Friday, May 29, 2009

A Tale of Two Garment Districts

Long before New York's Garment District became synonymous with the square-mile section of Midtown West between 34th and 42nd streets, clothing was produced by hundreds of immigrants in the Lower East Side. 97 Orchard’s own Harris Levine ran a garment shop out of his apartment after arriving with his wife from Poland in the 1890s, paying two unmarried Jewish women $8 -$9 a week to put the finishing touches on items and an old man about $12 a week to iron them. (Learn more on our Piecing It Together Tour.) There were at least 23 such makeshift factories on the stretch of Orchard Street between Broome and Delancey. 180 still operate in the entire Lower East Side today (you can recognize them by the steam coming out of pipes near windows) and though demographics have shifted over the years, the shops continue to rely on immigrant labor.

During the Great Depression, Rosaria Baldizzi, an Italian immigrant living in 97 Orchard, was forced to find work in a factory (photographed above) in the city's "official" midtown Garment District. To see how the neighborhood was depicted in movies, books, and plays at the peak of its fame, check out this 50-minute lecture by historian Warren Shaw, courtesy of the Gotham Center.

-posted by Liana Grey


  1. I wonder what's the status of these garment factories after the U.S. was hit by global economic crisis. What is their current status? As you can see, the industry worldwide is suffering a different level of downturn. Even the country's century-old automaker GM is on the brink of bankruptcy.

  2. We’re not sure what’s going on in New York's garment industry today, but expert Margaret Chin is coming to Tenement Talks on June 11 and she would definitely know – come to the talk and you can ask her in person. Also check out her book Sewing Women: Immigrants and the New York City Garment Industry.


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