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Volume 78 - Number 41 / March 18 - 24, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933



Villager photo by Isaac Rosenthal

Boutiques like TG170, at 170 Ludlow St., are helping define the new Lower East Side as a place where trends and traditions co-exist.

Reinvention is the name of the game in new economy

By Roberto Ragone

When it comes to survival — and reinvention — the Lower East Side has more than persevered, it has excelled. From transforming churches into cultural institutions, apothecaries into restaurants, wineries into music venues and tenements into communities, the Lower East Side possesses a distinct blend of entrepreneurship, creativity and tenacity — the combination of which has enabled its continuity throughout its fabled past.

Today, the Lower East Side is a mecca of “best of’s” and continues to trailblaze with an incomparable spirit of entrepreneurship. It is a place where the past has been transformed, redefined and updated; where old-school bargains still exist amidst the latest and most contemporary “deals;” where federal-style buildings, tenements and futurist architecture curiously cohabitate, and where cultures collide and congregate. Calling the neighborhood’s change and reinvention “gentrification” is simplistic. Rather, the mix and the mingling of cultures, design and visuals within an era, create a  “hip-storic” concoction of a neighborhood.   

But today we also contend with yet another seismic shift: a new economy. This constrained fiscal environment has forced us to collectively reinvent ourselves as a country and, in turn, as communities and as individuals.

Throughout our 16-year history, the Lower East Side Business Improvement District has been devoted to supporting our local small businesses and to increasing foot traffic in the Lower East Side. And while we have been presented with obstacles — from historic events to demographic changes to changing of the guards — we have also seen tremendous advancements and successes, whether it be through visible neighborhood enhancements, well-attended events or, simply, happy customers and merchants. Our efforts are in line with the creative, driving spirits of constituents who are introspective about building on the meaningfulness of the area’s past and ensuring its future. 

As always, the L.E.S. BID has continued its sanitation and beatification projects to keep the neighborhood clean; we offer community, business and marketing services to our businesses to help them work with government to solve problems, offset operational costs and promote what makes them special; we provide free tours for those interested in learning about our legendary history, our artists and our contemporary life. And, of course, our events and collaborations, including International Pickle Day with the NY Food Museum, Apples on Orchard Day, Fashion Flipside, the East Meets East Series with the Fourth Arts Block, Art Gallery Walks and our commitment to energy efficiency and waste-reduction measures make us a forward-thinking organization devoted to staying on top of what’s right for a neighborhood of traditions and transitions.

In my third year as executive director of the L.E.S. BID, I intend to do everything within my power to advocate for a community whose longtimers and newcomers commit to keeping this neighborhood so unique and distinctive. We could not have seen any progress without the very character of our neighbors and neighborhood, and we will continue to work hard to pay homage to this glorious — and gritty — neighborhood’s past while also recognizing the new hip cultural presence. We remain dedicated to working individually and collectively to reclaim the L.E.S. as a daytime destination that complements the now-famed nightlife. And through innovative services, programs and marketing, the L.E.S. BID will continue to help ensure the continued reinvention of the L.E.S. in the new economy. 

Ultimately, people visit the Lower East Side for many reasons — whether it’s a smattering of indelible history, a sampling of cutting-edge culture and shopping or a taste of our unparalleled bialys, pickles, doughnuts or smoked fish. The Lower East Side’s offerings are enduring and bountiful, and part of the experience is what you happen upon. 

We encourage everyone — longtime residents, newcomers and travelers — to explore. Or, more succinctly, L.E.S. is More. Explore. 

Ragone is executive director, Lower East Side Business Improvement District

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