When Essex Street was the city’s Pickle District

Everyone’s heard of the Garment District and the Financial District. But the Pickle District?

This was the name for the Lower East Side blocks centered on Essex Street, once home to 80 pickle merchants.

Some sold the briny street food from shops. Others worked out of pushcarts.

All mostly got their start in the years just before and after the turn of the 20th century, when Jewish immigrants packed the area and began selling a snack already beloved in the city.

“By 1659, Dutch farmers in New York grew cucumbers all over the area that is now known as Brooklyn,” states the New York Food Museum.

“These cucumbers were sold to dealers who cured them in barrels filled with varying flavored brines the pickles were sold in market stalls on Washington, Canal and Fulton Streets.”

Pickles are still popular, of course, but they’ve long available in supermarkets in jars. Today, only one merchant remains on Essex Street.

But the pickle gets a yearly shout-out on the Lower East Side during International Pickle Day every October.

Middle photo: Martha Cooper/Municipal Arts Society; bottom photo: NYPL Digital Collection

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16 Responses to “When Essex Street was the city’s Pickle District”

  1. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    In the 1950s my mother always dragged me to Avenue C where the avenue was filled with pushcarts selling all kinds of goods from pickles and onions (you ever have a pickled onion? ugh! gross) to household items. I suppose the point was to socialize and talk about the old war destroyed country they came from. I still can remember old men haggling over some good they were trying to sell. Oh well, those days of pushcarts are gone forever, sadly…

  2. BOBBY Says:

    To this day I still head to Essex Street for Pickles. No more Guss’s the place I used to ship, but there is another one, I think the last one in the area, that’s similiar. I can remember the old guy in the dead of winter grabbing pickles form the barrel on the outside. His hands were as white as the god driven snow. But……..That was then. I did hear that Guss’s opened a store on Orchard street. If anyone knows this kindly confirm.

  3. Beth Says:

    I think Guss’ is still on Orchard Street. Haven’t been there in a while, though, to be sure. Also, don’t forget the movie, “Crossing Delancey,” where Amy Irving was set up by a traditional Jewish matchmaker with the pickle man, Peter Reigert.

  4. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    Sorry but good ol’ Guss has moved to Brooklyn

    • Beth Says:

      You’re right, Mick, you beat me to it. There is a Guss’ Pickles in Cedarhurst, NY and their pickles are being distributed to Whole Foods now.

      • mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

        But if you go to the Essex Street market, above and below Delancey St, you might find pickle shops in there, but I don’t if it is still running as a market in the old sense of the word.

      • BOBBY Says:

        Whoa Partners……..Not the same Guss’s as was on Essex Street. Check the spelling!

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    […] Revisiting the Pickle District on the LES (Ephemeral New York) […]

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    […] Revisiting the Pickle District on the LES (Ephemeral New York) […]

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