Why NYC’s Lower East Side STILL ROCKS

Pop Art legend Marco is NO stranger to the Lower East Side or NYC for that matter…NYC you could say is Marco’s Alma Mater is NYC…growing up in the NYC of the 70’s was a profoundly life-shaping experience for little Marco. For those of you who remember what NYC was like in the 70’s this statement is immediately clear…For the rest of you who A) who grew up in the 70’s or were already grown up but didn’t live in NYC or B) Are a big younger and weren’t alive way back then before Google existed suffice it to say that the pre-cyberspace New York City was so alien to what the NYC of today is like it might as well have been a different city…another world.

For those of you who think that this story is going to be some nostalgic rant about the old day or how NYC was “better back then” or some type of romantic nostalgia or desperate effort to “save” NYC from being swallowed into the gaping maw of gentrification and corporate greed, and effort that is fueled ever-forward with the demise of each and every neighborhood institution…each blip on the life support of a failing city carefully charted second by second block by block, street by street building by building until Manhattan flat lines.

Marco’s view is not so proto-post-apocalyptic, those who have charted Marco’s career in the Lower East Side may actually lay blame at the doorstep of Marco’s first Pop Art Studio boutique which he opened on Hester and Orchard Street #37 back in 1990. Others may choose a spot a bit further down the timeline and a few blocks south when in 1995 Marco moved his Pop Art operation up the block a bit to 186 Orchard st between Stanton and East Houston Street which was absolutely devoid of ANYTHING that could be defined as hip from a retail standpoint. Here some may say did Marco ignite the spark of Gentrification that swept down Orchard Street…remembering that this was years before the Tenement Museum  opened it’s door to busloads of tourists who had never seen a Lower East Side Tenement before, a tour which Marco skipped since he’d lived in one above his tiny store at 37 Orchard street-the building still had the common toilets in the hallway-and also since his Great Great Grandfather had been a Jewish Immigrant who had run his own clothing store in the Lower East Side on…wait for it…that same corner of Orchard and Hester Street. 

So Marco could very well be named and blamed as one of the early pioneering retailers responsible for sparking the inferno of hippification that has since swept though every old business, storefront and left in it’s wake, trendy overpriced boutiques, expensive spas and salons, a bevy of bars, a banquet of restaurants selling organic free range you name it in places that used to wholesale socks, and neckties…

Marco remembers those guys selling schmatas, guys like Jacob Hauptman and the Polish guy who sold fabrics across the street, the leather guys…all mostly gone now…Does Marco feel guilty over his role in this hipster genocide of the old Lower East Side? Of course…any other answer would be a lie. It’s important to remember that store rents were dirt cheap back then…no one wanted to open a business in the Lower East Side, the place was seriously economically depressed, a fact easily overlooked when you see the astronomical rents tiny white-box galleries are shelling out just to have a “presence” in the now oh so fabulous Lower East Side…how they manage to pay they’re rent is as much of mystery to most locals who pass by annoyed not so much at what some may view as the ugly overpriced “art” inside but the fact that they have to walk an extra block or more to get a regular cup of coffee because what is now another white box used to be their bodgea.

Marco, who kicked off his art career in the late 80’s selling his art “al fresco” on the corner of Prince and Greene Street while living in a $500 a month railroad flat on Clinton Street is no stranger to criticism…One critic once went so far as to spray paint the words: “UGLY ART” on the wall next to the chain link fence where Marco had tacked up his canvases. Another time while boarding a plane back to NYC he bumped into a gal who was from the hood when Marco introduced himself the girl said: “Oh God! I hate your artwork” to which Marco replied: “I’m sorry to hear that it must he hard for you to walk around the neighborhood and see it” Marco had a lot of fun helping to brighten up the then rather dreary LES

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and is happy to see the seeds that he and other pioneering retailers planted grow into a forest of artistic creation that now covers the LES.

So yeah, for those who mourn the passing of the dirty dangerous drug-riddled good old LES, Marco understands that he played a part in inadvertently creating a monster and that while change isn’t always good, what is true is that change, for better or worse is inevitable, and if NYC and the LES operate on one rule it would be that Change is the only thing anyone can really count on in this world and the harder we try to hold on to something that is dead set on slipping through our fingers the more futile or existence becomes. Marco through his pioneering efforts in the Lower East Side and his artwork, epitomizes change as much as New York, like all of us, is a work in progress, and progress by definition is change. 

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