The “epidemic of peddlers” at Cooper Square

Before the luxe hotels, pretentious condos, and plans for a pedestrian plaza, the Astor Place-Cooper Square area in the 1980s and early 1990s was crammed with peddlers selling anything: books, old clothes, worn shoes, toiletries (I saw a half-empty box of tampons once!), and other items salvaged from trash.

The caption to this photo, from the June 1985 edition of the East Village Eye, takes a sympathetic view toward the peddlers.

“Cooper Square street peddlers compete for sidewalk space and cope with the ever-present threat of police sweeps,” it reads.

Not everyone felt the same way. A New York piece from 1993 called “The Village Under Siege” described it as “a sidewalk market” providing “cover for fences and drug dealers.”

Later in the article, a rep for Cooper Union described the peddlers as “Bangladesh on the north and Calcutta on the south.”

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11 Responses to “The “epidemic of peddlers” at Cooper Square”

  1. aspicco Says:

    I bought some of my most cherished stuff from those crazy peddlers during the early 1980s.

  2. Javaman Says:

    I agree with aspicco. I bought some of my favorite books there. I was back there recently and it was like walking among ghosts.
    the city has lost so much.

  3. The Day | Another Hotel for Sale, for $21 Million - The Local East Village Blog - NYTimes.com Says:

    […] Ephemeral New York takes a look at the time when sidewalk peddlers at Cooper Square were considered an epidemic. Now all that’s left is this guy. […]

  4. MRS Says:

    I remember walking through there with my father who was pained by how many tool bags had been stolen and wound up on Cooper Square. So many carpenters SOL!

  5. MadameX Says:

    Some of my favorite odd objects came from those peddlers. It is a loss.

  6. CBS Says:

    An open box of chocolate frosted doughnuts on the street.

  7. pm Says:

    They were junkies and thieves who were selling garbage and things they stole from apartments and cars in the neighborhood.

  8. onemorefoldedsunset Says:

    I bought a few things here in the 80s. Mostly books, but once a pack of disposable diapers (Pampers?). What a different scene today.

  9. barb Says:

    I lived at 65 St. Marks Place during that era and we used to call it “Thieves Market.” An explanation for that half-box of tampons may have been that it came out of someone’s medecine chest as it was cleaned out during a burglary. When my fifth floor walk up appartment was broken into by a crook who stretched from the fire escape and its barred window across to the open window next to it ( I kid you not … a six story drop) it was the first place I went to try to reclaim my stolen stuff. Ps. GREAT blog. Keep up the good work.

  10. wildnewyork Says:

    Thanks! Great story. I always imagined the tampons were stolen from a drugstore, used for a couple of months, then put out with the rest of the junk at Cooper Square and sold for a buck to a very desperate female.

  11. The magic of old Cooper Square by moonlight | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] sketchier, pre-boutique hotel Cooper Square in late 1980s was also the site of a peddlers’ market of sorts, where the desperate put out anything they could find (or steal) for sale in an empty parking […]

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