You've seen them in SoHo and Union Square - tables stacked with jewelry, scarves, art, or political paraphernalia, a salesperson seated patiently nearby. According to Nightshift NYC, a book about the city's predominantly immigrant night workers, some street vendors set up shop in Union Square as early as 4 or 5 in the morning to stake out a prominent spot. Curatorial Director Dave answers a visitor's question about the 19th century precursor to sidewalk stands (both retail and food-related): the pushcart.
Do we know if pushcart peddlers would keep their carts in “stables?” Was pushcart peddling a good job relative to other immigrant occupations?
Pushcart peddlers would keep their carts in stables. One such stable existed between on Sheriff Street at the turn of the century. In most cases, peddlers did not own their carts, but rented them for about a quarter a day.
In some ways, pushcart peddling was a good job relative to other immigrant occupations but, much like garment work, an incredibly trying and exhausting one as well. Perhaps the greatest attraction of peddling was the idea that a person could be their own boss. As a reflection of European market culture, it also served as an important link to the past and a means of mediating the transition to life in the United States. Otherwise, long hours and low pay were the rewards of the peddler. According to one son of a Lower East Side pushcart peddler, his father would “get up at 5:30, go get his pushcart from the pushcart stable on Sheriff Street, where he rented it for about a quarter a day. Then he’d wheel it over to the wholesaler Attorney Street. Then he’d take it over to the ferry to Greenpoint. He’d make about $2.00 or 2.50 a day, six days…He’d help feed a family of seven on that.”
-posted by Liana Grey