The Streets of Chelsea

When I talk to groups of prospective FIT students, I always mention our location in the heart of New York City, because I know that the city is a big part of our draw. As the creative capital of the world, we have incomparable museums, art galleries, theaters, and night clubs; dazzling shops; and restaurants. But here, in my little corner of Chelsea, on 27th Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, I think New York’s fabled excitement and dynamism—its energy—spring not so much from those celebrated establishments, but rather from the busy, buzzy, bustling side streets abutting FIT, each one a teeming marketplace—a continuing spectacle of excitation, to borrow from E.B. White.

In fact, if New York is home to about 90,000 small retail and wholesale businesses, as the statistics claim, it really feels like you might find 89,000 of them on 24th through 30th Streets between Sixth and Seventh Avenues—and at least half of their 80,000 employees as well. At least it seems that way to me. The action is so intense—sidewalks so packed with food carts, people, racks of bargain-basement clothing, the detritus of constant construction—that you can be forgiven if it takes you a while to actually notice the breathtaking array of idiosyncratic little shops and businesses surrounding you. The streets themselves are bumper-to-bumper cars, trucks, taxis, bicyclers—all contributing to the roaring cacophony. But if you walk slowly and focus, you will find a proliferating potpourri of commerce: wholesale and retail; tacky and elegant. The businesses rub up against each other creating that quintessential New York City buzz. Cell phones, perfumes, wigs, window treatments, picture frames, dry cleaners, 99 cent stores, pottery studios, thrift shops, linens, crystals, lingerie, fortune tellers, camera equipment, baseball caps, jewelry, leather goods—both knock-off and artisan, veterinarians, antiques, bicycles, home lighting, carpeting, lunch counters of every ethnic description, restaurants, wine bars…and that’s barely scratching the surface.

With all the variety, there is precious little to suggest the streets’ proximity to the
Garment District or even to FIT. A fur shop here and there, remnants of the now faded
fur district—a few mannequin businesses. The flower “district”—28 th Street between 7 th
and 6 th —has shrunk from its glory days, but each side of the street still overflows with
greenery of every description—creating a narrow, colorful, zig-zagging pedestrian
pathway.

Aside from 28 th Street, with its floral imprint, the streets are walking
advertisements for the extravagant diversity of New York’s commercial marketplace.
And each outlet— with its hand-made cigars, halal foods, baby t-shirts or cosmetics—–
represents a kind of enterprising optimism that I think is the heart, soul and very fuel of
New York. So if you are in the neighborhood, and are so inclined, stroll down these side
streets and be prepared for an eye-opening “spectacle of excitation” and a jolt of real
New York City energy.

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