In the early years, Essex Street Market’s identity was shaped by the Lower East Side’s Jewish and Italian immigrants, who served as both the merchants and the customers. Local residents got personalized service as they gathered to browse a diverse collection of goods and sundries including flowers, meats, clothing and fresh produce.
Beyond its intended function as a shopping destination, the Market also developed into a social environment where residents came to connect and share ideas.
New Residents Find the Neighborhood
When a new Puerto Rican population shifted the neighborhood demographics in the 1950s, the Market began to grow quickly. These new shoppers brought with them different needs and desires, and the Market evolved to offer a different variety of products. While the products at the Market shifted, the passion of the merchants and the level of individualized attention remained.
Troubled Times: Supermarkets and Development
In the 1970s, the Market began to fall out of favor as many customers turned to more convenient supermarkets and other street-front stores. Dedicated merchants stuck by the Market through this difficult time, but many others couldn’t handle the reduction in traffic and left. After years of being run cooperatively by merchants during this time, a 20-year lease expired in 1986, bringing change to the Market once more.
Essex Street Market came to be managed in 1992 by a private developer who saw a new vision for the Market. When it became clear that the development vision would not be realized, New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) assumed direct control of the Market. This ushered in the most recent phase in the evolution of Essex Street Market.
In 1995, NYCEDC commenced a $1.5 million renovation to consolidate tenants scattered between two buildings into the current Essex Street Market space. The renovation and consolidation created the critical mass of vendors needed to save the Market from decline and closure, inspiring growth, resurgence and vitality.
Today: A Market Revitalized
In recent years, many new residents have again moved to the Lower East Side, causing another shift in the character of the neighborhood. Infusing a new vitality and more money into the area, these residents bring new expectations for the Market. They value the rich cultural and historical traditions of the neighborhood and also seek a wider variety of culinary products.
As a result, the Market now offers a range of culinary products that include gourmet cheeses, premium cuts of meat, fresh fish and a host of other products for every palette. Extending a long tradition of dedication to the needs of market visitors, Essex Street Market continues to offer personalized service, a passion for quality and a connection to both the history and the culture of the Lower East Side. Learn more about other New York City Markets from NYCEDC or follow us on Facebook to get the latest Market happenings.