Consumer culture has always fueled the economy of New York City. By the early part of the 19th century the population was growing as was its wealth, and shopping became a pastime for the growing middle and upper classes.
The neighborhood surrounding what was then the College of the City of New York (now Baruch College), was soon to be defined by the commercial establishments that were moving uptown from 14th to 23rd Streets, along Broadway, Fifth and Sixth Avenues. Some of these stores moved uptown from their previous locations, while others opened new businesses, hoping that this shopping district would attract clientele. The gamble paid off and the shoppers came from around the world, enticed by the cast-iron palaces built to house their wares and cater to their desires.
This story is an especially interesting one in these times of great economic challenges. Some of the iconic stores which trace their history back to the 19th century, have gone out of business in the last few years, while more are sure to follow in the coming months as our economy comes to life again.
A new online exhibit will highlight the history of what became known as “Ladies’ Mile.”
A New York Times article provides added insight into this history.