New York City’s Lower East Side used to be the epicenter of the nation’s fashion business (or the less glamorously phrased “rag trade”). It’s true: by 1909, there was more apparel manufacturing happening on the Lower East Side than anywhere else in the U.S., embedding a distinct sartorial pulse in the streets. Eventually the workshops gave way to artists and hipsters, and a century later the neighborhood boasts a wonderful, only-in-New York sensibility. Authentic Jewish delis live alongside indie boutiques and a hipper-than-thou nightlife scene. Read on to discover how to take on the Lower East Side—and find shopping (and noshing) experiences like nowhere else.
Shopping the Lower East Side: Seize the Day
To fuel up, go a spot Lower East Siders have been frequenting since the 1940s: Essex Street Market. The indoor retail market was dreamt up by Mayor LaGuardia as a way to allow street merchants to do business while simultaneously getting pushcarts off the already crowded city streets. Now you can find everything from produce to cheese. In the morning, nothing does the trick quite like a piping hot bagel and Americano from Davidovich Bakery. After walking through the eclectic stalls, head back outside to tackle the shops. Bluestockings is nearly two decades old and is a self-proclaimed “radical bookstore,” carrying a wide range of titles ranging from feminist literature to environmental studies. It’s worth a browse, and the space routinely holds book talks and movie screenings. Not to mention that they have a stellar vegan café. All this intellectual stimulation will give you a hankering for some fashion inspiration. And for that, go to beloved LES boutique Reformation. The shop is known for its ultra-stylish dresses (ranging from casual to party-ready) and divine coats. Though the best part may be that the label is entirely eco-friendly, utilizing only vintage and sustainable fabrics. Consider this shopping with a conscience.
Shopping the Lower East Side: Spectacular Spaces
Even if frames aren’t on your shopping list, a stop at Moscot is practically a requirement when roaming the LES. Considering founder Hyman Moscot started selling eyeglasses from a pushcart on Orchard Street (where the shop is still located), the company knows a thing or two about eyewear. Their in-house styles are timeless, with just the right amount of yesteryear flair. Right now we love their newly released styles featuring real wood inlay. Continue the treasure hunt at indie boutique Assembly. The space has a spare, gallery-like air (no surprise given that owner Greg Armas is a former gallerist). The whitewashed floors hold racks of ready-to-wear from niche international designers and select vintage archival pieces. This is the place to go for scouting out the handbag designer du jour and rare Japanese footwear.
Shopping the Lower East Side: Food for Thought
Whether you’ve worked up an appetite yet or not (and surely you have), swing by Katz’s Delicatessen, beloved by tourists and locals alike. Its history speaks for itself—it was founded in 1888, after all—and miraculously its food is still worthy of the hype. Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan ate there (as Harry and Sally) and now it’s your turn. Sidle up to one of the sandwich counters and opt for their famous pastrami sandwich. After indulging, work it off by heading to underground street wear emporium Alife Rivington Club. The shop is only entered via ringing a nondescript buzzer (how Lower East Side is that?); once inside, you’ll discover a range of sportswear by Alife as well as coveted sneakers the brand collaborates on (think: all-white Nike Air Force 1s). Rest assured no one else will have any of these pieces. Now, finish off your day with a happy hour cocktail at Pianos. The bi-level space has a laidback atmosphere early in the evening and gets bustling as the night goes on. Most nights feature live music, and Pianos is the perfect place to check out Lower East Side scenesters in their element.