The mission of Essex Market is to support small businesses that provide the Lower East Side with fresh, affordable, and high quality food items.
Essex Market has been a fixture on the Lower East Side since 1888 when it began as an outdoor pushcart market. Shopping at Essex Market has always been a unique experience, as local residents and visitors alike gather to browse a diverse collection of goods. Our vendors all have an individual story and distinctive personality that adds flavor to their already delicious offerings. Ready to share their experiences and knowledge, they give a true neighborhood feel to our historic public market.
The History of Essex Market
PUSCHART PEDDLING ON THE LES
The Lower East Side was once a hub for independent puschart peddlers who rented their carts by the day and sold everything from potatoes and herring to pickles and hats. Essex Market was one of dozens of open-air puschart markets, and thought to have officially established itself in 1888.
A NEW PLACE FOR STREET VENDORS
Soon the abundance of pushcarts and vendors made for very crowded city streets. To ease congestion, Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia created a network of public indoor markets throughout the city, including Essex Market which opened on January 9, 1940 with four buildings and 475 vendors. In the early years, Essex Market’s identity was shaped by the Lower East Side’s Jewish and Italian immigrants, who served as both the vendors and the customers. Beyond its intended function as a shopping destination, the market also became a social environment where residents came to connect and build community.
NEW RESIDENTS JOIN THE NEIGHBORHOOD
When a new Puerto Rican population shifted the neighborhood demographics in the 1950s, the market began to grow quickly. These new shoppers brought with them different needs and desires, and the market evolved to offer a different variety of products. While the products at the market shifted, the passion of the vendors and the level of individualized attention remained.
SUPERMARKETS & CITY DEVELOPMENT
In the 1970s, the market began to fall out of favor as many customers turned to more convenient supermarkets and other street-front stores. Dedicated vendors stuck by the market through this difficult time, but many others couldn’t handle the reduction in traffic and left. After years of being run cooperatively by vendors, a 20-year lease expired in 1986, bringing change to the market once more.
TODAY: A MARKET REVITALIZED
In May 2019, Essex Market moved to a new home that lies at the cornerstone of the the Essex Crossing development project. This larger, more modern space has allowed the market to invite a whole slew of new vendors to join the Essex Market family. The newest iteration of the historic public market is located on the ground floor of 88 Essex Street, with direct access to a light-filled mezzanine space where shoppers can enjoy a tasty prepared snack or simply take in the views. Essex Kitchen, a state-of-the-art demonstration kitchen and event space, offers a wide array of food education programming open to the whole community. Though in a new space, Essex Market continues to be a public market, allowing vendors the same opportunity to continue serving residents – old and new – with both affordable and specialty foods.