Essex Street Market is one of New York City’s most historic public markets. Opened in 1940 as part of a larger effort by Mayor Fiorello La Guardia to get pushcarts off the streets, the market has been a staple of the Lower East Side for over 75 years. All of the market’s 28 stalls are owned by small, independent businessmen and women, meaning that you can satisfy your craving for everything from fresh fruits and vegetables, to a vast array of prepared food – including handmade spanakopita and Japanese okonomiyaki – to specialty items like raw milk cheese and imported prosciutto.
Here are ten fun facts about the Essex Street Market:
1. Public markets, like Essex Street Market, got their start in 1886 with 4 pushcart peddlers on the Lower East Side
1898 Photo by Byron Company, “Street Vendors Orchard Street 1898 at Hester Street, Looking South.” via the Collections of the Museum of the City of New York
Throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s, millions of immigrants flooded New York City’s Lower East Side. Seeking work, many turned to pushcart peddling which became the neighborhood’s second-most popular profession (after the garment industry).
The very first open-air pushcart market was formed in 1886 by 4 peddlers who clustered together on Hester Street, just blocks away from the future Essex Street Market. As the famous documentary photographer Jacob Riis (author of How The Other Half Lives) noted, peddlers sold “peaches at a cent a quart,” “damaged eggs for a song,” and “hats for a quarter.”