A Walk Through the Lower East Side

Written by FAB intern Cricket Kowal

One of the main differences between the city I come from, Columbus, Ohio, and New York City, besides the more obvious size and density, is the businesses. New York, especially the Lower East Side, is chock full of small businesses— from hole-in-the wall handmade jewelry shops to family-owned restaurants five times the size of the FAB office. Although I love my hometown, my area of Columbus has (at least, seemingly) more chains than independent businesses, and what small businesses we do have are far between and harder to find. One of the things that continually amazes me about New York is how many different things a person can see on a short walk.

As part of getting to know the Lower East Side better, I decided to embark on a walk within an arbitrarily set radius; I settled on the 18-block area ringed by Clinton St., Allen St., Houston St., and Delancey St. I went on this walk and made a list of small businesses I walked past; some of the places I wrote down had an interesting origin story, some had a beautiful storefront, some just had a cool name.

I ended up taking this walk three times. The first was a slow meander down the blocks, and I stopped whenever something caught my eye. The second was during a terrible downpour, and I had only meant to go out to take better photos of the places I’d found, but ended up finding even more businesses I wanted to include. The third and final walk was much quicker than the other two, and I went straight to each place on my list rather than going all the way down each block and back up the next. These three walks resulted in my final list and set of photos, both of which are below.

My favorite place I visited (though I liked them all!) is the Essex Street Market. The Essex Street Market contains grocers, special meat-and-fish sellers, prepared food sellers, and more. On rainy days especially, I love being able to walk in and pick something new to try for lunch, perhaps a cup of cup or noodles or a sandwich— depending on what the merchants have each decided to sell that day— and take it to one of the tables to sit and eat whatever I’ve purchased and listen to the chatter of other shoppers or the talk between grocers as they restock. It’s a very diverse group in such a small space, reflecting how I view New York.

I found every business to be interesting, though. For example, Soy was started by a mom who wanted to bring the healthy, happy goodness of the tofu dishes she grew up eating to the Lower East Side after 9/11. M. Schames and Son Paint and Hardware Supply was established in 1927, and is a fourth generation family business. What I love is how every business in the area (not just on the list) has a story.

These small businesses change the energy of the neighborhood. There’s something about going into the same hardware store your parents did, or ordering pizza from your neighbor’s shop, that makes neighborhoods feel so familiar and good. Small businesses add character to a neighborhood and make it slightly different (for the better) when they move in, rather than when larger businesses and corporations try to blend with the already established feel of the area. The small businesses are what make a neighborhood what it is.

To see the places I found, take a look at the list below and the map above.  This is by no means an exhaustive list, just a selection of businesses which made me look twice somehow. Click on a map marker and it’ll show you a description of each place from their website (if they have one, otherwise it’ll be one I made up), a link to the website itself, and the address of the business. Click on the name of a place in the list and it’ll take you to their website, if they have one.

The List:

Russ & Daughters at 127 Orchard St. and 179 Houston St.

Essex Street Market at 120 Essex St.

Economy Candy at 108 Rivington St.

Army & Navy Bags at 177 E Houston St.

Soy at 102 Suffolk St.

Cibao Restaurant at 72 Clinton St.

Bluestockings at 172 Allen St.

M. Schames and Son Paint and Hardware Supply at 90 Delancey St.

Heaven’s Hot Bagel at 283 E Houston St.

Rizzo’s Fine Pizza at 17 Clinton St.

Gaia Italian Cafe at 251 E Houston St.

Sweet Buttons Desserts at 84 Rivington St.

Belraf Fabrics at 159 Orchard St.

CreperieNYC at 135 Ludlow St.

Altman Luggage at 135 Orchard St.

Zing’s Awesome Rice at 122 Ludlow St.

El Castillo De Jagua at 113 Rivington St.

La Margarita Pizza at 151 Ludlow St.

Mazeish Grill at 137 Rivington St.

Clinton Flowers at 153 Stanton St.

Nonna’s LES Pizzeria at 105 Clinton St.

Cricket is an intern at FAB (Jan-Mar 2016). She is here as part of her Walkabout from the Linworth Alternative Program. She has volunteered at many community nonprofit programs and events in and around her hometown of Columbus, Ohio. In her free time Cricket enjoys writing, reading, and watching movies.

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