Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Questions for Curatorial: Where Do I Store My Pushcart?

Curatorial Director Dave answers your questions. Got a question for Dave? Email us.

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 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.”

Learn more about modern-day street vendors at the Street Vendor Project website.

Pushcarts on the Lower East Side, 1937. Photograph by Arnold Eagle. (c) Lower East Side Tenement Museum 2010.

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