The Lower East Side of New York
Jewish Life in America

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From The New-York Daily Tribune, Sept. 15, 1898.

Street Peddler on the Lower East Side.
date unknown
Courtesy of the New York Public Library's Digital Gallery.

The neighborhood of Hester, Norfolk and Essex Streets presents a quaint scene. The streets are black with purchasers, and bright with the glare of hundreds of torches from the pushcarts. The faces are markedly of a Oriental type; and the voices of the peddlers crying their wares, the expostulations of the purchasers, the mingling of the "Yiddish," of the elders with the English of the young people, make a strange medley of sounds.

Great is the variety of wares to be seen on the carts. Dr. Wolborst, who is much interested in the peddlers, has stated that what cannot be bought in the pushcart market cannot easily be bought in New York. A friend of his wanted to match some draperies. After visiting the best stores uptown she inspected the wares of some Hester Street peddlers and found what she required. The dry goods peddlers buy remnants, odd pieces and samples from wholesale houses at low prices. A woman bought a remnant of valuable lace from the peddler. A pair of curtains of similar lace would have cost $ 75. She paid 50 cents. A friend of hers begged her to sell the piece for $20. She did so, returned to the peddler and invested in a sufficient number of similar remnants to make vestibule curtains and other lace furnishings for all the rooms in her house. From bits of lace, bought for a trifle from the peddlers, other women have made fichus, capes, overskirts, etc. Pieces of fine cloth in sizes from half a yard to several yards are often sold at low rates. Squares of carpets such as the salesmen take out on the road as samples have been bought from the peddlers for a trifle and converted into handsome rugs. One ingenious woman carpeted a large room by joining a number of squares of harmonious pattern and color. She called it a "harlequin carpet" and it was much admired.

But the peddlers who vend such materials are not numerous. Most of the goods are of ordinary quality. Stockings may be bought for 6 cents a pair, children's undergarments for 5 cents apiece. Many of the carts are filled with rolls of oilcloth or wallpapers. The smaller articles of household furniture-crockery, glassware, tins, etc.are displayed. Ready-made clothing is cheap. Each cart has its specialty, but in the line of carts there is a strange medley. Dried fruits, fresh fruit, pickles, preserves, vegetables, meat and fish alternate with household utensils, boots and shoes, jewelry and clothing, books and stationery.

The fish carts are largely in the majority. The wholesale merchants sell the fish at auction to the peddlers who go in crowds to the stores of the dealers and have a lively but anxious time in trying to outbid one another. Sometimes the fish is condemned by the Health Department, to the great loss of the peddlers. As many as fifty tons of fish are sometimes seized from them in a day. Charles B. Stover and other members of the Social Reform Club have taken up the cause of the fish peddlers and are trying to remedy some of the ills from which they suffer. It is proposed to utilize a part of the Hester Street Park for a fish market in the mornings, the building to be used for other purposes later in the day. In this way the peddlers would be relieved from paying tribute to the police which they do in order to avoid arrests for obstructing the streets. Those who pay regularly are not molested.

It is estimated that there are 1,500 peddlers of various wares in that vicinity. The regular peddler pays $25 a year for his license with the additional fees to the police. He can hardly earn more than $5 a week so he often hires a pushcart for his wife, and sometimes the children too are brought into the service. The rent of a pushcart is 10 cents a day. Many of the peddlers are only temporarily in the trade. Tailors or mechanics who are out of work hire a pushcart until they find a position. Recently landed immigrants are advised by their friends to take a pushcart until they can establish themselves in some business.







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