A last remnant of the Duane Street shoe district

New York is a necropolis of defunct businesses. But every so often an old sign from one of these dead and gone businesses reappears like a ghost, reminding us that at another time in another New York, they were part of the cityscape.

One of these long-gone stores recently revealed itself at 114 Chambers Street in Tribeca. “Craig’s Shoes” it reads, looking strangely British and very old-fashioned.

Tribeca Citizen also noticed the back-in-view sign earlier this summer.

Reader comments explain that Craig’s had been in business since 1949, ending its run in 2006 at a second store site on 132 Chambers Street, which was to be demolished and replaced by the AKA Tribeca Hotel.

Interestingly, Craig’s wasn’t just a one-off shoe store in a neighborhood once known for its light industry and food provisions businesses.

This pocket in Tribeca centered around Duane Street was once the center of the “shoe-jobbing district,” as the area is nicknamed in the 1939 WPA Guide to New York City via Tribeca Citizen.

A New York Times article from 1920 calls it the “Duane Street shoe district,” while other articles go with the “downtown shoe district.”

(At left, 114 Chambers Street in 1940; a shoe icon hangs off the side of the building next door.)

The shoe district appears to have taken off in the late 19th century, and by the 1920s several shoe manufacturers had factories here.

Tribeca wouldn’t be coined until the 1970s, of course, and by that time, the shoe manufacturers and side businesses catering to it were all but gone.

Another curious remnant of the shoe district does still exist, at least it did a decade ago.

It’s this beautiful street clock affixed to 145 Duane Street, former home of the Nathaniel Fisher Company—wholesale shoe sellers described as one of “the oldest shoe firms in America,” according to an 1894 New York Times article.

[Third image: Boot and Shoe Recorder, 1921; fourth image: New York City Department of Records]

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6 Responses to “A last remnant of the Duane Street shoe district”

  1. Thomas Sinclair Says:

    Before Tribeca we just called it downtown. I can’t remember how many times I walked and drove on these streets.


  2. Tracie Says:

    According to google maps the clock is still there 🙂

  3. Richard Arthur Says:

    I seem to spend half my life in New York looking for old signs, clocks, ads etc. What I enjoy most is that the majority of owners, rather than take an old sign down, put their own on top of what was already there. So the chances that more will be discovered is quite high.

  4. Bill Wolfe Says:

    “New York is a necropolis of defunct businesses.” That’s a great sentence! Next to the shoe icon, there’s an eyeglass icon. I wonder if these were strictly for color, or did they also serve to identify the stores for potential customers whose English might not have been so good?

  5. [Blog Glück] September 2019 – Seitenglueck Says:

    […] Bei Esther von Ephemeral New York gibt es aufgrund des 18. Jahrestags von 9/11 einen Beitrag zu einem der Kunstwerke in der Stadt, die an die Anschläge erinnern.  Außerdem fand ich den Beitrag zum Shakespeare Garden im Central Park interessant und die Überbleibsel von Craigs Shoes. […]

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