On my way to show a featured space, 75 Orchard Street, a Besen Retail broker introduced me to a Lower East Side fixture that I had never seen before, the Essex Street Market. An explosion of cheeses, fruits, vegetables, coffee, meats, breads, chocolates and other edible goods fill the space. Vendor after vendor line the walkways, making it impossible to check out everything with one pass through.
The Essex Street Market was established in 1940 in an effort to move pushcarts off the crowded streets. The identity of the market was formed by Jewish and Italian immigrants who were not only the vendors, but also the customers. In the 1950’s the Puerto Rican population expanded, shifting the market’s culture, creating more business. But later in the 1970’s, more residents turned to convenient supermarkets, causing a long time economic struggle. In 1992, a new manager stepped in with a new vision, renovating the space.
Today the Lower East Side is wealthier with a new demand for goumet and higher-end products. The market now homes Tra La La Juice Bar, a homemade chocolate shop (with daily free samples!) called Roni-Sue’s Chocolates, and even an eatery, the Essex Restaurant. I have never seen so many different varieties of cheeses in one spot, with both the Saxelby Cheesemongers and Formaggio Essex. Need a Belgian gouda, an Italian gorgonzola, or a German camembert? Look no further.
Not only can the Essex Street Market provide you with crustless quiche, buttery almond croissants, and the largest apples I have ever seen, but you can also find “La Tiendita,” the only “girl-made and fair trade” social venture business. The shop was founded by the Lower Eastside Girl’s Club, selling baked goods like cupcakes, brownies, girl-power bars, and gingerbread. They also have their own organic fair trade brand, with a variety of chocolates and handmade kitchen accessories. A purchase at La Tiendita supports a plethora of environmental, entrepreneurial, and ethical leadership programs.
Done with your grocery shopping? An art gallery and a barber shop are just two more offerings. Visit the market Monday through Saturday 8am to 7pm, located at 120 Market Street. Since I only got a few minutes to experience it, I will definitely be back.
Saxelby Cheesemongers at the Essex Street Market