When former South Village resident Josette Lee emailed GVSHP a picture of her Dad from the 1970’s standing in front of two pushcarts located on Bleecker Street, we became as curious as she was about when exactly such carts disappeared from the South Village.
Pushcarts have been a part of New York City’s streets since their beginnings, but it was really in the post-Civil War era of heavy immigration that pushcart peddlers became so prolific. They were most frequently found in the immigrant communities of the Lower East Side and Italian communities such as the South Village. Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, who saw reform of immigrant customs as a form of advancement and modernization, closed the streets and sidewalks to peddlers in 1938, and opened indoor shared marketplaces such as the Essex Market on the Lower East Side. But the Bleecker Street pushcarts continued to be operated by legally permitted vendors, only 1,200 of which remained in all of New York City in 1945. For those interested in further information in this, Gotham Center for New York City History’s Executive Director Suzanne Wasserman’s article “Hawkers and Gawkers: Peddling and Markets in New York City” in Gastropolis: Food and New York City, provides a wonderful overview of the markets of the Lower East Side.
The now defunct Department of Markets put forward a resolution in 1962 to close the three “open air” markets still operating in New York: Bleecker Street, Mott Street, and Union Street in Brooklyn. A New York Times article from May 11, 1962 reports on the failure of this resolution to pass because of strong opposition for the closing of the Bleecker Street Market. That same article reveals the decline in the number of peddlers still working, stating that the market “stretches for two blocks, from Cornelia Street to Seventh Avenue. It once lined eleven city blocks. In 1935 there were 120 licensed pushcart merchants in that market area. Today there remain only ten, who operate a total of thirteen stands.”
We found an amazingly similar picture to Ms. Lee’s by George Roos, featured in the book Greenwich Village: A Photographic Guide written by Edmund Delaney and Charles Lockwood and published in 1976. These two pictures together, along with anecdotal evidence we have heard from South Villagers, tells us the market continued into the 1970s. But our initial research does not reveal whether the pushcarts were eventually closed by the City, or if they just disappeared by attrition. If any readers have information to share, submit a comment!
For more information about the Italian history of the South Village, see GVSHP’s report the “Italians of the South Village.”