Day: August 31st, 2007

To the Left Coast

Friday, August 31st, 2007 | All Things, Friends, NYC History

When KD first called to tell me he was going to be leaving our city for a great new opportunity in San Francisco, I could hardly believe the news. It was difficult for me to imagine the born and bred Brooklyn boy abandoning New York for a place of chilly summers, blankets of fog and intermittent earthquakes. Not to mention restaurants that close at 10 and blueberry bagels? Oy gevalt!

Essex Street Market

None such atrocities to be found here on the Lower East Side, where KD was hosting his send-off soiree at Essex. During its heyday at the turn of the 19th century, this neighborhood was the heart of New York’s Jewish community, the great majority of whom were from Russia and Eastern Europe. In 1940, Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia created the 15,000 square foot Essex Street Market in an effort to clear the already congested LES streets of the pushcarts he found so unsightly.

It was part of LaGuardia’s larger effort to reduce the city’s street traffic overall, and during this time several indoor retail markets were erected throughout New York City, including La Marqueta in East Harlem and the Arthur Avenue market in the Bronx.

Over the years, the vendors expanded their businesses to form permanent neighborhood fixtures where locals flocked to find food and services with a personal touch, and at affordable prices. Demographics shifted in the 1960s and 70s, as did the shopping culture, as consumers began shopping at grocery stores and supermarkets for their produce. By the time the city’s Economic Development Corporation took over ownership of Essex Street Market in 1995, conditions in the market had deteriorated to the point that it was all but abandoned.

But in the past five years, though, as the neighborhood underwent another resurgence, so too did the Essex Street Market. In 2001, the market was only 60 percent occupied; these days, over two dozen food vendors now occupy every square foot of available space. The EDC receives applications for new tenants on a weekly basis, owing in large part to the influx of more prosperous neighbors and the low vendor rents; at $27 a square foot on average, these food retailers pay less than a third of the standard price in Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn.

The restaurant had arranged for platters of lox and sushi, cuban sandwiches and empanadas – a veritable smorgasbord of tasty ethnic bites to send KD on his way to California.

Many nights I’ve sat with KD at this very bar: after our infamous holiday party, years before the engagements, his marriage, the birth of his twin girls. We’ve come a long way since then. Fare thee well, my friend.

Later that night, I glanced up at the Bryant Park transfer point, right into the glittering windows of the New York Public Library.

NYPL windows

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