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When one thinks about the Lower East Side in the late 19th, early 20th centuries, one likely conjures up images of congestion and deplorable living conditions. Indeed, after decades of unrivaled population growth – due mostly to immigration from Europe – the LES became one of the most crowded and run-down slums, not just in the United States, but the world.
By the 1930's, things needed to change. In addition to problems with quality of life in the tenements, there were untold numbers of street cart vendors crowding the already-narrow lanes of the neighborhood. This was becoming a a problem for municipal services since fire trucks and ambulances were having difficulty getting through the street efficiently. The Essex Street Market was devised as a solution under the administration of Mayor Fiorello La Guardia around 1930.
The market was very successful for most of the mid-20th century. 1986 saw its management turned over to a private developer who promptly raised rents and evicted several merchants. The New York City Economic Development Corporate took over the space in the early 1990's and began a multi-year revitalization. NYCEDC operates the Essex Street Market to this day.
Photo source: Tom Riggle, Flickr