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When I arrived in New York 9 years ago, my daily commute was a walk along W37th Street from my apartment on 9th Avenue to a co-working space on 7th Avenue — Fashion Avenue. I would see the wholesale fabric stores, the clothes rails being pushed around the streets and get sneak peeks of showrooms as my elevator made its way up to the office. However, I gained little knowledge of the Garment District — a historical area that abuts and overlaps Hell’s Kitchen. That all changed this week when I took a free walking tour of the area with Michael Kaback as a guide.
The business of fashion runs through Kaback’s veins. He was born in the Lower East Side to parents and grandparents in the trade. “I spent every day of my working life in this area since I got out of the services in 1964,” Kaback said proudly, as he introduced the small tour group to his credentials.
Before he took on the role of tour guide, Kaback held “20 different positions” in the industry. As the area changed, he got interested in the history of the Garment District and New York. He read books, he took other tours, he became a maven for the city — with the historic fashion area as his specialist subject.
It was inevitable that the Garment District would be his first tour back in 1997. He recalls that the initial tours were four hours long — but stresses that today he is down to “an hour and a half to two hours.”
The walk is full of snippets for the curious — and we’ll share a few tasters just to whet the appetite, but not spoil the surprises.
- If you look at the New York Flag you can spot two beavers. The first trading ship that returned to Holland from the newly discovered territory (New Amsterdam) had over 7,000 beaver skins onboard. Beaver skin hats were the start of New York’s garment trade.
- If you’ve checked out the Giant Button and Needle artwork on the corner of W39th and 7th Avenue — the kiosk beneath was once a thriving flower store used by sales folks to woo the orders of buyers!
- Do you remember the Fashion Walk of Fame on 7th Avenue? The 28 sidewalk plaques were removed a couple of years ago after complaints that they were slippy in wet weather.
- The 1903 song by George M Cohan Give My Regards to Broadway is all about the move of the theaters from Herald Square (and the now Garment District) to 42nd Street and above.
Give my regards to Broadway!
Remember me to Herald Square!
Tell all the gang at Forty Second Street
That I will soon be there!
- When the wealthy families on 5th Avenue — think Astors, Rockefellers, Vanderbilts — realized the immigrants from the garment trade were heading uptown, they created the first zoning law in New York, diverting manufacturing to the area which the theaters had departed (and creating the Garment District away from 5th Avenue).
We promise that these highlights are just a very small part of what you will learn from this stroll around the neighborhood.
The walking tour is free (thanks to the folks at the Garment District). There are two more planned for this year — find out more at garmentdistrict.nyc/walking-tours
Check out Michael’s website for more of his New York City tours — mikesnyctours.com