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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Six Geese a-Laying

Not so long ago, only in the early 1990s, when walking through SoHo, I would see large bales of rags with the streets littered with small remnants. I would often pickup a piece, examine it and postulate as to its composition and history. A little known fact about SoHo is that for a time it was known as the rags, woolens and remnants district.

SoHo was also a manufacturing district and an absolute ghost town during the evenings and weekends. So extraordinary, owing to the fact that it was centrally located and circumscribed by Greenwich Village, Little Italy, Chinatown and Canal Street. You can read about my first acquaintance with the terms "loft" and "SoHo" in my story Cast Iron Stomach. Given its cast-iron architecture and location, the rapid development and gentrification of SoHo comes as no surprise.

But one of the most startling encounters, an anomaly even for that time, was a fully operational blow molding factory making dolls on the ground floor at Mercer and Prince Streets, now occupied by the Mercer Hotel, an upscale boutique hotel. When passing by in the morning, I would often jump up on a standpipe or on the ground floor window ledge to peer into the windows which had been masked in the lower portions. I was just fascinated to see dolls popping out of blow molding machines. This is one of my strongest memories of SoHo - such a contrast to today's environment, that I often replay those memories just to ensure their veracity. I wish I had photos for you and I, but alas, I do not.

Sans Fanelli Cafe, there was no retail. Even ground floor spaces were used for commercial/industrial purposes - unthinkable today with the high rents. So to see two girls carrying six Bloomingdale's shopping bags between them and one girl shouldering a Louis Vuitton bag* while carrying a cup of coffee from Dean and Deluca was a jolt, both as a flagrant act of conspicuous consumption as well as a memory jog of how SoHo has changed.

I have often joked that we should make Christmas a perennial holiday, since advertising and shopping begin earlier each year. Here, however, the hordes on the streets of SoHo are often virtually indistinguishable from the huddled masses we expect during the holiday season. One of my first reactions was that these bags did not look full at all and that the contents could easily have been consolidated into fewer bags. But, perhaps these girls just started Christmas shopping a little early and in the bottoms of their sacks, we would find Six Geese a-Laying :)

* Yes, I realize in all likelihood this bag is a fake, easily procured in the vicinity of Chinatown. Not many are willing to spend $1000 plus for the genuine article.


Leslie said...

When I was a little girl my sister and I, visiting my classy NY grandmother, would have to wear little white gloves when we shopped at Bloomingdales-59th St & Lexington (the original), because it was so 'fancy' (think 1950's).

I cringe every time I pass their 'fake' branch in Soho, former home of the crazy and marvelous Canal Jeans-cheap clothier of the real downtown neighborhood.

For the young the strip between 8th St and Grand St must be shopping heaven.

Brian Dubé said...

Leslie - Thanks for a Window into New York's past :)