Editorial: The Garment Center By Any Other Name?

A response to an Op-Ed August 23 “Needles, Threads and New York History” by Jean Appleton appears in Friday’s  The New York Times written by Barbara Blair Randall, president of The Fashion Center BID.  She suggests that with most of the major designers moving downtown calling the area “The Garment Center” may no longer be appropriate.  While she laments the passing of the district as a center for fashion, it is for her just another example of the ever changing face of the city.

She sees the area as a future hub for hotels, restaurants, night life and retailers that will bring thousands of jobs and visitors into the area. But where, in the words of Joshua Barnett who wrote a letter to the editor: “… are the historical markers for the strikes led by garment workers… now that the gains from decades of labor struggles are under attack?”  And what of the many other important and historical events that mark this area as vital to the history of both the city and the nation? Are they to pass from the collective memory of those who now live there? Will there be nothing left but a few plaques placed strategically on buildings so that tourists can be directed by guides or tour bus operators as part of a historical tour of the city?

Barbara believes what is good for business is good for New York. But is it always so? What about the soul of the city? Look what happened to the Fulton Fish Market and Seaport area. This historic district was converted into a theme park/shopping mall by the Rouse Corporation stripping the area of its charm in the name of attracting more tourists.

It is axiomatic that this city is ruled by real estate and Wall Street interests. Manhattan especially is becoming more and more the playground of the rich and tourists. Have we forgotten what made this city great? It was the struggle of the rich and the poor, those on the way up and those on the way down, the bringing together of so many divergent cultures and peoples, of the artists and the ditch diggers, that gave our city the vitality that made us great.

The garment center and its workers were at the heart of this great city. Its future development is too important to be left only in the hands of real estate developers and business improvement executives. Ours is a legacy to be cherished and remembered, not raped on the altar of the almighty buck.

-Ernest Schmatolla



Ernest Schmatolla is publisher of Lookonline since 1994. It is the longest running fashion site on the Internet.

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